10 Tips To Avoid Overeating At Christmas
Do you find that once Christmas is over, you get to January a fair few pounds heavier and in dire need of a break from all the rich, festive food? Does it feel like a vicious cycle which repeats itself year after year? The stress of preparing for Christmas, the eating behaviour of those around us, as well as the huge array of delicious-looking festive foods in all the shops creates a perfect formula for overeating.
We can eat mindfully and still enjoy lots of different festive foods and drink over Christmas without going completely overboard, but like many, you might traditionally loosen the reins on your eating over Christmas for several weeks and then rely on getting back on that new year diet to ‘remedy’ the overindulgence and weight gain. Perhaps this year though, you might have been working on being more in charge of your eating overall and you don’t want Christmas to be an exception, or a roadblock to that. Maybe you don’t want Christmas to be the reason for undoing all that effort you’ve been recently making to eat more mindfully- perhaps you’ve lost some weight and don’t want to re-gain it all at Christmas. If any of the above apply, then here are 10 tips to avoid overeating at Christmas.
1. Helpful Boundaries
Give yourself a few boundaries by deciding in advance of events or situations what and how much you will eat or drink. For example, if there’s a lot of festive food flying around in the office, taking in your own snacks instead can be helpful; alternatively, allocate yourself just one or two snacks during work hours (eg mid morning and mid afternoon) and don’t deviate from that to avoid grazing, whilst also deciding how many chocolates, mince pies, biscuits or chocolates you will limit yourself to per day. When it comes to eating at home over Christmas, you could give yourself the same snack boundaries. You could also avoid second helpings at meal times, as well as eating any leftovers (try freezing them or make them into a handy meal for the next day). If you’re a plate-clearer, avoid picking at other family members’ food if they’ve left any on their plate. If you’re eating out more over Christmas, a good way to not feel overly stuffed is to have two courses rather than three. Or you could opt for three but ensure that at least one of the courses is a lighter, healthier option.
2. Remove From Sight And Reach
Is it tradition for you to have chocolates, nuts or crisps on the coffee table or lying on a kitchen surface over Christmas? A huge trigger for unregulated eating is food that’s within reach or in sight. If the food is too much of a temptation or distraction, discuss with colleagues or family members how to manage the food around you and come to an agreement. You could also decide to take a certain quantity to eat, place the food elsewhere and not go back for more.
3. TV Eating
For many people, the TV is an integral part of Christmas fun and relaxation. From my experience of working with clients, TV can be a huge trigger for mindless overeating. When we’re distracted by what’s on TV, it’s very easy not to notice how much we’re eating. Or if the programme is boring, you might eat in order to get some mental stimulation. Get up and do something else, or remove any food present that you keep munching on to another room. Try putting a certain amount of food in a dish to eat whilst you’re watching TV, close the packet, put it away and then just eat what’s in the dish and don’t go back for more.
4. Be Selective
It’s important to enjoy your food, whilst feeling in charge of your eating. With mindless overeating, there can actually be very little enjoyment. A good way to regulate your eating is to indulge in the foods you really fancy but then pass on other foods- then savour and fully enjoy the ones you love. We’re often seeking that pleasure hit from food, and if we don’t particularly enjoy a food we might keep eating until we find something that gives us that hit. If there’s a box of chocolates, give to others those you’re not keen on and enjoy those you really like. Also try to be selective when you go food shopping- it’s so easy to fall for special offers! Food marketing is clever and it can suck us in.
5. Eat Mindfully
When you’re eating food that’s present, check-in with yourself by asking things like ‘Am I actually enjoying this?’; ‘Am I eating this just because it’s present?’ If you’re offered food, ask yourself if it’s likely to taste as good as it looks- sometimes food looks delicious but might not be that enjoyable and not worth all the calories. Look at your plateful and if it’s a lot of food, consider whether you really need to eat it all and leave some, or consider eating from smaller plates next time. If you’re a female, compare what you’re eating to males- the average woman doesn’t require as much food as the average man so your portions should be smaller.
With mindful eating you’re less likely to lose track of what and how much you’ve eaten over the course of the day, whereas with mindless overeating, people can forget and thus underestimate how much they’ve eaten over the course of the day. If you’re offered or tempted to eat a sweet treat, think about how close you are to the next mealtime, and if it’s less than half an hour away and you’re not particularly hungry, don’t eat the snack.
