Preventing the Holiday Eating (or anytime) Hangover

December 1, 2008

thanksgivingfeastToday, the first day back to work after the Thanksgiving holiday, and my very first client walked in the door, sat across from me, and said, “It was Thanksgiving and I overate.” He then proceeded to tell me about the wide range of holiday foods he ate, including 5 slices of apple pie for dessert. He also described feeling physically uncomfortable from eating too much food. When I asked him if he ate too much because he was still hungry, he replied, “No, it just tasted good so I kept eating.”

It’s probably not surprising to many of you that this is a very common situation, especially during the holidays when there is an overabundance and availability of many delicious foods. It can be very easy to eat beyond our satisfaction and comfort levels.

Some reasons for overeating during the holidays include:

(Source: “Am I hungry?”, Michelle May, MD)

  • I felt obligated.
  • I wanted to taste everything.
  • I was afraid I wouldn’t get that food again.
  • 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.

If any of these statements are familiar to you, and you are having feelings of guilt or regret, instead, try to learn from your experiences to help you to change your behavior for the future.

For your next meal or holiday event…..

  • Set your intentions before you eat. Choose how full you would like to be when you are finished eating. Think about what it feels like to feel satisfied and stuffed. Usually, when you are satisfied, you are fulfilled and content and may even feel energized. But, when you are stuffed, the feeling can be more uncomfortable, such as feeling tired or lethargic. If you decide that you want to feel stuffed, then, it is actually ok because you’ve consciously considered the consequences.

  • Next, prepare, serve, or order the amount of food needed to reach your desired level of fullness.

  • Eat mindfully by paying attention to the process of eating (focus on the taste, smell, texture of food) as well as your level of hunger and fullness. It may help to slow down your eating and to stop eating after about 20 minutes to assess how you feel. If you decide that you want to feel content (as opposed to stuffed) and you have food remaining on your plate, move the food away from you or move yourself away from the food.

bloatedTo determine how full you are, you might want to consider:

  • The feeling in your stomach- does it feel full, extended, or bloated? Am I feeling any pain or discomfort?
  • The feeling in your body- Are you experiencing any heartburn or nausea? Are you feeling uncomfortable or pleased and content? Are your clothes feeling tight?
  • Your energy levels- Do you feel energetic, drowsy, or lethargic?

Holidays are intended to be a happy and joyous time of year, so, don’t stress about the “proper” way to eat. If you find that you’ve overeaten (even if your intention was not to), focus on the future to get yourself back on track. Listen to your body to guide your eating. Even if you’ve overeaten, you will eventually feel hunger again- let that direct you to the next meal. If you find that you repeatedly overeat, consider what causes you to overeat and what you can change for the next time.

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