Surviving the Holiday Food Onslaught
(November 24, 2015)
The period from shortly before Halloween, when suddenly large bowls of candy seem to cover every available surface, to that undefined day that comes sometime after January 1st when you finally get a grip, is what I like to think of as the Holiday Eating Season. During this period the average adult person will tell you that s/he gains about five pounds, and has a roaring good time doing it too.
In order to avoid being just an average person, then, I myself usually -- instead -- gain about eight to ten pounds. Of course, by dint of much suffering, I manage to lose it afterwards. Or so I’ve always thought. It turns out that, horror of horrors, I might be WRONG about that.
Getting back to the average adult person again, s/he tends to gain about a pound a year, and there is some evidence that this increase mostly happens during the holidays. Meaning, that the weight that is gained then is never completely lost. I find that easy to believe, because it also happens that people who have managed to lose a goodly amount of weight AND keep it off generally stick to their eating plan all the time – which is weekends and holidays as well as during the week. So if one is trying to maintain one's weight (and thus avoid being average) it might be useful to focus on minimizing the damage from the Special Occasion, whether that Occasion is a single meal or a season-long food orgy.
We have one of those very Special Occasions coming up in just a couple of days! So -- we need a few ideas here. I do not want them to be the usual worthless tips you find on the “prevent overeating” subject every time you look it up. Because I dislike worthless. And I like this time of year. I like the atmosphere of festivity that manages to persist despite everyone being stressed out of their minds. I like eating yummy things that are unique to the season. So I want these to be useful tips, and I want them to enable a maximum of frolicking with a minimum of deprivation.
I hope these fit the bill.
1) Find someone to share your treats with. Meaning, buy the seasonal dessert item but don’t eat the whole thing yourself. After the first few bites we tend not to notice what we’re eating anyway. If you bought a box of Something that isn’t available the rest of the year, sneak it onto the receptionist's desk or put it out in the lunch room. Failing this expedient, take it over to a friend’s house. That's what friends are for. S/he may yell at you for bringing it and but then it will be finished off by someone besides you, just like you wanted.
2) At meals, eat at least some boring vegetables first. We know the tasty calorie-dense foods are the ones that trip people up. You get a whole lot more calories down in five minutes of pie-eating than you do with the same five minutes of steamed-carrot-eating. So getting down a lot of nutritious, dull vegetables at the start of the meal will start to fill you up and you should automatically be happier with a smaller piece of pie at the end of it. As long as you...
3) Eat only if you’re hungry, and stop when you aren’t. This is something we should be doing all the time anyway. But many of us don’t. There’s more than one reason for that (and here is a pitch for my friend Lydia, a lifestyle coach who has an interesting and helpful little series on emotional overeating on YouTube which you can find at
but the reason that I want to bring up here is this -- we’ve become so used to eating readily available food at the drop of a hat that we often can’t tell anymore when we’re hungry and when we aren’t. So at the risk of some of you thinking I’m really weird, which is a Rubicon I crossed long ago anyway, I’m going to copy these stages of hunger out from WebMD:
0: Ravenously hungry, salivating.
1: Hungry, belly growling (or a gnawing, empty feeling in the stomach).
2: Mildly hungry; you may need a light snack to hold you over, but you could hold out a little longer.
3: Satisfied; don't need to eat any more.
4: More than satisfied; ate too much.
5: Stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey.
So you eat at 1, preferably. If you wait until 0, you will eat way too much. If you eat at 2, it should be no more than a snack. And you quit eating at 3.
If you’re at 2 and don’t normally drink a lot of water, you could try drinking a big glass of water and waiting 20 minutes. Many people mistake thirst for hunger these days, especially those who aren't big water drinkers.
Sticking with this we-don't-know-how-to-eat-properly-any-more theme, if you’re eating the way your body wants you to, you tend to get hungry again three to five hours after a satisfying meal. You also tend to feel satisfied about 20 minutes after commencing a good meal, so if you focus on eating a little more slowly and on lower-calorie foods as mentioned above, that might be helpful too. This disconnect from the body’s signals is at the core of most eating problems, so my feeling is that becoming adept at reading and obeying these signals could be not just very healthy and useful but – dare I say it? – EMPOWERING.
4) Don’t eat it if you don’t want it. Just eat what you really want to eat, and avoid the rest. In order to do this effectively...
5) Take a tip from the eating disordered. You remember that well-dressed, fashionably thin lady at the restaurant who was exclaiming loudly and delightedly over her plate of delicious food? She had no intentions of eating it. After making a good deal of noise over it she just stirred it around on her plate, and no one noticed. So you do the same when you’re served something you don’t really want; make a fuss over it if appropriate, and then just mess it up on your plate.
If anyone finds these handy, or has a secret useful technique of their own, please let me know. Soon! And happy Thanksgiving to you all!
--dr. diane holmes
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