10 strategies to help prevent you from ending up in a food coma
… and what to do if you do overeat…
Maybe it’s the stress of being around family, or the afternoon cocktail (or two) necessary to take the edge off in dealing with said family, but for many of us holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas mean wisdom, logic and the best of intentions abandoned for overeating. So what can you do to prevent the dreaded holiday food coma? Follow these key tips:
GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP BEFORE THE HOLIDAY – Thanksgiving Eve is a big night out but one of the best things to do to up your defenses against overeating any day is to get a solid 7-8 hours of quality sleep the night before. This is because the amount and quality of your sleep affects the hormones in the body that control feelings of hunger and fullness, and as little as one night tossing and turning is enough to throw them out of whack. If you had a late night out, or tossed and turned all last night, consider taking a nap during the day so that you’re well rested at the holiday.
EAT THAT DAY – Skipping meals, even when you don’t feel hungry, can cause you to overeat later on in the day. This is because doing so causes sugar levels to begin to drop. Low blood sugar can produce sudden hunger pangs and that can trigger bingeing and food cravings. This is called rebound eating and can actually lead to eating more calories than you would have with regular meals, which is no bueno especially when there’s endless amounts of comfort foods and sweet holiday treats around.
BUT WHEN YOU DO, GO EASY ON THE REFINED CARBS – When you eat too many refined carbohydrates (think cookies, crackers, sweets), your body digests them quickly and the sugar enters your blood stream rapidly, causing blood sugar spikes and subsequent crashes. When your blood sugar crashes, you feel weak, shaky, cranky, tired, and HUNGRY soon after eating your last meal or snack. That’s why even carbs that don’t taste sweet, like bread, rice, or pasta, can make you crave more food, even sweets, soon after you eat them—and this can easily lead to overeating. We’re only human you know.
INSTEAD, FUEL UP WITH FIBER – Fiber helps prevent blood sugar crashes, which as noted above, can cause sugar cravings and overeating. But that’s not all. Fiber also adds bulk to food and swells in the stomach, so when you eat high fiber foods you feel fuller after eating, and generally eat less throughout the day.
SPECIFICALLY, CONSIDER A 20/20 SMOOTHIE – A good pre-feast meal is a 20/20 smoothie because despite being light (and portable!) combines both fiber and protein. Protein regulates our hunger and satiety hormones, so we eat when we are hungry and put down the fork when we are satisfied. Protein may also help with emotional eating by interfering with the brain’s responses to food stimuli therefore decreasing cravings. A 2014 study published in Nutrition Journal provides clinical evidence that young adults who ate high protein breakfasts had decreased post meal cravings compared to those who ate lower protein breakfasts. By filling up on these two key nutrients you safeguard yourself from arriving ravenous.
CHILL ON THE CARDIO – Cardio was all the rage in the 80s and 90s because of the supposed calorie burn, but in reality, cardio can backfire for you post-workout. This is because physically, intense cardio makes you hungrier, and excessive hunger, you guessed it, can lead to overeating. On the mental front, we often believe that since we worked out intensely and burned calories, we deserve a huge meal (as it turns out, most of us are actually pretty bad at estimating how much we actually burn working out, and the same goes for fitness trackers…). Burning 300 calories but consuming an 800 calorie post-workout meal means that you’ve not only overeaten the calories you just burned, but you’ve likely eaten more than your body requires at a given meal. Moral is, workout for endorphins and the stress-relieving effect, not the calorie burn.
DRESS FOR SUCCESS – What you wear can help prevent you from overindulging by giving you a physical cue. Think about it, if you don’t have room to overeat in what you are wearing, you’re going to be less likely to do so! As anyone who’s ever experienced it knows, nothing feels worse than when you eat so much you have to unbutton a button or loosen your belt. Opt for something form fitting or even a little bit snug. As a bonus, you’ll look more put together too.
DEFINITELY BE SURE TO HYDRATE – We can’t say this one enough; drink water. Often, thirst mimics hunger, so we reach for an appetizer we shouldn’t have, when we truly just need a glass of water. Before you eat, have a large glass of water to a) fill you up and b) ensure that those “pangs” you might have been feeling weren’t really thirst.
USE A SMALLER PLATE – This one might not be the most practical tip, but if there is an option to use a smaller plate, it’s not a bad idea to do so. This is because our minds essentially play tricks on us. When the same amount of food is on both a larger plate and a smaller plate, it looks like more on a smaller plate, and less on a larger plate. We perceive that we then have eaten more and feel more satiated after consuming the food on the smaller plate, and the opposite with the larger plate, which can lead of overeating. So, if there is an option to keep your salad plate for the main course, and it’s not taboo to do so, go for it. If not, just keep the concept in mind.
SLOW DOWN, SPEED RACER – What is the rush! Instead of speeding through the meal, practice mindfulness: eat more slowly and take small bites. It takes 20 minutes for our brains to even realize we are full. And feeling too full means you’ve passed the point of overeating. Paying attention to the speed at which you’re eating will help a lot. By slowing down, you’re giving your body a better chance to tell you you’re full before you’ve reached that “have to unbutton my pants” feeling. If it helps, try putting your fork down between bites.
Hoertel, H.A., Will, M.J. & Leidy, H.J. A randomized crossover, pilot study examining the effects of a normal protein vs. high protein breakfast on food cravings and reward signals in overweight/obese “breakfast skipping”, late-adolescent girls. Nutr J 13, 80 (2014) doi:10.1186/1475-2891-13-80