How To Avoid Overeating During The Holidays

Christmas dinner table: how to avoid overeating during the holidays

How To Avoid Overeating During The Holidays

By: Julie Mancuso, founder of JM Nutrition, nutritional counselling service by registered dietitians and nutritionists. About JM Nutrition team


In this post:

  • how to avoid overeating during the holidays

  • how to avoid holiday weight gain

  • ways to decline food graciously

  • monitoring food you eat at social gatherings enjoying treats without losing control

  • selecting healthier alcoholic beverages, for those who drink

  • other tips to have a healthier holiday season


How to avoid overeating during the holidays and how to avoid holiday weight gain is a challenge for those looking to make lifestyle changes, adopting healthier eating habits. Just ask our dietitians who provide weight loss counselling.

The holiday season brings with it numerous family get-togethers, office and staff parties and seemingly never-ending amounts of delicious food.

Because holiday season temptations abound everywhere, it can be a daunting task trying to avoid overeating, even for the most staunch and dedicated health nut.

In order to avoid sabotaging all the hard work that has been put in prior to the holidays during the holiday season, it is important to have a handful of strategies designed to help navigate this food-filled festive period.


How to avoid overeating during the holidays

To try to eat healthy and avoid overeating during the holidays, it’s important to have an action plan with some useful strategies to help navigate situations that compromise our goals.

How to avoid overeating during the holidays strategies 

1. Set food limits before attending a function. Be realistic and allow yourself to enjoy just one type of treat. Don’t eat the stuffing, potatoes and dessert! Choose one, perhaps two.

2. Don’t go to a party on an empty stomach. Instead, eat a small healthy snack such as yogurt and berries. This will make it easier to avoid digging into and overeating the first food that comes into sight.

When on the run, eat a protein bar or a handful of nuts before you leave the house or while you’re out.

3. “Exercise before a holiday season function”, says JM Nutrition’s sports dietitian. Your metabolic rate will be higher and you will tend to be more selective about the food you eat.

4. Be sure that you are physically hungry before you eat something. Don’t eat for the sake of eating.

5. Use a small plate so that you will eat less food. This is a great way to avoid overeating during the holidays.

6. Wait 20 minutes after eating your meal. It takes approximately 20 minutes to feel satiated, so give it some time before you dig in for seconds. It’s hard to wait it out, but it works.

7. Share a dessert with a friend or your significant other, and cut the unnecessary empty calories and sugar in half.

8. Plan your treat days, indulging only on a few select occasions.

Doing so requires discipline and for some, such state of mind can be difficult to attain. But once you manage to do so a few times, you will feel more confident in your ability to decline treats, empowering you to eat more healthily. In fact, it is a good idea to plan and prep meals most of the time.

9. Eat only your favourite foods at the holiday season functions. Again, be selective, only reaching for those foods that you absolutely cannot do without. This will go a long way in helping you to avoid overeating during the holidays.

10. Reduce stress during the holiday period (or at any time, for that matter).


According to Dr. David A. Kessler in The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, growing levels of stress increase the need for indulgence and relaxation. We relax by eating sugary, salty and fattening meals. The more stressed we are, the greater the chances that we will overeat unhealthy foods.

Related: Foods and Supplements For Stress Management

11. Avoid rationalizing and saying things such as: “I deserve this.” Such a mindset paints the unhealthy food as a reward, justifying its selection. 

12. Before reaching for that unhealthy indulgence, think back to how awful you felt, either physically or mentally, the last time you overate. Having this mindset can go a long way in helping to avoid overeating during the holidays and potentially avoid Christmas weight gain.

13. Similarly, allow the unhealthy food to be associated with something negative.

For example, you can associate a piece of cake you’re being offered with loads of sugar and several hundred calories–an obstacle to weight maintenance.

14. The more time you spend thinking about certain unhealthy but highly palatable foods, the greater the chance of giving in. Stop the thought before it overpowers you, or risk indulging and overeating.

15. Talk down the urge to have the unhealthy indulgence. Let it seep into your brain that this indulgence will keep you stuck in this cycle of urge-reward. Perhaps even demonize this urge to help your mind accept it. As a society, we did this with smoking. Perhaps it’s time we do the same with unhealthy food. 


How to decline food graciously:

How to avoid holiday weight gain goes hand in hand with being able to sometimes resist unhealthy temptations and decline food–albeit graciously.

The following are some strategies to help with this endeavour:

1. Be honest and tell the host that the food they prepared looks wonderful, but you want to stick to your goal of trying to eat healthy during the holidays. If you feel confident, you can can even relay to the host that you’re trying to avoid Christmas weight gain. Active but polite resistance can work wonders. 

Once the host becomes aware of the reason for your gracious refusal to eat certain foods, he or she will likely understand and support you in your cause.

2. When hosting or attending a pot-luck, make a healthy dish such as a vegetable platter with a dip or a healthy dessert. You can eat that while others are having other foods. This way you always have a healthy meal option.

3. Plan a response to decline the offered food in advance, so you’re prepared. If you plan beforehand, your brain will be able to resist the temptation of an unwanted invitation. It’s important to rehearse these responses to combat high-risk situations.

Many elite athletes do the same thing: they visualize the perfect form of a basketball shot and the ball going in the hoop. Such rehearsal leaves you prepared and allows for the control of your thoughts.


Monitor food at social gatherings:

How to avoid overeating during the holidays and how to avoid holiday weight gain are common questions asked by our clients over the years.

As nutritionists and dietitians, we do our best to equip clients that face these challenges with practical strategies. One of these centres around being able to monitor food at social gatherings.

