Ah, holidays. Every way you look there’s glitter and snow and children’s smiles and… food.
If you struggle with overeating at social occasions, this time of year can be more stressful than joyful!
Today, I’m going to help you develop a plan of attack to stick to moderation at parties, but it’s different than what you’ll find on other fitness sites.
The Guide to Not Overeating at Holiday Parties is an anti-restriction, judgment-free, no-BS plan to help you feel more at ease with yourself and your choices, so that you can release the pressure that leads you to overeat at all.
Sound like something that might help you even beyond this holiday season? Let’s get on with it then!
Never attend a party starving
Have you ever gone grocery shopping hungry? Did you leave the store with bags of stuff you had no intention of buying?
When you’re hungry, the primal part of you takes over. Since your body is in famine mode, it’s going to tell your brain to get as much quick energy as it possibly can as fast as it possibly can.
Cue: dessert table in mouth.
If the party is only serving appetizers and drinks, make sure to eat a meal beforehand. Yes, like dinner. You’ll make choices that are more aligned with your truth than you would if you want to eat all the food!
What if it’s a dinner party that you’re going to? I’d still recommend not going starving. Chances are there will be appetizers before the main course, so you’re just as likely to overeat before you even get to dinner if you’re starving! Have a balanced snack with some protein before you go, and you’ll actually be able to enjoy what you choose to eat.
Decide how much you’re comfortably with before you go
This step has helped me tremendously in my recovery from bingeing.
Before you step out your front door, have a pow wow with yourself to determine how much you’d be comfortable eating. Here’s the easy checklist to use for either kind of party:
Apps and Drinks
- How many plates of apps would you feel comfortable eating that would also be enough food for you? (2 small plates? 1 large plate?)
- Is that a realistic amount? (aka are you setting yourself up to be hungry or overeat?)
- How many drinks are you comfortable drinking?
- How many appetizers would you feel comfortable eating before the main course? (give yourself a range here, not a specific amount – like 3-5 appetizers)
- How many plates would you feel comfortable eating at the main course? (1 plate? Seconds?)
- How many drinks are you comfortable drinking?
- How much dessert would you be comfortable eating? (1 piece of pie or cake with ice cream? 3 cookies? The amount of whatever’s available that equals the size of your fist?)
There are no right or wrong answers here. You get to determine what’s realistic and right for YOU.
As much as possible, try to take judgment out of the equation. Base your decisions on how much it actually takes to get to a state of fullness, but not stuffed-ness. In the same vein, please don’t determine an amount that will leave you hungry afterwards. This sets you up for overeating or over-drinking later on in the night.
Along with this plan, please know that if you are still hungry after sticking to what you plan out, you can (and should) eat more. This does, however, require a full check in with yourself after you’ve had the amounts you listed above. More on that below.
Get what you REALLY want on your first plate
The food you don’t really like, but think you should? Leave it in its sad plastic container.
When you allow yourself to eat the foods you really want from the start, you’ll be less likely to overeat them later.
All of those foods that you really look forward to around this time of year are the ones you should put on your plate first. When you do, make sure you eat them with the next step.
Taste it while you eat it
If you’ve read Geneen Roth, you’re probably familiar with the idea of “having it while you have it.” I talk about it a bit in this post.
When I used to eat the foods I really loved, but felt guilty about eating, I’d rush through them. I wouldn’t even taste them – I just wanted to get through the guilt already. I needed to ingest it before I talked myself out of it. Because I rushed myself without experiencing the food, I ate more of it hoping to be satisfied… but rarely was.
If that sounds familiar to you, this step will be groundbreaking.
Having your food while you have it means taking the time to truly savor it. You’re probably heard that before, but I hope you REALLY hear it this time.
When you don’t experience food, you’ll never be sated by it. No amount will ever be enough.
Truly experiencing your food leads to satisfaction with only the amount you need. It’s the best way I’ve found to eat in moderation. I’ve found that 1 serving of what I want tastes just the same as 5 servings. When I allow myself to be in the moment and release the guilt and stories I’m telling myself about who I am for eating this food, I don’t need as much as I did before when I binged on it.
This step takes practice and time. Be patient with yourself, practice it in everyday life and stick to it.
Deep breaths throughout
As you eat and walk around the party, take deep breaths. They help to center you, release tension and bring you back into the moment.
