Five Ways to Avoid Over-Eating This Festive Season

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For many of us, the festive season is associated with overindulging in delicious and rich food. It might be the food we eat every day, but in larger quantities, or perhaps it’s the food we eat only on special occasions. Either way, overeating can have negative effects on our health. The good news is you can still enjoy some of Grandma’s Christmas pudding or those delicious Christmas cookies, while avoiding overeating and maintaining healthy blood glucose levels. 

In this blog, we will give you five ways on how to avoid overeating (which can spike your blood glucose levels) but still enjoy this festive season and all the delicious food it has to offer.

1. Enjoy food in moderation

'Everything in moderation’ is a concept we've all heard before, but what if it was more about a mindset than an action? You see, when we restrict and forbid foods from our diet, we tend to crave them even more.[1] In the short term, restricting our eating can lead to overeating because more often than not, we eventually break our own food rules and eat the food that we wanted. But when we do, we’ll eat like it’s the last supper because we don’t think we’ll ever be “allowed” to eat this food again (most of us have been there). 

However, when we allow ourselves to eat a moderate amount of all kinds of foods (yes, this includes Grandma's Christmas pudding and cookies) our desire for those foods is more neutral (meaning our desire for them is more moderate). 

What if we approached the festive season and the temptation to overeat by asking ourselves these questions: “I can have more of the food later, but do I feel like it”? If it’s a “yes”, then ask “I can have more of this later, so do I need to eat it all now?”

2. Manage your blood glucose levels

Keeping your blood glucose stable can be key to avoiding overeating. Thanks to revolutionary self-care, we can now collect real-life data about how food and exercise affect our blood glucose levels. This takes the guesswork out of managing our blood glucose levels. 

Both blood glucose spikes and lows can lead to feelings of hunger, cravings[2] and fatigue[3] - which often leaves us reaching for high sugar and high carbohydrate foods to give us that quick ‘energy boost’ we think our body needs. But what if we learned another way? 

If we can stabilize our blood glucose levels, this can help reduce the desire to overeat to compensate for those glucose highs and lows.[4] Managing our blood glucose levels is not solely about food avoidance, but about food timing, the amount, quality, as well as our exercise routine. For example, eating a protein-rich meal[5] before drinking that hot chocolate, or going for a brisk walk[6] after your meal can both help keep your blood glucose levels in a healthy range. 

And monitoring them with a continuous glucose monitor device will enable you to see first-hand the cause and effect of these examples.

3. Avoid getting overly hungry

We know it’s tempting to want to skip a meal so we can ‘double up’ and indulge later in the day, but this approach can often result in overeating. When we go for long periods without food, this leads to a decrease in our blood glucose levels, and these prolonged drops are not good. They can also lead to you losing your temper with those around you more quickly, and having less patience in general. This is also known as feeling ‘hangry’.

Skipping meals can lead to increased levels of the plasma ghrelin.[7] This hormone is known as the hunger hormone, because its main function is to increase appetite and may result in a greater food ingestion in the next meal. Skipping meals can also lead to drops in blood glucose levels, which increases cravings for food, particularly foodstuffs with a high content of carbohydrate.[8]

Instead, avoid skipping meals and eat regular balanced meals throughout the day. Focus on filling your plate with a variety of colourful vegetables, whole grains and protein. Eat an amount where you feel comfortably full, and remember you can always have more later on. You don’t have to earn your food by skipping meals.

 

Take a look at our satiety scale above. You may find it helpful to think of ‘comfortably full’ as being at around a 5-6 on this scale, meaning you are neither full nor hungry. At 0, you are ravenous, starving almost. You feel irritable and have no patience for anyone or anything. At 10 you feel uncomfortably full, almost ill.

 

4. Eat mindfully

When we are mindful of the entire eating process, our satisfaction rate is higher and we’re less likely to overeat.[9] If we eat a meal fast, while we’re distracted and watching television, our food is metabolized differently than if we take our time and eat without distractions. 

To eat mindfully, focus on these five points:

  • How does the food taste and smell?
  • Take your time, enjoy your meal and eat slowly
  • Try putting down your knife and fork between bites to avoid eating too fast
  • Avoid any distractions (yes, turn off all your screens)
  • Enjoy the company of the people eating with you 
  • Notice when you start feeling comfortably full (around a 6 on the hunger-satiety scale) 

The more you tune into the eating experience, the more you will enjoy it. That way, you’ll be more likely to stop when you are full (rather than continuously eating mindlessly).

Try this experiment chewing white bread!

Have you ever noticed how the taste of a food can change depending on how long you chew it for? Take a slice of white bread and chew it 20 times before swallowing it, and you will find that by the end it starts to taste really sweet! That’s because by chewing it for longer, you’re breaking down the simple carbs, which is exactly what will cause a sharp rise in your blood glucose levels.


5. Tune into your hunger and fullness cues 

Our bodies are wonderful at communicating with us when they’re hungry and when they’re full. However, for various reasons, some of us have tuned out from these cues and lost the art of listening to them. The festive season is a great reason to relearn these signals. You can even start today by paying attention to, and describing: 

  • What does your body feel like when it’s full? 
  • What does your body feel like when it’s hungry? 

Don’t worry if you don’t recognize these signals right away. It can take time and practice. Trust your body and listen to it well. As you’ll discover, it’s been communicating with you all along. By recognizing when you are full, you will be less likely to overeat this festive season (and in future seasons to come).


[1] Meule A, Lutz A, Vögele C, Kübler A. Food cravings discriminate differentially between successful and unsuccessful dieters and non-dieters. Validation of the Food Cravings Questionnaires in German. Appetite. 2012;58(1):88-97. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2011.09.010

[2] Wyatt P, Berry SE, Finlayson G, et al. Postprandial glycaemic dips predict appetite and energy intake in healthy individuals [published correction appears in Nat Metab. 2021 Jul;3(7):1032]. Nat Metab. 2021;3(4):523-529. doi:10.1038/s42255-021-00383-x

[3] Fritschi C, Quinn L. Fatigue in patients with diabetes: a review. J Psychosom Res. 2010;69(1):33-41. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2010.01.021

[4] Melanson KJ, Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Campfield LA, Saris WH. Blood glucose and meal patterns in time-blinded males, after aspartame, carbohydrate, and fat consumption, in relation to sweetness perception. Br J Nutr. 1999;82(6):437-446.

[5] Sun L, Goh HJ, Govindharajulu P, Leow MK, Henry CJ. Postprandial glucose, insulin and incretin responses differ by test meal macronutrient ingestion sequence (PATTERN study). Clin Nutr. 2020;39(3):950-957. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2019.04.001

[6] Chacko E. Exercising Tactically for Taming Postmeal Glucose Surges. Scientifica (Cairo). 2016;2016:4045717. doi:10.1155/2016/4045717

[7] Belinova L, Kahleova H, Malinska H, et al. The effect of meal frequency in a reduced-energy regimen on the gastrointestinal and appetite hormones in patients with type 2 diabetes: A randomised crossover study. PLoS One. 2017;12(4):e0174820. Published 2017 Apr 3. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0174820

[8] Strachan MW, Ewing FM, Frier BM, Harper A, Deary IJ. Food cravings during acute hypoglycaemia in adults with Type 1 diabetes. Physiol Behav. 2004;80(5):675-682. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2003.12.003

[9] Katterman SN, Kleinman BM, Hood MM, Nackers LM, Corsica JA. Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review. Eat Behav. 2014;15(2):197-204. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2014.01.005

 

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