Here are some strategies to do just that:

1. Use the smallest plate available, so you don’t overpack your plate and end up overeating. According to WebMD, larger plate equals larger meal.

2. Fill up your plate with foods that you like and dislike–your plate will look full but you will likely end up eating less.

3. Eat more slowly, so you’re still on the first plate while others make a beeline for seconds.

4. Follow the pace of the slowest eater. This way you will eat less.

5. Don’t stand by the food as it will be difficult to refrain from nibbling to excess. Limit your exposure to highly palatable foods that are unhealthy and which you have difficulty saying no to.

6. Watch out for the priming effect where one bite can lead to many more. Remove yourself from the sight of these temptations. Remember: out of sight, out of mind.

7. Mingle with friends as an alternative to eating.

8. Sip on water while at the party. Doing so will not only fill you up, it will also keep you busy, leading to fewer food reaches. Discover more about the importance of water intake.

Related: Foods That Hydrate

9. When you do eat, stop eating when you’re no longer hungry and not when you’re full.

10. Set a goal to eat 20% less of what you normally would eat. Apply this rule to all food you consume.


Enjoying a treat without losing control:

To avoid overeating during the holidays, it’s also important to make allowance for some treats that we enjoy. Here’s how to approach this:

1. Plan your treat meal to avoid guilt.

2. Make it a rule: only have one treat, instead of two or three. This rule allows you to indulge a little, while helping you to avoid overeating.

3. If you’re still craving a sweet treat after you eating one, chew gum–with no sugar. Gum has been shown to keep people away from the 4 Cs: cookies, chips, candy and ice-cream, according to Dr. Brian Wansink in Mindless Eating.

4. Keep a food diary. Being accountable makes you more aware of what you’re eating, and can help to avoid overeating when you have to write it all down.

5. Include a protein when making a dessert–cottage cheese in cheesecake. The protein will help stabilize your blood sugar level, and will cause fewer cravings for sweets.


How to deal with alcohol during the holiday season:  

Food isn’t the only factor in Christmas weight gain (or any other holiday, for that matter). Regularly drinking alcoholic beverages in copious amounts throughout the holiday season can certainly contribute as well. Alcohol is highly caloric, so pay heed to what and how much you drink.

As a result, it’s important to be in possession of a few strategies to tackle this issue, if you’re a drinker.


1. Avoid drinking during the week and save it for the weekend because that’s when alcohol consumption tends to surge.

2. Choose red or white wine that contains less than 10 grams of sugar per litre. The lower sugar content, the better for your waistline. 

3. Read: Best Alcohol Selections For Weight Loss for specifics.

4. Opt for wine spritzers to cut calories.

5. Vodka and water with lemon or lime, or vodka with low-sodium soda are excellent low-carbohydrate options.

6. Choose light or low-carbohydrate beer. The higher the alcohol content, the higher the calories.

7. Doing shots? Choose tequila or vodka because they contain fewer calories.

8. Tip for heavier drinkers: Using your phone, take a screenshot of all the alcoholic drinks you consume throughout the night. Looking back at these the following day can give you an idea how much you’re actually drinking and lead to self-reflection. Eventually you’ll develop greater self-awareness when drinking. Similarly, those who drink beer out of bottles can collect all the beer caps by tucking them in to their pocket.

9. Be sure to use a tall and narrow glass when consuming alcohol. Doing so creates the illusion that you’ve consumed more than you think.

Short, wide glasses, on the other hand, have the opposite effect. When drinking out of these, we tend to think we consumed less than we think.

10. Be sure to drink lots of water while and after drinking to prevent dehydration.


During the holiday season exercise to:

  • Keep your metabolic rate high.
  • Burn off the extra calories that you have consumed.
  • Release toxins, tension and stress.
  • Avoid Christmas weight gain

Why Work with a Weight Loss Coach


Once the damage is done:

  • Make an effort to eat less the next day, especially carbohydrates.
  • Drink peppermint, fennel or ginger tea to aid digestion.
  • Drink warm water with lemon in the morning to cleanse your liver and get your digestive juices flowing.
  • Perhaps use digestive enzymes before your meals to avoid feeling heavy and full. 


Conclusion: How to avoid overeating during the holidays

For anyone wondering how to avoid overeating during the holidays and how to avoid holiday weight gain, the best piece of advice I can offer is do your best to avoid being retroactive. This is a critical component. I cannot stress this enough.

Many people tend to overindulge during the holiday season and then gain weight. The Christmas weight gain is followed by heavy guilt which, in turn, is followed by New Year’s health resolutions that can prove daunting.

Try to be proactive, instead. 

Think and plan beforehand, and the fires you will be putting out after the holiday season will be that much smaller, perhaps even non-existent. 

All the best in navigating this holiday season. 

Related: How To Eat Healthy On Thanksgiving


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JM Nutrition offers the services of a registered dietitian and nutritionist in Toronto, as well as dietitian and nutritionist Mississauga, Ottawa, Vancouver  and other provinces in Canada. We offer in-person appointments and the services of online dietitians.

Author: Julie Mancuso

Julie Mancuso

Julie Mancuso is a graduate of the University of Toronto, founder and owner of JM Nutrition, a nutritional counselling service by registered dietitians and nutritionists. For 15+ years, JM Nutrition has helped thousands reach their health, wellness and nutrition goals. Julie and her team regularly lend their expertise to a variety of health publications such as Reader's Digest, Livestrong, Business Insider, Food Network, Today's Parent, MyFitnessPal, Toronto Star, Elle Magazine, Best Life, Weight Watchers and many more.