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Diet Author: Michelle May, M.D. Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:11:01 PM

I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing!

By Michelle May, M.D.
Oct 30, 2009 - 9:43:35 AM

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How to Prevent and Deal with Holiday Overeating

( - The comments we hear around the Thanksgiving table are as traditional as the food. “Honey, this is the best turkey you’ve ever made. Please pass the potatoes and gravy again.” “I can’t eat another bite or I swear I’ll explode.” “Alright, just a little sliver of pie then.” After dinner people are sprawled out in front of the television, occasionally groaning or dozing off.

As much as we love these special gatherings, there is an invisible line that separates a great celebration from an afternoon of discomfort and regret. We live in a land of abundance where turkey and potatoes are available year round and food will always taste good. So why eat until we feel miserable? Why not enjoy the holiday and still feel good when it’s over?

Just Right

Eating the right amount of food isn’t about being good, it’s about feeling good.

When you eat more than you need, you feel unnecessarily uncomfortable, sleepy and sluggish. Eating too much causes you to have low energy so you may not want to be active. It can also lead to feeling guilty which often leads to even more overeating. And of course your body will have no choice but to store the excess as fat.

Now think for about how it feels when you eat just the right amount of food. You feel satisfied, content, and happy. You are light, energetic, and ready for your next activity. You may even notice that as you become more full, the flavor of the food fades from fabulous to just OK so it gets harder to give food and eating your full attention.

So what can you do to prevent overeating—and what should you do when it happens anyway (and it will)?

Prevention is the Best Medicine

Before you start eating, decide how full you want to be when you’re done. You may decide you’re willing to feel stuffed—just consider the consequences first.
Estimate how much food you’ll need to eat to reach your desired level of fullness. Prepare, serve, or order only as much as you think you’ll need. If you have too much, move the extra aside.
Before you start eating, visually or physically divide the food in half to create a “speed bump.” Recheck your fullness level when you hit that speed bump in the middle of eating.
Eat slowly, giving every bite your full attention. You’ll eat less and enjoy it more.
If your goal is to feel satisfied and comfortable, it will help to move away from the table or move the food away from you to signal that you’re done as soon as you are close.

Don’t Miss the Lesson

If you realize you’ve eaten too much, ask yourself, “Why did it happen?” and “What could I do differently next time?” Turn every mistake into a learning experience.

There are many reasons people eat past the point of comfort during the holidays: stress, habit, emotional connections, feeling obligated, free food everywhere, eating while distracted, mindless munching, and others. Recognizing your specific triggers for overeating can help you make lasting changes. For example, you might notice that you are rationalizing an extra serving because it is a special occasion. Once you are aware of that thought, you might ask yourself, “If this occasion is so special, why would I want to eat until I feel miserable?”

I Ate Too Much! Now What?

Even people who don’t struggle with their weight sometimes overeat. However, although they may feel regretful and uncomfortable, they don’t typically feel guilty. They don’t think, “Well, I’ve already blown it; I might as well keep eating then start my diet tomorrow.” Instead, they trust their body to let them know when they need to eat again, even if that means skipping the next snack or eating a lighter meal.

Therefore, when you overeat, rather than continuing to eat out of guilt or eating on a schedule, wait until you get hungry again. It is likely that you won’t need food as soon; by paying attention to your body’s signals, you may partially compensate for occasional overeating.

Don’t punish yourself for overeating by depriving yourself since this will fuel your eat-repent-repeat cycle. Instead, when you do get hungry again, ask yourself, "What do I want and what do I need?" You might notice that you’re hungry for something small or something light—maybe a bowl of soup or cereal, a piece of fruit, or a salad. As you learn to trust and respect what your body tells you, you’ll notice that you naturally seek balance, variety, and moderation in your diet.

Lastly, don’t use exercise to punish yourself for overeating. This creates a negative association that will undermine a long term healthy habit. Instead, regularly choose physical activities you enjoy and use the fuel you consume to live a vibrant and fulfilling life.

About the Author: Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yoyo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Program which received the Excellence in Patient Education Innovation Award. She is the award-winning author of Am I Hungry? What to Do When Diets Don't Work. Her newest book, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break the Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle will be available in October 2009. To learn more about mindful eating, or to pre-order Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break the Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle, please visit

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