Holiday weight gain doesn’t have to happen. Here’s how to avoid overeating during the holiday season.
Gaining weight over the holidays is what you might call a “no-brainer.” When you’re facing a month-long holiday season of non-stop parties, family get-togethers and once-a-year holiday foods, it’s easy to think, “who wouldn’t gain a few extra pounds?” Holiday weight gain doesn’t have to happen, but a lot of people just assume that it will. And that kind of thinking could get you into a lot of trouble. If you’re convinced that holiday weight gain is inevitable, you’re probably not going to do much to prevent it.
Why it’s so easy to gain weight over the holidays
Look at it this way: in your daily life, you can probably name a situation or two that you know will trigger you to overeat. Maybe you eat too much when you’re stressed, or you overdo it on the weekends. And when you’ve only got one or two triggers to manage, you can probably do that pretty well most of the year.
But when the holidays come around, it’s not just one or two things that can trigger you to overeat. In fact, if I were to list (as I’m about to do) some of the most common overeating triggers, it’s as if every single one of them is coming at you from all sides during the holidays. And, it goes on for weeks. When you look at it that way, it’s amazing we don’t gain more weight than we do over the holidays.
12 reasons why we overeat during the holidays
- Longer meals. Holiday meals tend to be more leisurely – we enjoy sitting around the table visiting, without the need to rush. But the longer you sit at the table, the more you’re likely to eat. You absentmindedly grab another spoonful of potatoes or a second slice of pie. To signal that your meal is over, take your plate into the kitchen, or pop a breath mint in your mouth.
- Eating with other people. When you eat with other people, meals tend to be longer. You might also find yourself influenced by the large portions other people are eating. Being the first one to plate up sometimes helps – that way, you can serve yourself a reasonable portion without being swayed by the amount of food others are piling onto their plates.
- Drinking alcohol. An alcoholic drink or two can loosen your inhibitions – often bringing on the “what the heck, it’s the holidays!” attitude. Your best defense here is to set a limit of how many drinks you’re planning to have, and stick to it, alternating alcoholic drinks with calorie-free beverages.
- Exposure to a wide variety of foods. The more variety on your plate, the more you’re likely to eat. That’s because it takes longer for your taste buds to get bored – when every bite is a little different, you just want to keep eating. To handle this, you can either limit the number of choices you allow yourself, or keep your portions very small if you’re going for variety.
- Pressure from friends and family. At no time of the year is the pressure more intense, it seems, than at holidays. Relatives knock themselves out making special holiday dishes, and you run the risk of insulting them if you don’t indulge (or overindulge). You can gently push back by agreeing to just a small portion, or you can try saying, “I know I’d enjoy this a lot more if I weren’t so full – maybe later.”
- Getting out of your usual routine. One reason people overeat on the weekends is because they’re out of their usual routine – and the holiday season can seem like a weekend that lasts for a month. Even when you have parties and get-togethers to attend, it’s unlikely that every single meal is affected. So, stick to your usual eating routine when you’re not at an event, and make a commitment to stay on track with your exercise, too.
- Eating away from home. You tend to eat more calories when you eat away from home because it’s harder to control portion sizes or ingredients. Holiday meals often involve large portions of rich food, so you need a strategy. Do your best to keep portions of rich food on the small side and try to load up on any items that won’t break your calorie bank, like vegetables and green salads. Resist the temptation to fill your plate and use a smaller plate if one is available to help you control portions.
- Stress. Holiday time is fun, but it’s also stressful. If stress is one of your overeating triggers, you’ll want to find other ways to calm down. Try to carve some downtime for yourself so you’re not overcommitted and be sure to set time aside for the best stress-buster of all – exercise. Rather than turning to food when you’re stressed, have a cup of tea, call a friend, take a walk, or meditate for a few minutes instead.
- Family style meals. When serving dishes are placed on the table – as they often are at holiday meals – overeating is encouraged. Second helpings (and thirds…) can happen before you know it. Pass bowls and platters of tempting foods to the opposite end of the table to get them out of your line of sight.
- Serving yourself from large containers. Behavioral psychology research tells us that we serve ourselves more food from large containers than we do from smaller ones. Holiday platters are often gigantic, and food is piled up so high that even if you take an enormous serving, it hardly makes a dent. Keep an image in your head of the portion sizes you know you should eat, and do your best to stick to them.
- Eating from a buffet line. Buffets can be the ‘’perfect storm” of overeating – there’s lots of variety, serving dishes are huge, you can go back as many times as you want, and you have no idea how most of the dishes were prepared. Before you dig in, take a stroll down the length of the buffet line and determine what you’re going to have. Fill up your plate with as many of the lower-calorie items that you can identify, with much smaller portions of the richer fare. If you can, sit with your back to the buffet line. Out of sight, out of mind.
- Increased exposure to food. Ever notice how at holiday time, there’s food everywhere you go? From goodies in the break room at work, candy canes on the counter at the bank and gift baskets arriving unexpectedly at your door, you’re exposed to more temptation at this time of the year than any other. While it’s hard to limit your exposure to all these treats, you can change the way you respond when you see them. Rather than letting your impulses get the best of you, stop and ask yourself, “did I plan to eat this?” If you didn’t plan for it, didn’t want it until you saw it, or wouldn’t go out of your way to get it – you probably shouldn’t be eating it.