A doctor shares easy ways to prevent overindulging during the holidays

Alcohol can act as a nutritional barrier, limiting your digestive tract’s ability to absorb certain vitamins, doctor says

People gather at a table to eat holiday foods. (MD Now Urgent Care.)

There’s no question that the holidays can be one of the most difficult times of the year to stay on course when it comes to our diet.

Family and friends gather to celebrate, enjoy each other’s company and eat. In many cases, the food can be everything from sweets to bountiful meals, which creates many opportunities to overeat and indulge in calorie-rich foods.

It’s not uncommon during this time of year for anyone to put on a few extra pounds. However, the problem is that most people never lose the weight they gain during the holiday season, according to MD Now Urgent Care experts.

Over the course of several years, that weight can add up. Plus, holiday eating can be unkind to our bodies, leading to issues like diarrhea, vomiting and upset stomach, which can put a damper on holiday plans.

Preparing before a holiday gathering

There are some things you can do ahead of holiday events to help yourself, according to MD Now Urgent Care. For instance:

Plan ahead. If there are holiday events on your calendar, ask what kinds of food will be served. You could also consider taking your own healthy dish to share.

Don’t arrive hungry. Going to a holiday party hungry is a good way to give in to tempting treats. Drink water or have a nutritious snack before you fill up your plate.

Don’t “taste” too much. It can be easy to mindlessly taste as you cook and bake, but try to limit yourself to one small bite before and after seasoning. If you’re using a faithful recipe that has remained the same for years, wait until the dish is served.

At a holiday gathering

Dr. Scott Sanford, with MD Now Urgent Care, said there are some things you can do to ensure holiday gatherings don’t lead to overeating.

For starters, you can use a smaller plate and pace yourself.

“The holidays last for many weeks, so take it slow while eating,” Sanford said. “An easy rule to follow to help defend against weight gain is to maintain a measured pace and chew slowly. This mindful approach to eating allows your body time to adequately determine ‘I’ve had enough’ and give you the feeling of satiety. Enjoy your holiday treats by savoring the flavor, chewing slowly and fully experiencing the texture and aroma of the food.”

Sanford said another major thing to avoid is drinking too much alcohol. Alcohol impairs judgment and lowers inhibitions. This means you’re less likely to successfully fend off a second helping of pie if you’re feeling tipsy.

“Not only does alcohol stimulate your appetite and hunger receptors, but it also interferes with your body’s natural feedback mechanism that normally tells you ‘I’m full -- no more,’” he said. “Alcohol can also act as a nutritional barrier, limiting your digestive tract’s ability to absorb certain vitamins, minerals and other healthy substances.”

During and after holiday gatherings

All throughout the holidays, and especially after, it’s never too late to adopt better habits. Walking – alone or with your family – gets everyone away from the food for a while, burns extra calories, and it allows you to enjoy time in the fresh air.

Sanford said it’s also important to consciously work to minimize stress.

“Stress can often trigger eating in an almost automatic way of seeking emotional comfort and offering us distraction,” he said. “Nervous tension also increases your body’s stress hormone, cortisol, which fuels appetite and fat retention. Mindfulness and meditation are the most underrated weight loss supplements.”

Just as important as managing stress is maintaining healthy sleep habits.

“Staying up late to watch the third holiday movie of the evening may contribute to adding on the pounds,” Sanford said. “Lack of sleep increases the hunger hormone, grehlin, and simultaneously decreases the satiety-related hormone, leptin. It’s best to go to bed at a reasonable time.”

There have been years of debate over whether it’s healthy to weigh yourself often. While Sanford said it’s a personal decision and there’s no one answer for everyone, he cautioned people doing it too regularly.

“Weight can fluctuate daily and does not always accurately reflect body composition,” he said. “For some of us, this might lead to undo stress and be counterproductive. For others, it serves as a measure of motivation and accountability.”

Sanford said weight is just one indicator of overall health and should be evaluated as a trend.

Ultimately, the decision on how frequently to weigh in should be based on what works best for you and your emotional, as well as physical, well-being.

Sanford said it can seem like a hard balance at the holidays: Do you enjoy the celebrations, or do you attempt to enter the new year as your healthiest self?

“When we do our self-assessment (which we all do more than we admit), we tend to let the negative overwhelm all our positive attributes,” he said. “Having goals is important, but don’t allow your daily progress measure to become a reflection of your own core value. Celebrate you for your attributes and you will find your goals are easier to accomplish.”

Even if you follow the tips above, some might still experience uncomfortable symptoms that can occur from food consumption, especially with the rich, indulgent foods we tend to favor during the holiday season.

If you experience diarrhea, upset stomach, vomiting, bloating or any other gastrointestinal symptoms, you can visit your local MD Now Urgent Care to get to the root of the problem. Many issues can include food poisoning, the flu or other illnesses more common during the holidays.

To learn more or to speak to a health care professional, visit an MD Now Urgent Care clinic.