It’s easy to bolt down food when we’re really enjoying it, but fast eating is strongly linked to overeating and obesity, so if you’re a fast eater try to slow down. Try to avoid eating when distracted too, to help you focus on and savour what you’re eating- that way you will feel satisfied with your food and won’t go looking for more. With mindless eating there can be very little enjoyment, compared to eating food more slowly and mindfully.
Part of mindfulness is learning to listen to your body. If you’re feeling tired, perhaps due to lots of festive partying or staying up late to watch films, have an early night. When we’re tired, we’re likely to eat more the next day or crave certain foods.
6. Keep Up The Fruit And Veg
Try to keep up your usual intake of fruit, vegetable and salad over Christmas- it’s easy to let it slip when there are other tasty, higher calorie foods about. Including fresh fruit and vegetables with meals over Christmas will help to bulk up the plate for fewer calories as well as counteract rich, fatty flavours. It will also help you to avoid going from one extreme to another of diving into lots of high fat, high sugar, low fibre, ‘empty calorie’ foods (high in calories but low in nutrients) for several days on end to then feeling sluggish, overly full, maybe even nauseous and desperately craving something green! A bit of overindulgence is what most of us look forward to over Christmas, but try to balance your eating by choosing a range of foods.
7. Excuses To Eat
It’s good to be aware of how people use excuses to justify overeating. Which excuses, if any, might you use? For example, ‘Oh go on then, it’s Christmas!’; ‘I might as well finish the packet now’; ‘Oh what the heck, I’ll be back on the diet soon so I may as well indulge’. Noticing when you’re making excuses to eat, or when others are encouraging you to eat when you might not even want to, can help us to think twice before eating. Perhaps you could replace excuses to eat with excuses not to eat, if you don’t fancy eating at that moment.
8. Each Mouthful Adds Up
Don’t kid yourself each time you pop food in your mouth that ‘it’s only a mouthful’- mouthfuls add up! Be wary of forgetting what you’ve eaten too- this can be easy to do if you have a tendency to ‘graze’. Consider doing some useful ‘calorie-shaving’, for example, by leaving a little bit of food on your plate, opting for a mini mince pie rather than a regular one, serving yourself your own slice of cake or portion of dessert, or switching high-calorie festive coffees for regular coffees.
9. Other People’s Influence
Don’t let other people dictate what or how much you eat or drink. Some people are feeders or food ‘pushers’- is there a person in your office or a family member who encourages you to eat? Perhaps colleagues place food on your desk, or loved ones buy you a food treat or bring one to you when you’re watching TV when you haven’t asked for it. Perhaps your eating helps to justify their eating or makes them feel better about their own eating, so be wary of others sabotaging your intentions.
10. Be Proactive Rather Than Reactive
Quick-fix, rapid weight loss diets can encourage overeating both before, and after, a person embarks on a diet. The latter is because it might be too strict so their willpower runs out! When a person knows they can ‘solve’ that overeating episode (such as three weeks of constant Christmas feasting) with a quick-fix, rapid weight loss diet in January, they’re more likely to overindulge at Christmas because they know they can find a quick ‘solution’ come January. Contrast that with a person who has no intention of doing a quick-fix diet come January. They might be more likely to be a bit more mindful around food at Christmas, and therefore be more proactive in their approach, instead of being reactive (for example, “Oops, I’ve eaten far too much over Christmas, I really need to go on a new year diet!”). Sound familiar? It’s far better to adopt a ‘maintain not gain’ approach than a ‘feast then famine’ approach. This can help you to escape the yo-yo dieting trap.
Don’t see Christmas as a roadblock to mindful eating- see it as an opportunity, like any other time of the year, to eat in a way that’s still very much enjoyable and makes you feel genuinely good, so that you don’t get to January in need of a quick-fix remedy. There are a lot of steps you can take as illustrated in the above tips to help you feel more in charge of your eating over Christmas and avoid excessive overeating. Eating in moderation (mindful eating) is still very much enjoyable, if not more enjoyable than overeating. We can eat mindfully and still enjoy lots of different festive foods and drink, without going completely overboard to the point where we’ve gained 10 pounds and we’re starting to crave salad and vegetables! Mindful eating isn’t restrictive, it doesn’t involve feeling deprived- it’s flexible and it’s just more balanced. Why not try a fresh approach to your eating by trying out some of these ten tips to avoid overeating at Christmas? The great thing is you can then use these handy tips all year round.
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