From now through New Year's Day, there are usually plenty of opportunities to overindulge in unhealthy foods. Whether your vice is those Christmas cookies your neighbors always gift or perhaps the mounds of chips left over from a holiday party, it’s easy to eat more than you should.
Overeating isn’t just unhealthy; it can take years (and quality of years) off your life, according to a 2014 National Institutes of Health study. Although people are living longer, they are experiencing lower quality of life in their later years, and one of the causes is poor dietary habits. Whether you’re old or young, overeating has serious consequences, such as obesity, mental health issues and other health problems.
Dr. Rachel A. Tangaro, of MountainStar's Millcreek Primary Care, said holiday overeating can be dangerous for people with certain medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. For example, people with diabetes need to watch their sugar and carbohydrate intake so they don’t end up with hyperglycemic hyperosmolar syndrome. Patients with heart issues need to be very careful about their salt intake and fluid intake and should work closely with their cardiologists to establish limits for sodium and liquids.
Here are six tips to help you keep your food intake under control this holiday season.
Use portion control
Overeating usually begins with a too-large portion. You don’t have to get a second and third helping to overeat; sometimes it happens with one plate piled high.
“Weight gain in the American population seems to be virtually all explained by eating more calories. It appears that changes in physical activity played a minimal role,” according to Boyd Swinburn, director of the World Health Organization Centre for Obesity Prevention in Australia, in a news release quoted by WebMD.
So no matter how much you work out over the break, overeating will still likely cause negative effects. When you fill up your plate at a normal meal or holiday gathering, consider: What do you really want to eat? Don’t choose foods you’re only remotely interested in or feel obligated to try. Instead, pick a good variety of foods you know you want to eat, and then stop when you feel full.
Listen to your body’s signals
“Appetite is complex, and dieting is a challenge," wrote Ann MacDonald, a contributor to Harvard Health. "Even so, people who are trying to lose weight may want to start by chewing more slowly. In that way, they allow themselves enough time to experience pleasure and satiety.”
"I recommend waiting 10-20 minutes after finishing your meal before going back for seconds," Tangaro said. "There are hormones in the stomach and intestines that signal the brain that the body has enough nutrients. This results in people feeling full. It can take up to 20 minutes for this signal to reach the brain."
Avoid distractions while eating
Another way to listen better to your body to avoid overeating is by avoiding distractions: Don’t eat while watching TV or talking to several people at once. Choose a place to sit down to eat rather than standing by a refreshment table or moving around a room. When you’re sitting and focusing most of your attention on your meal, you’ll find it’s much easier to keep track of what you’ve eaten and how full you feel. Most likely, you’ll find that you appreciate your food even more, too.
Keep indulgences in check
One common dieting pitfall is the tendency to say “I can’t eat that” and finding that the prohibited food is all you can think about. At times denial is necessary, but it can also lead to overindulging because you feel you’re never going to get the chance to eat that particular treat again.
Instead of telling yourself, “No sugar or desserts this month,” try a different tactic. “I can have one dessert at this party” can be a better way to control your sugar and fat intake without ruining all the fun or promoting a bingeing mishap. This type of eating is often referred to as intuitive eating, an approach that can be helpful in avoiding overeating.
Keep a consistent diet
The fastest way to put yourself in a bad spot nutritionally is by skipping meals or keeping an inconsistent diet. According to a study conducted by Hiroaki Oda, a professor at Nagoya University Graduate School of Bioagricultural Sciences, people who do not eat breakfast are more likely to have weight problems. Overeating most often occurs when people skip a meal (usually breakfast) and then later eat more unhealthy foods or larger meals to make up for it.
You can avoid falling into this common trap by keeping your routines (including mealtimes) consistent through the holiday season. Pack healthy snacks with you if you’ll be away from home so you can avoid getting too hungry and overeating to compensate.
Stick with your plan
So what is really so bad about overeating? For one thing, overeating has direct links to obesity, which is a health risk. Obesity has been linked to health problems such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis and cancer, according to WebMD, so it’s not to be taken lightly.
Make a plan this holiday season to avoid falling into unhealthy habits. If you want to lose weight, Tangaro said meeting with a primary care provider is a good place to start.
"We can rule out conditions such as hypothyroidism that can cause weight gain," Tangaro said. "We can also connect patients with dieticians and nutritionists and even clinics that specialize in bariatric surgery."
For further questions about nutrition and the dangers of overeating, consult a health care provider at MountainStar Healthcare.
Editor’s Note: Anything in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended, nor should it be interpreted, to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Any opinions, statements, services, offers, or other information or content expressed or made available are those of the respective author(s) or distributor(s) and not of KSL. KSL does not endorse nor is it responsible for the accuracy or reliability of any opinion, information, or statement made in this article. KSL expressly disclaims all liability in respect to actions taken or not taken based on the content of this article.