10 Tips To Avoid Overeating At Christmas
The stress of preparing for Christmas, the huge array of delicious-looking festive foods in the shops and restaurants, food gifts we receive as well as the eating behaviour of those around us create a perfect formula for overeating. Many people get to January a fair few pounds heavier and in dire need of a break from all the rich, festive food. If you’re looking to avoid excessive weight gain this year and want to fully enjoy your food whilst not overdoing it, then try out some of the tips below. We can eat mindfully and yet still very much enjoy different festive foods and drink over Christmas without going completely overboard.
1. Buy Less
It can be so easy to fall for the numerous special offers on food at Christmas and buy the same every year. Perhaps you buy a large tin of chocolates, which you leave on your coffee table for people to munch on. Each year food marketeers bring out new flavours of food and drink, and for those individuals who have a fear of missing out (FOMO), it can be really hard to not buy what’s on sale.
When there’s food in the house, it’s easy to eat it. “You can’t waste food” is a common attitude and gives people an excuse to overeat. How many times have you ended up with a stack of chocolates or biscuits that you just want gone because you’re going back on the diet in the next few days? Draw up a plan of which foods you will buy this year along with quantities. It’s understandable if you prefer to have too much than too little, especially if you’re hosting a lot of people, but try to be less spontaneous when doing your Christmas food shop. If you write a shopping list, stick to it as much as possible.
2. Eat What You Really Want And Pass On The Rest
It’s important to enjoy 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 go for the foods you really want to eat but then pass on others- then savour and fully enjoy the ones you love. We’re often seeking that pleasure hit from food, and if we’re not particularly enjoying the flavour of a food, or eating it mindlessly, we might keep on eating until we find something that gives us that hit, resulting in overeating. If there’s a box of chocolates, give to others those you’re not keen on or throw them away, and enjoy those you really like. And just be more present with food.
3. Keep Food Out Of Sight Or Reach
Visual food cues are powerful. A huge trigger for overeating is food that’s within reach or in sight. Is it tradition for you to have chocolates, biscuits, nuts or crisps on the coffee table, lying on a kitchen surface or in the office over Christmas? You can still give yourself permission to eat festive treats, but if the food around you is too much of a temptation, discuss with colleagues or family members how to manage the food and come to an agreement. You could also make a decision to stick to a certain limit and then really savour and enjoy what you have. If possible, place the food elsewhere so that you have to go and fetch it to eat it and then don’t go back for more. Try to eat according to whether or not you’re hungry, but at the same time do address visual food cues as it can be a challenge to not eat something regardless of whether or not we’re hungry, when food is in sight or within reach.
4. Create Strategies And Plan
When we set an intention in advance to do something, we’re more likely to do it. Having some clarity in terms of how to go about something can enable you to be more effective, rather than just having some vague notion of doing something. Decide in advance of events or situations roughly what and how much you will eat or drink. For example, if there’s a lot of festive food flying around in the office, either take in your own healthier snacks instead or decide how many chocolates, mince pies or biscuits you will limit yourself to per day. If you tend to enjoy second helpings at mealtimes, plan in advance to have just one helping, especially if you know from experience that you tend to get stuffed when you eat a second helping and perhaps don’t enjoy it as much as the first. Decide on a strategy for dealing with leftovers (for example, freeze them or make them into a handy meal for the next day). If you’re a plate-clearer, make a decision in advance to avoid picking at other family members’ food if they leave any on their plate. If you’re eating out at restaurants over Christmas, decide in advance to avoid getting overly stuffed and have two courses rather than three. You could opt for three courses but ensure that at least one of the courses is a lighter, healthier option; consider avoiding meals that are overly rich including fried foods or creamy or cheesy sauces.
5. Don’t Graze: Each Mouthful Adds Up
Some people are ‘grazers’, whether through skipping meals, boredom, because they’re influenced by external cues to eat or because they’re hungry whilst preparing the evening meal. Don’t kid yourself each time you pop food into 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. It’s easy to think that if something is only a mouthful it doesn’t count or is only a few calories- many festive foods are very calorie-dense, so eating just a mouthful of a food can be a considerable number of calories consumed and soon adds up if grazing on food all day. The trouble with grazing is that it isn’t physically or psychologically satisfying as it’s often mindless and small bits of food here and there that don’t satiate us, causing us to look for more food. Grazing can also cause blood sugar peaks and dips, which can make it hard to stop eating.
6. TV Eating
For many people, TV is an integral part of Christmas fun and relaxation, and we have so many channels these days! From my experience of working with clients, TV can be a huge trigger for mindless overeating, whatever time of year. When we’re distracted by TV, it’s easy to not notice how much we’re eating; or if the programme you’re watching isn’t very stimulating, you might get the ‘munchies’. Watching TV is a deeply ingrained habit for many, especially in the evenings when energy levels are lower. Get up and do something else such as playing a game, cooking or having a conversation with someone, 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.
7. Don’t Use A Quick-Fix Diet Solution In January As An Excuse To Overeat At Christmas
I’ve worked with many people over the years, and it’s really common for individuals to feel trapped in yo-yo dieting, swinging between restrictive eating (dieting) and overeating, and labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. ‘Middle-way’ eating can feel like an alien concept, which involves being generally mindful about food choices, eating in a flexible way and not being either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ with eating.
Weight loss diets can feel like a ‘saviour’ after Christmas, giving people an excuse to overindulge at Christmas. Unfortunately this overindulgence might not take place for just a few days, but nearly the whole of December. If a person knows they can ‘solve’ all the festive overeating and weight gain with a quick-fix (rapid weight loss) diet in January, this may encourage them to overindulge at Christmas because they know they’ll get back on track in the new year. But weight gain at the end of Christmas doesn’t feel good, and it only reinforces to people a belief that they can’t control their eating unless they’re on a diet.
In contrast, a person who has no intention of doing a quick-fix diet come January is more likely to be more mindful with food at Christmas. It’s far better to adopt a ‘maintain not gain’ approach than a ‘feast then famine’ approach. A reliance on dieting can keep us trapped in a cycle of being ‘good’ and ‘bad’. In contrast, mindful eating can help us to fully enjoy food whilst staying in charge of it and avoid swinging between being ‘on’ or ‘off’ a diet (see below: ‘Eat Mindfully’).
8. Eat Mindfully
Mindful eating is about being present with food in the moment (whilst not allowing lots of distractions to impair the eating process), enjoying food by savouring the taste and texture, being aware of when your body has had enough to eat so that you’re tuning into the body’s needs (connecting mind and body), and taking into consideration the body’s nutritional needs (most of the time) whilst having pleasurable, satisfying eating experiences. It’s also about giving yourself choice around food, permission to eat the foods you enjoy in moderate quantities, not allowing yourself to get overly hungry or depriving yourself, which can lead to food cravings and overeating, and learning to feel satisfied when eating the right amount of food for your body (both physically and psychologically). Self-awareness is key- being aware of not just what you eat, but how and why you eat. It enables balanced, flexible eating, not ‘perfect’, rule-based eating. No one food is ‘bad’- it’s how much of something you eat and how often you eat it that counts.
Think Before You Eat &a