ADVICE

How to avoid unwanted holiday weight gain

People toasting at a party

Many of us struggle with keeping our weight stable over the holidays — but if this is something that worries you dietitian Caroline Trickey’s top tips will help you enjoy a great break without the tight waistband.

We all have some foods that we prepare only during the holidays, something extra special we really look forward to. It’s little wonder many people overeat during this time, which can then lead to unwanted ‘weight creep’ over the break. Rather than pledging to go on a potentially harmful fad diet in the New Year, a more effective and healthier approach is to prevent any unplanned or unwanted weight gain happening in the first place. Here’s how …

Fight food FOMO

Have you heard of food FOMO — Fear Of Missing Out — which makes people eat food just because it’s there? FOMO comes from a scarcity mindset, which you can overcome.

Remind yourself there’s no shortage of delicious foods in your life. Be selective and choose only the most delicious-tasting food. Eat it slowly, savour it, and you’ll be a lot less likely to overeat. When you recognise you’ve eaten enough — although there’s still more to try — ask to take a portion home so you can enjoy it as delicious leftovers the following day.

Overeating consistently is what leads to weight gain. Make it a goal over the break to limit how often you overeat (if at all), so you can maintain your weight.

5 ways to enjoy holiday celebrations without overdoing it

1 Find other ways to thrive

So many events in our lives — and holidays — revolve around food, but what about the many other things in our lives that can bring the same amount of pleasure?

While enjoying food is great, it can become a problem when it’s the only source of joy and entertainment we choose. If it is, it’s time to aim for a better balance.

Ask yourself: what other things do you enjoy doing that aren’t food related? What other ways can you entertain yourself and your family? Include these as part of your holiday celebrations. This will probably also involve becoming more active too — with knock-on fitness benefits!

2 Plan ahead

Behaviours repeated often become habits. After a while there’s very little conscious thought that goes into continuing that habit. You repeat it as if on autopilot — and eating is a habit most of us do on autopilot.

So, aim to get your mind out of autopilot mode by thinking and planning ahead. Think about the party or dinner you are about to attend, what food may be there, and how you may be able to best manage your intake. Imagine yourself being there and eating slowly; not overeating; being discerning, deciding what you want most, and not eating anything that you don’t love.

Planning ahead allows you to access the rational, thinking part of your brain rather than its autopilot, which loves to succumb to immediate gratification.

3 Eat mindfully

Think about how much food your body normally needs to feel lightly full, and put that amount on your plate. That way, if you want more, you’ll have to think about it first. Then eat slowly and minimise distractions, so you can stop eating when you start to feel lightly full.

Do your best to focus on what you’re eating, so you can savour every bite. Remember, you’re eating these foods because they taste great, so don’t miss out on the flavour. If you’re talking to someone, take a few moments from the conversation to focus back on what’s on your plate. That way, you’ll notice when your body has had enough food before you’re too full.

Enjoying your food while engaging in conversation takes practice, but holiday times can offer plenty of opportunities to perfect this skill! Plus, you won’t feel overfull, bloated or sleepy afterwards!

4 Ask yourself: ‘am I really hungry?’

As humans we are programmed to want to eat food when we see it — a relic from our cave-dwelling days when food was scarce. But if you regularly eat when you aren’t hungry, it’s likely that your body will store that excess energy in the form of fat.

If you’ve got a dinner or party coming up, plan to arrive hungry, but not too hungry. When you are too hungry, you’re less discerning about what you eat, and you’re more likely to eat quickly and too much. Also, before going back for seconds or serving yourself dessert, ask: ‘Am I really hungry?’

Don’t eat before an event with the idea that you won’t eat during the event — more often than not this backfires. Our willpower can be an unreliable tool, especially at the end of the day, and even more so after a drink!

5 Don’t beat yourself up

If you do overeat, be mindful of the ‘it’s too late now’ attitude, which can lead you on to bingeing. Equally, avoid an all-or-nothing ‘over-correction’, such as planning to detox or embarking on a fad diet. It’s normal and natural to overeat on occasions. How much and how often is what determines whether or not it will contribute to your weight going up.

A top strategy when you’ve overeaten is to understand what made you do so in the first place. Ask yourself some questions from a non-judgemental perspective — to help you make sense of what just happened, and to consider what you can do next time. It can help to write this down: but afterwards, set it aside. Let go of any shame, guilt or disappointment. Get back to your normal way of eating and allow your body to sort it out — which it’s entirely capable of doing

Law of diminishing returns

How much real enjoyment we get from eating a food starts to decrease after a certain point. For example, your first bite of dessert may taste delicious. The next bites may taste equally delicious. But after a certain amount, it stops tasting as delicious and becomes ‘more of the same.’ When you eat mindfully and notice this, it can help you recognise when it’s time to stop eating.

First published: Dec 2020

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