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Ask an Expert: How Can I Stop Overeating at the Holidays?

I hear this question all the time. It's the time of year where our diets start to take a turn for the worse-- we lose all restraint to eat normal portion sizes and disregard our intuition to stop eating. This spiral tends to start a few weeks before Halloween when the jumbo sized bags of candy hit the retail shelves and culminates on New Years day with the smorgasbord of leftovers consumed while recovering from festivities the night before. Most people do not understand why they overeat during this time of year or may not even realize how much they are eating. There are many reasons why people over eat but this article focuses on two: emotional eating and not knowing when you need to eat.

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I Eat Because I Am Stressed Out

A large majority of people overeat because of emotional stress. Many people may not even realize they are overeating because of emotions. They may think, "I just sat down and ate a whole bag of potato chips and a pint of ice cream and I wasn't even hungry" but not know why. The internal conversation probably ends there and the person is upset because of their food choices. The conversation should not end but instead another question should be asked: why did I just eat all of that junk?

It may be that the person is sitting home on a Friday night, watching a movie, alone and wishing that they had company. This person is feeling alone and uses food to fulfill their need. Loneliness is not the only reason we overeat. In the next few months, overeating might be cause by celebration and joy. It might happen while sharing wonderful meals with friends. Or it might be because we are seeing family members who cause us to be anxious. If we take the time to think about why we overindulge in these situations, it is usually because we give ourselves permission. We reason that if we overeat in celebration or anxiety just one day it is fine because the next day it is back to normal life. This is still an emotional response to eating.

I Eat Because I Don't Realize When I'm Full

You must listen to your body and understand when you need food for nourishment versus comfort. People who are in tune with their bodies and know when they need to eat to have energy tend to overindulge less.  To become more in tune with your body, focus on how you feel in the mornings upon waking. This will help you to understand how your body feels when you are hungry. Soon after you eat a healthy breakfast that consists of a complex carbohydrate and protein, e.g. small bowl of oatmeal or two egg whites and an apple, assess how your body feels again. Hopefully, you feel awake, more alert, energized, and full from breakfast. Throughout the day check in with your body to see if you are feeling similar to how you did in the morning when you woke. If you are then eat another small meal to reenergize your body and allow you body to feel full. Doing this will help you to understand the real reasons why you eat and why you over eat.

Grete R. Hornstrom is a Clinical Dietitian who is currently specializing in pediatric care. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Physical Education with a concentration in Exercise Science from Kent State University, a Master of Arts in Wellness Management from Ball State University, and a Master of Science in Dietetics from Ball State University. She has worked with overweight children and adults, recreational and elite athletes, chronically ill children, and every day people on developing nutrition plans and healthy lifestyle changes. In addition she has worked with recreational teams, high school teams, and college teams educating them on the importance of nutrition and performance. She has completed one marathon and three half marathons in the last two years. Her newest sport of choice is cycling.


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