We’re a couple weeks past Thanksgiving and moving quickly towards December holidays, all the way up to New Year’s Eve.
A show of hands, please—how many of you were brave enough to step on the scale after indulging on round one of rich treats and sweets?
Even if you didn’t measure the “after party” with a number, you probably feel a little bloated. Maybe that your pants seem to fit a little snugger.
Around the holidays, food carries deep meaning and even resurrects memories of childhood or hometown favorite dishes. Some psychologists note that food memories are more sensory than other memories in that they involve all five senses. So, when you’re that engaged with food, eating seems to become an unstoppable freight train.
When you begin indulging around Thanksgiving, it can honestly seem impossible to stop. This isn’t because your willpower failed you, either—there is an actual biological reason that this is true for so many people.
Keep reading as we unpack the power food has on our brain and for some essential tips to get yourself “back on track” after the holiday season!
Why does this happen?
Even the most steadfast friends or family members who prioritize healthy, whole foods can fall into the holiday trap of overeating and choosing foods that are rich or sugar-laden. It’s important that readers know we aren’t trying to shame anyone into foregoing their traditional favorites. In fact, this is the best time of year to indulge a little! Being surrounded by friends, family and your favorite food has been shown to boost moods and increase cheer.
However, you may notice the cyclical nature of over eating and the struggle to transition back to a healthy diet. The underlying reason that this happens is because you are surrounded by foods that are not normally around. Many times, you feel like you need to “fill up” at every meal, because it might be the only time you get this meal for the entire year.
In addition, there are snacks around that are easy to graze on all day. Mentality, this joy of grazing can go from one day to a week to the month between Thanksgiving and the New Year.
If you’re nodding along as you read this, you’re not alone. In fact, 85% of people surveyed have admitted to overeating during the holidays. With Thanksgiving behind, us don’t feel like you have already failed! Use the next two weeks to reset and enjoy the food around you.
Feeling guilty about food is counterproductive and can actually backfire. Eat the foods you love, say “no” to the ones you feel so-so about, and enjoy every bite. You’ll feel more satisfied and even have room left for dessert!
How to prevent over indulging
Whether at home or at one of our famous Arlington restaurants, there are ways to ensure that you are able to eat what you want without feeling sick the next day. First, if given the option, prioritize nutrient-dense foods. If you can focus on eating satisfying, nutrient-dense foods, and avoiding processed food 80% of the time, you are doing really well. By eating 80% nutrient dense and healthy foods, you are giving your body the nutrition it needs and you won’t feel the urge to binge or overeat as often. So, give yourself a break! Don’t feel the need to be perfect.
Another common mistake is skipping meals to save room for the big meal later. Unfortunately, if you arrive at a party or the dinner table famished, you are more likely to overeat. It can be very hard to resist a plate full of hors d’oeuvres or buffet of buttery desserts if attending a party on an empty stomach. Eating a small, nutritious meal prior to attending an event eases hunger while allowing for a small, reasonable indulgence later.
And this also means being properly hydrated! Drinking water helps maintain the balance of fluids in the body, responsible for all vital functions. From digestion to transportation and absorption of nutrients, drinking water can also help control calories. Foods with a high water content, such as fruits and vegetables, are absorbed more slowly by the body, aiding fullness.
How do I recover from this cycle?
As we stare down New Year’s resolutions, it can be daunting to get back to eating our normal foods and quantities. Even with super-human willpower to limit portion sizes, do you ever feel hungrier after indulging in big meals? This is normal. And how many of us collapse onto the couch after a big meal unable to even fathom eating again? This is also normal.
Most mornings after a big meal, you wake up and feel even hungrier than normal. Did your stomach stretch? Well, yes, it is true that your stomach changes in size when hungry or full. The stomach contracts as a meal is digested to help move food towards the intestines. It rumbles as air and food move around as food is pushed down the tract. After rumbling, the stomach then expands again in preparation for eating, a process initiated by hormones.
All that said, it’s not really true that eating stretches out the stomach. The stomach is very elastic, and does return to its resting capacity (about 1-2 liters) after a big meal. In fact, most people’s stomachs are pretty similar in capacity (either height nor weight have an effect). Even though your stomach has a hormonal system for telling your brain when it’s empty, this is often augmented by the learned association between times of day and feeling hungry. So, even if you had a large lunch, you may well still feel hungry at dinner.
The best way to reset your system is to get back to your previous eating schedule. The key to nipping negative cycles in the bud is to do these recovery activities in the right order. Although cutting out high-calorie treats starting the next day after a meal might seem like the right place to start, in fact this superficially easy route frequently leads to failure because you get hungry and then overeat when you get hungry again! Prioritize high-fiber, low-carb meals to make sure you feel full and aren’t searching for snacks soon after a meal. This will help get you back on track.
At Dr. Marchbanks’ office we know that indulging is part of the holidays. Don’t beat yourself up too much if you go back for one more cookie (maybe a few times). We wish you all a happy holiday season and look forward to seeing you in the new year!