Most people will overeat during the holiday period and/or while travelling. This is normal and forcing yourself to resist every single morsel of food can have detrimental effects to your mental health and enjoyment. A better approach is balancing out overeating by following the tips below.
Why care about overeating?
Eating and drinking more than usual is normal during the end of year holidays. Gaining weight and/or body fat as a result is also normal. For many people, going back to their routine will eventually take care of that. However, you might want to speed up this process if you have health conditions that are worsened by excess weight, you are an athlete participating in weight category sports, etc.
Balancing out overeating
The following short-term strategies can help you balance out overeating:
Many people feel defeated once they have deviated from their healthy eating habits and let go of the breaks completely. Knowing that the surplus energy you eat (i.e. the actual number of kilojoules or kilocalories) makes a difference, you should aim to stop overeating as soon as you have satisfied your initial craving.
Space it out
Ideally, try not to overeat on consecutive days. If not possible, try not to overeat on consecutive meals.
Wash it out
Choose lower energy nutritious foods:
- Lean proteins (e.g. chicken breast, pork tenderloin, lean mince, trimmed lean steaks, white fish, canned tuna in water)
- Fresh or frozen fruit
- Moderate amounts of high fibre legumes and grains (e.g. beans, lentils, chickpeas, corn, brown rice, quinoa, pulse pasta)
- Water, black coffee/tea and other non-caloric beverages
Limit higher energy foods (even though some are healthy!):
- Processed foods, including packaged snacks, baked goods, desserts
- Nuts and seeds
- Oils and fats
- Fatty proteins (e.g. fatty/marbled steaks, lamb, chicken legs/thighs, pork, bacon, ham, salmon)
- Fat-containing condiments (e.g. mayonnaise) and salad dressings
- Energy-containing beverages including alcohol, juice, smoothies, and coffee/tea with added sugar, milk and syrups
Most, if not all, processes in the body including digestion require water to work properly. In addition, the concentration of solutes in your blood (e.g. glucose, sodium, ethanol) depends on how much water is in your blood. In other words, drinking more water will dilute, to some extent, how the percentage of sugar, salt, alcohol, etc. you have in your blood. This is especially important if you have health conditions that are worsened by increased levels of those substances.
Skip a meal
Skipping meals (a.k.a. intermittent fasting) has very passionate proponents and critics. While skipping meals can be contraindicated for some people under normal circumstances, it can be a valid strategy to mitigate the damage in a period of overeating. Make sure you stay hydrated and that the meals you don’t skip follow the guidelines above.
Use the extra energy
My usual advice is to adjust energy and macronutrient intake to physical activity, i.e. eat more if you have trained hard. This is because most ordinary people can’t predict with 100% certainty if they will be able to perform the workout they had planned for the day and how much energy and glycogen they will actually spend. However, if the overeating has already taken place, your best bet is to adjust your energy expenditure via physical activity. Even though you might feel terrible after overeating, especially when booze is involved, remember the energy can be used to fuel exercise. Don’t be surprised if you feel stronger than usual when you pick up the weights after a big celebration.
Give away foods that you don’t want to eat. If you decide to donate them to shelters or other organisations, follow their instructions for edible donations.
For more information about how to mitigate holiday period damage, check out the following articles:
- How to eat less when you move less
- How to stay healthy during the holidays
- 10 tips to survive the holiday season
- How to survive the holiday season (2020 edition)
- How to survive the holiday season (2021 edition)
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