Holiday weight gain doesn’t have to happen. Here’s how to avoid overeating during the holiday season.

Gaining weight over the holidays is what you might call a “no-brainer.” When you’re facing a month-long holiday season of once-a-year holiday foods, it’s easy to think, “Who wouldn’t gain a few extra pounds?” Holiday weight gain doesn’t have to happen, but a lot of people just assume that it will. And that kind of thinking could get you into a lot of trouble. If you’re convinced that holiday weight gain is inevitable, you’re probably not going to do much to prevent it.

Why it’s so easy to gain weight over the holidays

In your daily life, you can probably name a situation or two that you know will trigger you to overeat. Maybe you eat too much when you’re stressed, or you overdo it on the weekends. And when you only have one or two triggers to manage, you can probably do that pretty well most of the year.

But when the holidays come around, it’s not just one or two things that can trigger you to overeat. In fact, if I were to list (as I’m about to do) some of the most common overeating triggers, it’s as if every single one of them is coming at you from all sides during the holidays. And, it goes on for weeks. When you look at it that way, it’s amazing we don’t gain more weight than we do over the holidays.

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8 reasons why we overeat during the holidays

  • Longer meals. Holiday meals tend to be more leisurely. But the longer you sit at the table, the more you’re likely to eat. You absentmindedly grab another spoonful of potatoes or a second slice of pie. To signal that your meal is over, take your plate into the kitchen, or pop a breath mint in your mouth.
  • Drinking alcohol. An alcoholic drink or two can loosen your inhibitions – often bringing on the “What the heck, it’s the holidays!” attitude. Your best defense here is to set a limit of how many drinks you’re planning to have, and stick to it, alternating alcoholic drinks with calorie-free beverages.
  • Exposure to a wide variety of foods. The more variety on your plate, the more you’re likely to eat. That’s because it takes longer for your taste buds to get bored. To handle this, you can either limit the number of choices you allow yourself or keep your portions very small if you’re going for variety.
  • Getting out of your usual routine. One reason people overeat on the weekends is because they’re out of their usual routine. The holiday season can seem like a weekend that lasts for a month, but it’s unlikely that every single meal is affected. Try to stick to your usual eating routine and make a commitment to stay on track with your exercise, too.
  • Stress. Holiday time is fun, but it’s also stressful. If stress is one of your overeating triggers, you’ll want to find other ways to calm down. Try to carve some downtime for yourself so you’re not overcommitted and be sure to set time aside for the best stress buster of all: exercise. Rather than turning to food when you’re stressed, have a cup of tea, call a friend, take a walk or meditate for a few minutes instead.
  • Family style meals. When serving dishes are placed on the table – as they often are at holiday meals – overeating is encouraged. Second helpings (and thirds…) can happen before you know it. Pass bowls and platters of tempting foods to the opposite end of the table to get them out of your line of sight.
  • Serving yourself from large containers. Behavioral psychology research tells us that we serve ourselves more food from large containers than we do from smaller ones. Holiday platters are often gigantic, and food is piled up so high that even if you take an enormous serving, it hardly makes a dent. Keep an image in your head of the portion sizes you know you should eat and do your best to stick to them.
  • Increased exposure to food. Ever notice how during the holidays there’s food everywhere you go? From goodies in your kitchen to gift baskets arriving unexpectedly at your door, you’re exposed to more temptation at this time of the year than any other. While it’s hard to limit your exposure to all these treats, you can change the way you respond when you see them. Rather than letting your impulses get the best of you, stop and ask yourself, “Did I plan to eat this?” If you didn’t plan for it, didn’t want it until you saw it or wouldn’t go out of your way to get it, you probably shouldn’t be eating it.