Check in with your real hunger
When we want to eat more than our decided amount, try checking in with your actual hunger before you do. Part of recovery is honoring when you are truly hungry, but to do that we’ve got to get to know the difference between real hunger and the need to avoid discomfort.
Here’s how you check in:
- Get in touch with the sensation in your stomach. Is what you’re experiencing real hunger? Does your stomach feel empty or hollow? Are you experiencing stomach growling? Does your body feel weak?
- If it’s not physical hunger, ask yourself what you’re uncomfortable about. Are you a little anxious about being in a social situation? Are you uncomfortable without something to do with your hands or mouth?
If recognizing that you’re no longer hungry is enough to help you make the decision to stop eating, skip the next step. To go deeper into your check in, go ahead and read “Call out the feels.”
Call out the feels
The most direct way to ease feelings of discomfort is to call out the story we’re telling ourselves. When we separate it from who we are, we’re able to relax and make a decision with our wise-mind (instead of our fearful mind).
When anxiety, panic or feelings of deprivation hit about not going back for more after you’re full, stay with them. You don’t have to escape the feelings. Then, look at them for what they are:
- What are the feelings you’re having?
- What stories are you telling yourself about what you’re “allowed” to do, what it means to eat that food or anything else?
Recognize that this story is just that: a story.
You are allowed to eat more if you want to. Everything you do is your choice. You could go streak down the street right now if you want to! (baby it’s cold outside – best wait til Spring)
Life changes are made once choice at a time. You get to choose how you live in this moment by deciding what you’ll do right now.
To make this process a bit more clear, here are a couple instances that have happened to me a lot in the past, and how I talk myself back to what really matters:
Situation 1: Scarcity – Foods that are only available now
Feelings: panic, anxiety
Story: These cookies only come out one time per year. If I don’t eat more now, I don’t know when I’ll have them again!
How I talk back:
I guess I didn’t really savor the cookies I had on my first plate which explains why I’m not satisfied with the amount I had. How about I grab 2 more and really savor them? If I want more after that, I can always go back. If I feel satisfied before I finish the 2 cookies, I can stop. Any amount of cookies eaten mindlessly won’t satisfy me; I commit to the full cookie experience!
Situation 2: Should-ing myself
Feelings: guilt, anxiety, desparation
Story: I’ve been so good at this party so far. If I have something “bad” I’ll ruin it all. I can never stick to my diet!
How I talk back:
Perfection doesn’t work for anyone. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. This way of restricting myself to certain foods doesn’t seem to be working for me. Every time I cut something out that I like, I only want that one thing and when I get it, I lose all control. I will allow myself a serving of that food eaten mindfully. If I want more after that, I commit to doing a full check in with myself before I go for it.
Situation 3: Social anxiety
Feelings: anxiety, fear
Story: I’m not good enough. No one will think I’m funny or charming. I don’t know anyone here. This will be hard and I’m so awkward. These desserts (or drinks) will help calm me down a little. They help me feel better.
How I talk back:
All I can do is be myself. There will always be someone who doesn’t like me and I can’t do anything to change that. I can, however, choose not to punish my body because I’m uncomfortable talking to people. I know for a fact that I will be even more uncomfortable around these people if I feel overly full. If I get too uncomfortable, I can leave. I don’t need food to make connections with others.
Your self-talk will get better and better with practice. Have a situation you need help with? Put it in the comments below and I’ll do the best I can to offer advice!
Be gentle with yourself if you overeat
This is the hardest step by far.
When you start the journey of mindful eating, it will be far from perfect. Expect that you’ll overeat a few times before it becomes consistent.
AND THAT’S OK.
Recovery isn’t linear. It’s got hills and valleys on the way to making it a habit.
Beating yourself up keeps us from healing the cycle we get into as extreme thinkers. We think it has to be all or nothing, and get disappointed with ourselves every time we can’t live up to our unrealistic standards.
Kindness and forgiveness to yourself will help take the pressure off. It allows you to start shifting your mindset to one of growth, instead of rigidly forcing yourself into a path that hasn’t and will never work.
Parties and holidays are trying times for us emotional eaters. If you overeat this season, it’s not the end of the world. It doesn’t mean anything about you as a person. It doesn’t mean you’re any less worthy. You’re human and you’re trying. As long as you keep trying every day, you will move forward.
Many of these tips can be used anytime of year and in private as well as in social situations. I hope that it helps you find peace. I know it’s helped me.
Please feel free to reach out in the comments with any questions you may have. I’d be honored to help you find peace with food.