You’ve made it through Thanksgiving with a few pounds of meat, stuffing, potatoes, beans, cranberry and pie stuffed into your stomach. If you still made it under your daily expected calorie allowance, great job! We’re all proud of you.
If you didn’t, welcome to 90% of America. But don’t despair. Even if you had that extra slice (or three) of pecan pie, you still have time to make up for it before we ring in 2014.
But how can I avoid overeating? you may ask, since Christmas is just around the corner, and everywhere I go tempting cookies, cakes, candies and buffets will be shoved in my face 24/7?
Never fear, dear readers, I have scoured the internets and personal experiences to come up with ways you can avoid the “December 15” (like the Freshman 15, except it accumulates every year and intramural soccer plus late teen metabolism no longer gets rid of it over spring break).
15 Tips to Avoid Overeating During the Holidays
1. Have a plan
The best way to avoid any food traps is to have a plan of attack. Where are you going: an office party, a family reunion, a friend’s big bash? If you’ve been to a similar event, you’ll have an idea of what types and portions of food will be served.
Decide ahead of time how much and on what you expect to indulge, put that amount on your plate, and then avoid the food tables for the rest of the night.
2. Plan exercise
Part of a successful holiday weight maintenance plan is to follow your exercise routine, or start a new one. If you normally run three days a week, put it in your calendar in pen, and keep that appointment with yourself.
Even though holidays are crazy busy and all about spending time with family and friends, don’t forget that YOU time is important too. You can also make a more conscious effort to be more active in general. Go up and down the stairs for each ingredient you need, do squats while you mix dough, play with the pups or kids in the snow (or leaves, whatever your weather) and take an after-dinner stroll each day.
3. Bring your own snacks or meals
If you are going to a potluck, great! Whip up a healthy casserole or slow cooker dish you know won’t damage your waistline if you have seconds. You may even introduce someone else to a new favorite.
Stuff a small bag of nuts, cut veggies or fruit, or granola bars in your purse or coat pocket. That way you can tame cravings if hunger strikes without washing down bacon-wrapped-ham and double cheddar mashed potatoes with a gallon of egg nog.
4. Don’t skip meals
Remember that trying not to gain weight is NOT an excuse to skip meals. This actually slows your metabolism because you’re essentially telling your body that food is scarce now, to which it responds by holding onto every morsel you do eat in the form of fat. Be smart about what you eat, but please do continue to eat. Especially breakfast.
5. Be realistic
It isn’t always possible to bring baby carrots and have a salad only while those around you nom on piles of holiday treats. Sometimes you have to judge the options and simply choose the best of what’s available. Holidays are busy, so there will also be days where you just can’t cook a healthy meal for yourself or don’t want to bother thinking about it. Just keep an eye on portion sizes and moderation is always key.
6. Allow occasional indulgence
As above, this is also important in “real” life. No one is perfect, we all have that holiday treat or two we wait all year for. Whether it’s Aunt Mary’s peanut brittle, grandma’s perfect pecan pie, or your family recipe for the perfect cookie, make sure to build some indulgences into your holiday eating plan. This helps keep you on track the rest of the time.
7. Know your limits & when to say no
If there is a treat that you just cannot help yourself around, be mindful of that and remove the temptation. If you know you will eat every gingersnap in sight, don’t bake or buy nine dozen and leave them out on the table.
Also don’t accept and eat food just to be polite or out of a feeling of obligation. Learn how to say no politely, or say thank you and then move the treat along to someone else who will enjoy it.
8. Browse and graze
Before you hit a holiday buffet guns blazing and head back to your table with five plates full to the brim, take a lap. See what is there and prioritize the foods by what you like and don’t get to eat as often, then focus on those dishes.
Had green bean casserole seven times in the past week? Don’t waste space on your plate and in your stomach. Don’t really like stuffing, but feel it’s necessary? Forget about it.
On a similar note, you don’t have only one chance to eat each day. Pick a few tiny samples of things that look good and try them. Then stop. You can always go back for more or to try different things.
9. Focus on experiences, not the food
Rather than giving in to the holiday food-frenzy, make the season about the experiences. Take a walk in the wintry air, pick out a tree, share holiday stories with friends, or drive around to look at light displays.
Anything to take the focus off the sugar rush all around and create memories that will live in your mind and not in your abdomen.
10. Drink lots of water
This is just a solid tip every day of the year. Water is fantastic for your skin, hair, digestion, immunity, and more. It also helps you stay satisfied; a lot of the time we mistake hunger for thirst without realizing it.
Drink a big glass with lemon when you wake up, sip on some hot tea by the fire, have a glass o’ H2O between each alcoholic beverage, or challenge your cousin to a chugging contest. Do whatever it takes to get your daily 8 glass minimum.
11. Fill up on fruits and veggies
If there are any fresh, raw options, those are always your best bet. Allow some heavier foods too, but fill the majority of your plate with salad, cut veggies, and raw fruit. If you fill up on three cups of veggies, you’re still probably only 300 calories into your day!
12. Skip dips, dressings, and gravy
Some of the worst health offenders are well-known. Gravy, ranch dressings, fruit or veggie dips, anything cream or oil based. If you must have gravy on your potatoes, just go easy. They will taste fine with 1/4 cup versus 1 1/2 cups.
13. Observe yourself
Pay attention to trigger foods or situations. Don’t allow yourself to hang around near the food tables. Don’t eat if you aren’t hungry, just because the leftovers are there. Distract yourself by chatting with family you only see once a year, or making a new office friend.
14. Limit alcohol
Alcohol is a two-fold danger. For one, it has fairly high amounts of calories alone, and if you’re the type to enjoy fruity mixed beverages rather than the straight stuff the calorie count can become absurd quickly.
A 100 calorie shot or a 900 calorie peppermint kahlua with cream are both excess calories that don’t leave you feeling full.
Secondly, alcohol lowers our inhibitions. Who hasn’t gotten the “drunchies” after a night of partying hard, only to regret the next morning the 5000 calories’ worth of tacos we ate at 3am?
As above, drink a glass of water between each beverage, choose wine or hard liquor in small quantities, and behave yourself. Mostly.
15. Analyze your reasons
There are so many varied reasons for over-eating, what is it that prompts you to pick up that fork again? Are you hurt by family pokes about your current weight? Does being home make you feel like a kid again and you’re seeking comfort?
Do you feel left out if you don’t stuff yourself? Are you afraid that you’ll never have access to this particular kind of cookie again so you must eat two dozen tonight? Ask yourself why, be honest with the answers, and then be rational in how to deal with the issues.
Don’t forget: Forgive yourself for slip-ups
We are all human. That’s a fact of life. We all have goals and ideals, but we all will sometimes mess up.
And that is OK. Really.
If you just ate three days’ worth of food in one sitting before you even realized it, just acknowledge it happened, think about why, and resolve to not let it happen again. And probably seek some pink liquid help for the severe stomachache you now have.
For more great articles on holiday overeating and how to avoid it:
California Pacific Medical Center
How do you say “no” to seconds of the holiday ham or cookies that are calling your name?