How To Avoid Overeating During the Holidays

Yes, you can enjoy all your favorite holiday foods and feel great doing it!


Do you have a history of overeating and feeling stuffed during the holiday season? This is a very common problem for so many women.  The good news is that you can take steps right now to make your holiday eating pleasant while still enjoying all your favorite foods.

In my work as an Intuitive Eating dietitian, I have found that preparing and rehearsing are two concrete steps you can take to avoid overeating during the holidays.


Though my work with women over the years, they are most likely to overeat during the holidays for 3 reasons: 


1. You skip meals earlier in the day to ‘save up’ calories for your holiday meal. 

This strategy seems rational because you think, “eating less now means I can have all those tempting holiday foods later!”


The problem with this plan is that it most often backfires.  You probably feel ok when you get to the holiday gathering but once you smell all the delicious foods, you become ravenous. You are less focused on catching up with your relatives. You want food – and you want it now!!!


So you eat quickly – it might feel like an out-of-body experience! You probably can’t savor the food because you are so hungry. And then you’re on to your second plate. 


By the time your body catches up with your brain, you are STUFFED!  But, you wouldn’t dare skip those desserts – you didn’t eat all day so you could have them!  And so you push through that fullness. 


That night, you have trouble sleeping and as you lie in bed, unable to sleep, your mind is full of guilt and shame.  You never want to do this again but you’re not sure what to do instead. Maybe if you had more willpower? 


2. You usually avoid foods high in calories, fat, or sugar so you feel out of control around them at the holiday table.

This is another common mindset that sets us up for feelings of failure during the holiday season. If you’re like so many of my clients, you might have some deeply-entrenched food rules: 

  • eat lower-calorie substitutes you don’t love; 
  • certain calorie limits; 
  • avoiding foods or food groups;
  • cheat days; and more


And along with these rules often comes a way of eating that is like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other. You may go weeks or months with a very prescriptive or restrictive way of eating and then swing to periods where you eat whatever you want, often in large quantities.  You might even feel like you are addicted to foods or food groups because you feel so out of control when you do eat these foods. This may also bring on feelings of shame and guilt. 


Can you relate?


The good news is that you aren’t addicted. If thoughts of headlines to the contrary are coming into mind, let’s just say that those studies are highly flawed – more on that later!


But, if your eating follows these patterns, you likely find it hard to be comfortable around all these holiday foods. You might start an eating plan, but sometime in November or December, you allow yourself to eat one bite and then you think ‘I blew it!’ and then you continue to eat with abandon until you swear off these foods.


You might think you are giving yourself permission to eat these foods because you ARE eating them.  But, think about it this way: yes, you are eating the food, but you really don’t believe you should be eating it.  


You’re not sitting down and savoring it. 


More likely you’re eating it standing at the counter, while you’re working, or while you’re watching TV. And because you really don’t believe you should be eating this food, you eat it in a mindless way.  

That’s not really giving yourself true permission to eat these foods, is it?


To break free from this frustrating and draining cycle, you must learn to make peace with food.

No this isn’t an overnight fix. It takes guidance and practice. It may surprise you but you do not need to wait until January to begin this journey!

You can begin this process during the holiday season.  To learn more about this process and to get my free PDF workbook with step-by-step guidance, check out my article, 5 Steps to Make Peace with Food: Principle 3 of Intuitive Eating. 


3. You struggle with setting boundaries with friends and family who tend to ‘push’ food on you.

Are you a ‘people person’ or ‘people pleaser’? Do you feel guilty if you don’t make others happy? If it is really hard to refuse the offer of food, even if you don’t love it or you are already full, then the answer is probably yes!  

I want you to know that you’re not alone. Many other women struggle in this area too.  


Since the holidays present us with so many eating situations that involve others’ cooking, preparing for these situations is key to avoid falling victim to your ‘nice genes.’

  • Prepare phrases that you are comfortable saying
    • No, thank you!
    • I know you spent so much time preparing {insert food} and I’m so excited to try it.  Would it be possible to wrap some up so I can eat it tomorrow when I’m not so full?
    • I know you made this especially for me, but if I have one more bite to eat, I’ll be so stuffed. I just can’t eat it now.
  • Practice – either with a neutral person or in front of the mirror
    • I know you’re probably thinking, “Is she serious? It’s silly to practice this. It’s just food!”
    • But, if this is an area where you are struggling, practice is such an important part.  You wouldn’t give a presentation for work without preparing, would you? 
    • Start today so the words feel natural as they come out of your mouth. Refine them to fit the situations you will encounter. Practice makes progress!

Remember that part of healing your relationship with food is honoring your body, both in hunger and in fullness.  

Yes, it will take time and practice to be able to hold these boundaries, but eating food that doesn’t taste good or feel good in our bodies is not consistent with taking care of ourselves. You are worth the boundaries that help you to feel good, physically, and spiritually. 


What elements of the holiday make you likely to overeat?  

Overeating during the holidays can happen to anyone, and one or two instances really isn’t a problem. But, if you find yourself dreading the holiday season because you’re constantly overeating, or bouncing back and forth between strict food rules and overeating, I can help. You can learn to enjoy all foods and feel great during the holidays. 


I can help you find peace with food, starting with this holiday season. 

Do you have your own food demons?  If you feel addicted to some foods because you feel so out of control around them, learning to make peace with food will make overeating these foods less frequent. 

I’ve created a workbook, with step-by-step instructions and space for journaling to help you work on this process. Download your PDF Make Peace with Food Workbook and get started on this process today.

Kelly Abramson Intuitive Eating Counselor  

P.S.  Increasing willpower isn’t going to help you to avoid overeating during the holidays!  

What will? Eating regular meals, not forbidding foods, and making a plan to deal with the food pushers in your life.