The best way to avoid overeating for the holidays? Stop dieting

November 19, 2012 by Carrie Stetler
The best way to avoid overeating for the holidays? Stop dieting
When we view food as "bad,'' we're more likely to overeat, says Rutgers psychologist Charlotte Markey. Credit: Stock Photo

Thanksgiving ushers in the long season of holiday treats. While many look forward to gobs of stuffing and plates piled high with cookies, others view the smorgasbords with dread. For them, holiday eating means blown diets, expanding waistlines and a lingering sense of guilt. Rutgers-Camden psychologist Charlotte Markey studies America's conflicted relationship with food and how eating habits are shaped by family and cultural norms. She talked to Rutgers Today about the key to avoiding holiday overindulgence and the futility of dieting.

Rutgers Today: What's the best way for people to prevent holiday bingeing?

Markey: So much of what we know from research is that when people try to restrain themselves – if they approach the holiday saying, "I can't have dessert" – they're setting themselves up for failure. Those who just say, 'I'm going to enjoy myself" do much better. When something becomes forbidden and "bad,'' that's when overindulgence sets in. One of the predictors of overeating and obesity is a history of dieting. So those with concerns about their weight, when they feel free to indulge, they're going to do it. Also, eating can be a coping mechanism. When you're stressed out and shopping for presents until late at night, one way to approach things is just to accept that you're going to eat because it's a comfort right now and January will be different.

Rutgers Today: Why do Americans have such a troubled relationship with ?

Markey: We have a hard time because we have such easy access to food. The worst food for us is cheap, available and palatable and it can be hard to stay away from it. And the portions are so big. As a society, we think bigger is better: bigger cars, bigger homes. And that attitude has shifted to our . At the same time, the diet industry is awash with products that don't work long term. It's selling false hope. People think that dieting is a cure and it's not. What's really the cure is adopting a healthy, moderate lifestyle, and that includes indulging a little bit over the holidays.

Rutgers Today: What can help us have a more balanced attitude toward eating?

Markey: Try not to view food as bad but as something good and healthy. Just say, this tastes good and it's something that brings me pleasure and I'm going to savor it and enjoy it. For some people, this is a radical idea. A lot of us don't know how to do that because there are so many mixed messages about food being bad. But food isn't like a drug that when it's harmful, you can avoid it entirely. We need it to live. Food is a source of nutrition and we have to deal with it every day. If food becomes more a source of distress than enjoyment, seeing a nutritionist or a therapist can be helpful.

Rutgers Today: What are some practical tips for eating moderately during the holidays?

Markey:  It's useful to look for social support if you know is going to be a problem. Enlist a family member or friend. Tell them "I'm really trying to be healthy, please help me not eat this whole pumpkin pie." Another thing that can be helpful is to record what you eat, not constantly because then it becomes a preoccupation, but if you're concerned about a holiday triggering overindulgence, it can help sometimes. When you see it on paper, you tend to eat less.

It's also important to have a plan about how you're going to approach food over the season, whether you're going to just not worry about it or exercise a little bit more. You don't want to be hit with this onslaught of food when you're routine is changed and you haven't thought about it in advance

Explore further: 3Qs: How to eat healthy around the holidays

Related Stories

3Qs: How to eat healthy around the holidays

November 23, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Overeating is common this time of year, between the large holiday feasts and more and more sweets creeping into the kitchen. With Thanksgiving only a few days away, we asked nutrition expert Katherine ...

Happy, feel-good holiday seasons start with healthy choices at Thanksgiving, nutrition experts say

November 22, 2011
While most people only gain about a pound of weight during the holiday season, that pound may never come off, increasing the likelihood of becoming overweight or obese and the risk of related health problems, according to ...

10 tips for preventing weight gain over the holidays

December 6, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Many websites and magazine articles offer ideas about how to lose weight over the holidays, but Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis, says that people ...

Recommended for you

Breathing dirty air may harm kidneys, study finds

September 21, 2017
Outdoor air pollution has long been linked to major health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A new study now adds kidney disease to the list, according to ...

Excess dietary manganese promotes staph heart infection

September 21, 2017
Too much dietary manganese—an essential trace mineral found in leafy green vegetables, fruits and nuts—promotes infection of the heart by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus ("staph").

Being active saves lives whether a gym workout, walking to work or washing the floor

September 21, 2017
Physical activity of any kind can prevent heart disease and death, says a large international study involving more than 130,000 people from 17 countries published this week in The Lancet.

Frequent blood donations safe for some, but not all

September 21, 2017
(HealthDay)—Some people may safely donate blood as often as every eight weeks—but that may not be a healthy choice for all, a new study suggests.

Higher manganese levels in children correlate with lower IQ scores, study finds

September 21, 2017
A study led by environmental health researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine finds that children in East Liverpool, Ohio with higher levels of Manganese (Mn) had lower IQ scores. The research appears ...

One e-cigarette with nicotine leads to adrenaline changes in nonsmokers' hearts

September 20, 2017
A new UCLA study found that healthy nonsmokers experienced increased adrenaline levels in their heart after one electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) with nicotine but there were no increased adrenaline levels when the study ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.