Indulging Without Overeating

Just when life feels stressful enough, the holidays arrive. For many, this time to unwind and relax, yet people commonly describe their stress levels as “very” or “somewhat” elevated from mid-November into the New Year. Pressure from finances, buying the right gifts, and a disrupted eating and exercise routine can drive some people to seek comfort or distraction in food. As a result, plans for an occasional indulgence may turn into an overeating habit. Making simple shifts in how you think about food might help.

First and foremost, let go of the notion you need to punish or correct yourself for indulging. You can always return to your regular eating routine regardless of how much you ate or how much weight you may have gained through the holiday season. But if you find yourself stuck in a prolonged period of abnormal eating or overeating, small adjustments can help bring your energy levels and digestion back to speed:

Use the plate method to balance food choices. Balanced meals lend to a feeling of fullness and satisfaction without excessive calories. Work towards balance by aiming to eat mostly fiber-rich, plant-based foods. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables and fill the other half with a serving of whole grains and lean protein. Many get-togethers contain a spread of different foods that fit this template. If not, bring a healthy dish or whole fruit (for the dessert table) to share. Filling at least ¾ of your plate with plant-based foods at every meal maximizes your intake of fiber, which stimulates the release of compounds in the digestive system that tell the brain to stop eating.

Bring predictability to your eating routine. Consistency in any diet (or exercise routine) can help stabilize blood sugar levels and regulate hunger cues and mood, lowering the chance you reach a state of extreme hunger or stress where you’re prone to overeat. In general, avoid skipping regular meals, especially breakfast, if you usually eat it. If there is a day when you know you’ll be eating a more substantial meal than usual, stick to smaller but regularly timed meals that include fruits and vegetables.

Take your time at the table. Rushed eating bypasses hunger and fullness cues, leaving you feeling either overly hungry (or uncomfortably full) by the time you’re finished. There is a roughly 20-minute delay in hunger and fullness signals from the time you put the first bite of food in your mouth until it’s sensed in the stomach. Stay in tune with these signals by slowing down your eating pace, setting down utensils between bites, using smaller eating utensils, pausing between bites, or minimizing distractions around you. Slowing down helps you fully engage with your food, maximizing your enjoyment, so you’re not left wanting more later.

Continue to prioritize indulgence. Restricting foods you enjoy can take a toll on mental and emotional wellbeing. Eventually, after a period of feeling deprived from your favorite foods, you may give in and find yourself overeating the things you restricted. Knowing these foods are not permanently off-limits will lessen feelings of guilt or shame attached to eating them and ultimately prevent feelings of deprivation. Giving yourself permission to indulge can pave the way to an enjoyable relationship with different foods that altogether support your wellness goals.

Check-in with your hunger levels. Predictability and balance can help you get in touch with your hunger cues by fine-tuning the appetite regulation system. To prevent overeating, learn how to respond to these cues. Consider how your body feels before you start eating. Ask yourself, is my hunger based in a physical need for fuel, or am I reaching for food simply because it’s there or someone offered it? As you eat at a reasonable pace, try to detect the transition of physical hunger to fullness in the body.


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