December 6, 2011 in Features

Overcome temptations of holiday overeating

Dr. Alisa Hideg

Thanksgiving is over and we find ourselves hip deep in the holiday season, full of good cheer and good food – sometimes too full. You may have overindulged at Thanksgiving, but that does not mean it is too late for healthy holiday eating.

The first thing I recommend after overdoing something is to look at the situation realistically. Depriving yourself of every treat or food you like is more difficult this time of year. Better to aim for maintaining your weight over the holidays, especially if you have had recent success with losing weight.

Sometimes holiday overeating is triggered by emotions and memories, both good and bad ones. Before you head to a party or dinner, pause to think about holiday foods and the memories connected with them. Being aware of your feelings may help you overcome the temptation to try to bring on happy feelings with an extra helping of shortbread cookies or to smother bad ones with gravy.

Next, develop some strategies before you head to the party or the dinner table to help you make healthier choices and to eat smaller portions, especially of the high-calorie holiday treats. The following are various strategies I recommend. If one does not work at one occasion, try a different one at the next opportunity or try a combination of strategies.

• Drink a glass of water before you eat. Water takes up space and is calorie free.

• Start with the fruits and veggies. So many of us do not eat enough vegetables during the rest of the year anyway, so take this opportunity to eat the healthier options first. You could find that by the time you get to the cheesecake and chocolate dip, you have less room to overindulge on those kinds of high-calorie foods.

• Skip the dips and dressings, especially the creamy ones, or opt for the lower calorie version if it is available.

Eat slowly and wait 20 minutes before you go back for seconds or dessert. It takes about 20 minutes from the time you are full for your digestive system to let your brain in on this fact. By the time the 20 minutes are up, you might find you do not want seconds or dessert after all.

Try small amounts of multiple foods rather than taking 2 or 3 servings of any one food. I like doing this because my portions are smaller and I get to taste more dishes.

Limit your alcohol intake. I love a cup of holiday cheer as much as the next person, but I do not love the empty calories. Sparkling water, juice, and other beverages are good choices instead. There are significant health risks to excess drinking. If you do have more than one alcoholic drink, make a point to drink a full glass of water between drinks. It will slow you down, fill you up and help keep you from getting dehydrated. I have a friend who started doing this a few years ago and she finds she definitely drinks less (if for no other reason than she gets tired of trips to the restroom!).

If you are hosting the gathering, buy the low-fat cheese for snack trays and recipes and the lower calorie eggnog. If you make eggnog from scratch, use lowfat or nonfat milk.

Before indulging in a holiday treat, stop yourself and ask, “How important is this to me compared to my long-term health goals?” Pausing to ask yourself this question may be enough to make that frosted sugar cookie less appealing.

Stick to your exercise routine (or start one). And if you are feeling inspired, add five or 10 minutes to it.

Make a list of all the good reasons why you do not want to gain weight over the holidays or why you want to lose weight after the holidays are over. Read the list every day and remind yourself of it whenever you are tempted to overindulge.

If you slip up at one party or cannot resist the homemade fudge someone brought to work, do not beat yourself up. Tomorrow is a new day and you will have another opportunity to do better and feel good about making healthy choices.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section. Send your comments and column suggestions to

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