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Overcoming Overeating During the Holidays (And Beyond)

Connecticut, path littered w leaves

In college, I used to overeat on the weekends. You know, because during the week, I had to be “good.”

And being good meant a whole lot of restricting, and ignoring my body’s hunger cues.

So during the weekends, I felt like I had to pack in all the foods I really liked. The foods I feared during the week. The foods that I was convinced would make me fat. And somehow ugly.

After a while, though, I stopped tasting the food. I became a robot with food traveling down the conveyor belt of my esophagus.

Because bingeing is one of the consequences that typically happens when we don’t give ourselves unconditional permission to eat. When we restrict. When we diet.

That’s because “the key to abolishing the pattern of restraint and subsequent overeating is to give yourself unconditional permission to eat,” according to Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in their fantastic book on intuitive eating. They say that unconditional permission to eat means:

  • Throwing out the preconceived notion that certain foods are “good” and others are “bad.” No one food has the power to make you fat or help you become slim.
  • Eating what you really want. Yes, what you want.
  • Eating without obligatory penance. (“Okay, I can have the cheesecake now, but tomorrow I diet.“) These kinds of personal food deals are not unconditional.

For some of you, not giving yourself unconditional permission to eat may sound all-too familiar. And because of that, the idea of a Thanksgiving feast or another holiday spread might seem intimidating.

So, again, I turned to Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel, authors of The Diet Survivors, for insight. Judith is also the director of The Chicago Center for Overcoming Overeating, Inc. and offers individual and group counseling to people working to end the preoccupation with food and weight. (She can be reached at [email protected])

According to Judith and Ellen:

The diet mindset is so pervasive, that it’s really hard to break out of it, especially during the holiday season when diet talk is everywhere.  We’d like to offer some gentle reminders that can help you navigate the holiday season.

We hope they will support you on your journey…but if they feel like more of the holiday tips that just fuel anxiety, feel free skip them!

Remind yourself that you can have it later

Who says you can’t make your sweet potato time any time you want?  If you believe that you cannot have a special holiday food for another whole year, you are likely to have it whether you are really in the mood for it or not.

Instead, promise yourself that you can make turkey and mashed potatoes any time of year, and that special desserts can be baked or bought when you desire.  Knowing that these foods can be available to you will reduce the need to eat something at a holiday celebration you don’t really want at that moment.

Consider asking for the recipe or a doggie bag when you are at a holiday event.  This strategy stops the worry that if you don’t eat a special food immediately, such as the appetizing double chocolate caramel brownies that Grandma makes once a year, you won’t be able to have it again until next year.

When appropriate, you can say to your hostess, “The brisket looks delicious, but I’m not hungry right now.  Would it be O.K. if I took some of the leftovers home for later?” Or, “This cake is fabulous.  Can I have your recipe?” People are usually flattered by your desire for their food, and knowing you can eat that food later decreases the need to overeat something you are not hungry for.

Avoid becoming too hungry

It can be tempting to “save up” your hunger for parties and special events.  However, when you go without food for a long period of time, you become ravenous.  At this stage of physical hunger, you are likely to eat anything and everything is sight, leading to a feeling of being out of control.

Instead, eat in accordance with your physical hunger throughout the day.  If you want to ensure that you have a good appetite when you arrive at an event, try to eat enough to take the edge off your hunger before you leave home, without becoming too full.

A piece of fruit, some crackers or cookies, or a slice of cheese can help you to respond to your hunger so that you do not walk into the party feeling desperate to eat.  Then, you will truly be able to relax and to feed yourself exactly what you need!

Stay compassionate with yourself.


Just about everyone overeats sometime, especially during the holiday season.  If you yell at yourself for your transgression, you are likely to create anxiety, which fuels overeating. You are also likely to fall into the trap of telling yourself that you might as well eat whatever you want right now because as of tomorrow -or next week or January 1 – you will have to restrict your eating.

This attitude will increase your sense of guilt and feeling out of control, and guarantees that you will eat more food than your body needs.

Instead, remain gentle with yourself.  Attuned eaters notice when they feel too full, and then naturally wait for their next sign of physical hunger to eat again.  Acknowledge the discomfort you feel from overeating, and promise yourself that you will do your best to wait for the next cue of internal hunger to let you know that it is time to eat again.

Finally, we’d like to wish all of your Weightless readers an abundant and peaceful holiday season!

I think the key is to ultimately honor our hunger, our health and ourselves. Remember that you deserve to taste your food, to enjoy it and to have a fantastic holiday.

I’m incredibly grateful to Judith and Ellen for their insightful answers this week! I think they’re doing such much-needed work. Again, if you’d like to know more, please check out their website and Facebook group.

And to kick-start your weekend, please check out a video that consistently makes me smile and happy!

Overcoming Overeating During the Holidays (And Beyond)

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2014). Overcoming Overeating During the Holidays (And Beyond). Psych Central. Retrieved on December 11, 2018, from


Last updated: 16 Mar 2014
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Mar 2014
Published on All rights reserved.