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How to Prevent Holiday Overindulging But Still Enjoy Festivities


Photo: Shutterstock

Feasting during the holiday season is a time-honored tradition across cultures around the world. How can we still feast with the family without guilt?

  • Use a smaller plate. If you are a “plate clearer,” meaning, you eat all the food on your plate regardless of if you are hungry, you will benefit from using a smaller plate. A smaller plate provides less surface area for the food, which allows us to reduce our portion sizes automatically without thought.
  • Front load on fiber. Eat your veggies first—not the stuffing or the dinner rolls. Vegetable fiber takes up more volume in your stomach while packing in fewer calories than meat or bread. This means you’ll become full sooner, but in a much healthier way. 
  • Eat slower. Once your stomach has reached capacity, it takes another 20 minutes for the stretch receptors in your stomach to send the signal, “I’m full,” to your brain. The slower you eat, the more time you allow for your stomach and brain to synchronize and avoid the painful feelings of overeating. 

You’ve Already Overindulged… Now What?

In the event that you couldn’t resist a second (or third) helping of mashed potatoes, what can you do post-feast to aid digestion and the metabolism? 

  • Drink a bit of coffee. A post-feast coffee can help both digestion and metabolism. The caffeine in coffee has been found to relax the lower esophageal sphincter, which means that it helps you belch (and you may need to belch if you ate quickly). After we eat, our body redirects blood to other parts of our body, which is associated with a drop in blood pressure. This contributes to the lethargy we feel after a large meal. Coffee, even decaffeinated coffee, has been found to prevent this dip in blood pressure after a meal. Combined with the increased mental alertness of the caffeine, coffee can help keep you more energized and active after a heavy meal.
  • Go for a walk. After the coffee, it’s important to stay upright, as you may experience some reflux if you lie down. In addition, after a carbohydrate-rich meal, blood will be full of glucose, which is the primary fuel for our brain and muscles. The coffee will keep your brain alert while light physical activity, like a walk, will keep your muscles active. The brain and muscles will sop up the glucose circulating in the blood, thereby preventing it from being stored as fat. 

Nervous About Family Dynamics or Awkward Situations?

We’ve all been there—the awkward “So, how have you been?” question from a distant cousin or a feeling of there being literally too many ‘cooks in the kitchen.’ How do you relieve that tension?

  • Take stock of your feelings beforehand. Are you dreading seeing a particular in-law or feeling anxious about seeing people you haven’t been with in over a year? These levels of anxieties are normal, especially because the last year has been anything but normal. Because of this, there is greater uncertainty about the upcoming interaction. Acknowledging these feelings beforehand is one step in the right direction. 
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out. The work of Nobel prize-winning economist, Daniel Kahneman, found that in the face of the unknown, human beings resort to the “availability bias,” where our minds fill in the unknown based on information we have seen in the past. For the holidays, this means that a verbal exchange at a past holiday event predisposes us to expect this event to occur again at the next family gathering. Rather than falling prey to our biases, address this bias head on by gathering data ahead of time: send that estranged family member a text message or give them a call to ease these feelings. Not only can this feedback help calm our anxiety, but it also helps us stay connected to our loved ones.

Colder Weather Bringing You Down?

The change of the seasons is accompanied by shorter days and longer nights, which for some people can evoke the “winter blues.” This can make it harder to wake up in the mornings, increase irritability, and sluggish feelings during the day due to the lack of sunlight. 

  • Seek out the warmth. Since these feelings are brought on by a decrease in sunlight, a helpful remedy is simply to find some sunlight! That means breaking up your day and stepping outside to catch some rays during peak sunlight hours (usually 12-2 pm).
  • No sunshine? No worries. If you live in an area where natural sunlight is hard to find, then light therapy is an effective alternative. Light therapy involves continual exposure to bright, full-spectrum, white light for a minimum of 30-60 minutes per day. Light therapy can be self-administered at home using a light box. This type of exposure to light appears sufficient to stimulate light-sensitive cells in our eyes to send signals to our brain.
About The Author
Vishal N. Patel, M.D., Ph.D.

Vishal joined Sensei as the director of Wellness Research, building the brand’s knowledge base to create, evaluate, and disseminate evidence-led content and programming to guests. 

Vishal is also responsible for vetting technology and services to ensure they reflect today’s most current standards supported by empirical evidence. He earned his Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) as well as a Ph.D. in Genetics from Case Western Reserve University and a certificate in Ayurveda from Gujarat Ayurveda University in India. Prior to joining Sensei, he worked with nationally renowned healthcare systems, including Geisinger, Baylor Scott & White, and Parkland Hospital, on the design, implementation, and analysis of programs to improve the health of populations. He also worked at three different start-ups, designing, building, and delivering data science solutions to reduce adverse events and costs. Vishal’s expansive background in health and science also extends to academia, having served as a faculty member at his alma mater, as well as a peer reviewer for the Journal of Biomedical Informatics