How to avoid overeating at holiday dinner

Small changes in approach can help you avoid weight gain

Published On: Oct 04 2011 12:00:51 PM PDT   Updated On: Nov 20 2012 11:00:00 PM PST
Thanksgiving

By Dr. Jamie Y. Marable , Contributing writer

Worried about overeating during the holiday? While this is a common concern, you don't have to give in to negative thinking and start planning your post-holiday diet. There are a few effective strategies that you can use to enjoy a guilt-free holiday dinner without gaining a single pound.

Find an Accountability Partner

An accountability partner can be an invaluable source of support and encouragement when trying to manage one's weight. The results of a study at Harvard Medical School and the University of California-San Diego revealed that people have a tremendous amount of influence on one another when it comes to weight loss and gain.

An accountability partner can be a friend, coworker or family member, as long as he or she helps you stick to your goals. A true accountability partner will never suggest that you postpone healthy eating -- not even for one meal. And it does not necessarily matter if the person is not physically present for your holiday dinner; a brief phone conversation with them before you sit down to eat can help reinforce your weight management goals and keep you focused.

Practice Visualization and Positive Self-Talk

Instead of succumbing to self-defeating thoughts such as, "I'll diet after the holidays," or "this one time won't hurt," try verbally reaffirming your weight management goals and visualizing yourself achieving them. Recommended by a number of doctors, visualization has been used effectively by persons who once struggled with food cravings and a lack of motivation to exercise.

Practice visualizing your desired outcome -- enjoying a healthy dinner and looking and feeling your best -- until it becomes a habit.

Eat a Healthy Breakfast and 'Minimeals'

It is fairly common for people to "save their appetite" for the big holiday dinner by not eating breakfast or lunch.

This is a huge mistake. Depriving yourself of food until the main meal only increases the likelihood that you will be starving by the time you sit down to eat. The end result could very well be overeating. On the contrary, individuals who eat a healthy breakfast such as cereal with low-fat or skim milk and fruit, have been found to lose weight and keep it off successfully at much higher rates than those who skip breakfast.

Studies also show that people who eat at least four small meals, or "minimeals," per day are significantly less likely to be obese than those who do not.

Fill Up on Low-Energy Density Foods

If you're fearful that eating tiny portions at your holiday dinner will leave you feeling hungry and frustrated, there is another, more realistic option: filling up on foods with low energy density. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are both high- and low-energy density foods, which the body digests differently. With high-energy density foods, one can accumulate calories very quickly from modest portions.

These are foods that are high in fat and sugar. However, low-energy density foods such as leafy vegetables, beans, fruits, whole grains, fish and skinless poultry, can be eaten in larger quantities and result in fewer calories being consumed. So go ahead and eat until you are satisfied, but make wise food selections.

Don't Place Food on Display

It is tradition in many households to set food out on the table in bowls and on platters when it's time to serve dinner. This is a no-no for persons who struggle with overeating, according to Auburn University Professor and nutritionist Barb Struempler. Leaving food out on the table only increases the likelihood of going back for seconds, even when you are no longer hungry. Struempler recommends that you serve plates from the stove and put food out of sight immediately after dinner has ended.

The most important thing is to have a plan and stick with it. By incorporating some of the aforementioned strategies into your daily life prior to the holidays, you'll be more likely to make wiser decisions at the dinner table when the big day arrives.