I love the holidays. For weeks, my family has been planning for the significant meals we’ll share. We’re each assigned to bring the traditional dishes we’ve become known for, and with our large family, there’s always plenty. During the blessing my uncle always gives thanks for the food that nourishes our bodies. Then the nourishment begins.
I know these types of gatherings take place all over the world, year after year. The comments are as traditional as the food: “Honey, this is the best turkey you’ve ever made. Please pass the potatoes and gravy again.” Then, “I can’t eat another bite or I swear I’ll explode.” And then, “Alright, just a little sliver of pie.” After dinner people are sprawled out in front of the television, occasionally groaning or dozing off.
How to Handle Holiday Overeating
As much as I love these special occasions, I now know that there’s an invisible line that I can cross if I’m not mindful. That line separates a great celebration with wonderful food from an afternoon of discomfort and regret. I constantly remind myself that I live in a land of abundance where turkey and potatoes are available year round and food will always taste good. So why eat until I’m miserable? Why not enjoy the event and still feel good when it’s over?
When you live in a land of abundance, deciding how much food you need to eat is critical for lifelong weight management and health. As importantly, when you eat the perfect amount of food, you’ll feel satisfied – just right.
Think for a moment about how you feel when you’re satisfied. If you’re mindful, you’ll notice that, as you become full, the flavor of the food goes from fabulous to just O.K., and it gets harder to give food and eating your full attention. You are content, fulfilled and happy. You feel light and energetic and ready for your next activity.
When you eat more than you need, you’ll feel unnecessarily uncomfortable, sleepy and sluggish. Eating too much causes you to have low energy, so you may not want to be active. Of course, your body will have no choice but to store the excess as fat. It can also lead to feeling guilty which often results in even more overeating. So what can you do to prevent overeating, and what should you do when it happens anyway?
Prevention is the best medicine
Before you start eating, decide how full you want to be when you’re done. It’s fine to decide you want to be stuffed, as long as you’ve thought about the consequences.
Estimate how much food you’ll need to eat to reach that level of fullness. Prepare, serve or order only as much as you think you’ll need. If you were served too much, move the extra food aside.
Before you start eating, visually or physically divide the food in half to create a “speed bump.”
Eat mindfully and check your fullness level when you hit that speed bump in the middle of eating, at the end of your meal, and again 20 to 30 minutes later.
If your goal is to feel satisfied and comfortable, it will help you to move away from the table or push the plate away from you to signal you’re done as soon as you get even close.
Am I full?
Some questions you might want to ask yourself to help you determine how full you are:
How does my stomach feel? Can I feel the food? Is there any discomfort or pain? Does my stomach feel stretched or bloated?
How does my body feel? Do I feel comfortable and content? Do my clothes feel tight? Is there any nausea or heartburn? Do I feel short of breath?
How is my energy level? Do I feel energetic and ready for the next activity? Or am I sleepy, sluggish, tired or lethargic?
What do I feel like doing now?
If you’ve overeaten, sit quietly for a few moments and become completely aware of how you feel. Don’t beat yourself up. Just focus on the sensations, so you’ll remember them the next time you’re tempted to overeat. You may be less likely to repeat your mistakes if you think of the consequences first.
Don’t miss the lesson
When you realize you’ve eaten too much, ask yourself, “Why did this happen?” and “What could I do differently next time?” Turn your mistakes into a learning experience.
There are a lot of reasons why people eat past the point of satisfaction: Habits, learned behaviors, past dieting, and mindless eating.
For example: “It was a special occasion.” You’re more likely to overeat if you only give yourself permission to eat enjoyable foods on special occasions. You don’t need an excuse to have a wonderful meal – so why use a special occasion as a reason to overeat? Ask yourself, “If this occasion is so special, why would I want to eat until I feel miserable?”
Here are some of the other holiday triggers you’ll learn how to handle in my book, “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.”
I felt obligated.
It tasted good, so I just kept eating.
I wanted to taste everything.
I was afraid I wouldn’t get that food again.
I saved the best for last.
I ate food I didn’t enjoy.
I wasn’t paying attention as I ate.
I ate too fast.
I mindlessly picked at the leftovers.
I had too much on my plate.
I was keeping up with someone else.
I wanted to get my money’s worth.
I hate to let food go to waste.
I ate too much – now what?
Even people who eat “instinctively” sometimes overeat. However, although they may feel regretful and uncomfortable, they don’t typically feel guilty. They don’t think, “Well, I’ve already blown it, I might as well keep eating, then start my diet tomorrow.” Instead, they just listen to their body and return to eating instinctively by allowing hunger to drive their next cycle. By listening to your body’s wisdom, you can compensate for occasional overeating.
After you overeat, wait and see when you get hungry again. Rather than continuing to eat out of guilt or by the clock, listen to your body. It probably won’t need food any time soon, so you may not be hungry for your usual snack or next meal.
When you get hungry again, ask yourself, “What do I want?” and “What do I need?” Don’t punish yourself or try to compensate for overeating by restricting yourself. If you try to make yourself eat foods you don’t really want, you’ll feel deprived and fuel your “eat-repent-repeat” cycle.
Trust and respect what your body tells you because it’s likely that it will naturally seek balance, variety and moderation. You might also notice that you’re hungry for something small or something light – maybe a bowl of soup or cereal, a piece of fruit or a salad.
Lastly, don’t use exercise to punish yourself for overeating. Instead, be active all the time and use the fuel you consume to live a full and satisfying life.
This post is an excerpt of “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle” by Michelle May, MD.
Michelle May, MD, is the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Program. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle. As a physician, keynote speaker, writer, workshop facilitator, and consultant, Dr. May has shared her powerful and innovative approach with thousands of workshop participants, health care professionals, and organizations across the country. She also trains health care professionals to conduct workshops in clinical, community, and corporate settings. For more information, please visit http://www.AmIHungry.com
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