It’s extremely easy to overeat during the festive period, when stress levels are high and comfort food is all around us. We’ve all been there with cravings hitting at any time and for those who tend to eat for emotional reasons it can be very hard to stop. In order to avoid ‘undoing’ all your hard work and piling on the pounds over Christmas, it’s important to understand why you feel hungry and what motivates you to overeat. Physical hunger comes on gradually whereas emotional hunger comes on suddenly and can be intense. Is your stomach rumbling or have you just eaten? Are you stressed, tired, anxious or just bored and surrounded by food?
Here are my 11 top tips to stem emotional eating this Christmas:
We often mistake thirst for hunger, so try drinking a glass of water or cup of tea when a craving hits & keep hydrated throughout the day.
You may just be bored or eating for the sake of it and the craving may pass after 5/10 minutes. Phone a friend, write in a journal, read a good book, dance to your favourite song or play with your dog.
Brush Your Teeth:
Often the minty taste of toothpaste can be enough to see off a craving & stop overeating.
Find Healthier Alternatives:
For chocolate cravings, drink hot chocolate made with unsweetened cocoa powder, coconut milk & cinnamon; or try almonds drizzled with a little cocoa-rich dark chocolate. For general sweet cravings, try a piece of fruit with some unsalted nuts. For salty food cravings, try homemade sweet potato crisps with paprika.
Eat At Regular Intervals:
Start the day with a good breakfast & avoid skipping meals. Eat balanced meals & snacks consisting of complex carbohydrates, protein & healthy fats. If you are still hungry fill up on veg.
Eat Mindfully & Do Enjoy A Treat:
Eat without distractions such as the TV and eat slowly as it takes around 20 minutes for your brain to register you are full. A little of what you fancy is ok; just control your portion size & be sure to really savour the taste, enjoying each bite.
Christmas Food Shop:
Eat before you do your Christmas food shop; take a list & stick to it so you buy only what you need. Look at your phone while standing in the queue to avoid buying extra unnecessary tempting foods at the till.
Keep Trigger Foods Out Of Sight & Out Of Mind:
Keep trigger foods in a cupboard ready for the special day and avoid buying them too far in advance to reduce temptation.
Get Enough Sleep:
Most people need around 7-9 hours sleep each night. This will help reduce cravings & you will be less likely to overeat.
Exercise & Relax Daily To Relieve Stress:
Make time for ‘you’. Go for a brisk walk or workout, the endorphins will leave you feeling energised & boost your mood. Spend 5 minutes meditating or breathing; or have a relaxing bath to unwind.
Moderate Alcohol Intake:
Be aware as alcohol lowers your resolve & willpower, often resulting in uncontrollable munchies, both at the time & the next day. Enjoy alcohol in moderation & alternate with water or offer to be the designated driver for one event.
Finally, let go of any guilt or shame as everyone overeats sometimes, particularly at Christmas; just start afresh at your next meal. When you have more time, try keeping a journal of what and why you eat and drink in order to identify any unhealthy patterns and help you reach your healthy balance. Think ‘moderation and consistency’ – it takes around 21 days to make or break a habit so stick with it! I hope my tips help you have a happy and healthy Christmas time.
Claire Thornton MSc Nutritionist