Winter is often a time for festivities, hibernation and staying warm. For many of us, it can also signal the start of a spiral into overeating, which can be hard to overcome. As the nights draw in and the build up to the Holidays begins, those well-intentioned eating habits can be put to the test. In this article we share our tips for how to stop overeating this winter, and give you ideas on what to eat to stay fuller for longer.
Why do we overeat?
Over the years, the average portion size has changed, which can make it harder to stop overeating. The average size of a dinner plate has grown from 25cm diameter to 28cm, soda drinks come in two litre super-size bottles, and chocolate bars are now available up to a colossal 400g, compared to 54g 30 years ago. (Read more about portion sizes in the article from the Nutrition Society here). With the rise of processed and convenience foods, it can become even harder to stop overeating.
Overeating stretches the stomach to accommodate more consumption. This not only leads to the inevitable ‘food coma’ afterwards, but in the long term can lead to weight gain, and lack of self-esteem. It can also contribute to an increase in acidity levels in the body which can eventually lead to chronic disease (or in the short-term aggravate an existing condition). Overeating can also damage the digestive system and affect sleep, metabolism and the skin.
During the winter months, the tendency is to eat foods that are more warming, a little heavier, and often offer comfort. The latter can lead to overeating on sugary snacks or processed foods which then leads to cravings. We are then stuck in a cycle where we over eat, we experience cravings, we eat more, and so it continues.
Cravings are food specific. If the body is truly hungry, most foods will satiate. However, when we crave generally it is sugar, fat or salt, and can often come in the form of a particular product or brand that we have an emotional attachment to.
Top tips to stop overeating
So, how can we curb these cravings and help to stop ourselves from heaping another unnecessary portion of food onto our plates? Here are some tips to do just that:
Drink more water
- Drink a glass of water 15-30 minutes before mealtime. Too soon before and the digestive juices may be diluted. By drinking before you eat, your stomach will not be so empty, alleviating the temptation to overeat.
- Many cravings are actually thirst. Thirst is an appetite suppressor as the same part of the brain signals hunger and thirst. If you experience a craving, drink a glass of water and wait 15 minutes. Check in with yourself, and see if you are really experiencing hunger or craving.
- If drinking water feels like a chore, try using natural lemon or mint to add some flavour.
Add in to cut out:
- When you dish up at mealtime, overload on vegetables first. Greens will fill you up and provide you with an array of nutrients your body needs. Plus, with more wholesome foods on your plate, there will be less room for junk. Try this month´s fabulous recipe for roast squash with cinnamon.
- Make sure you include a good source of fibre into your diet on a regular basis. Fibre can help you to feel fuller for longer (meaning you are less likely to want to snack), and it is also beneficial to your digestive system. So add in things like beans, pulses, brown rice, nuts, fruit (in particular apples) and any vegetable.
- Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Include protein in your morning meal, as sugar will be absorbed more slowly into the blood and leave you feeling fuller for longer. Also, avoid foods high on the Glycemic Index which spike your blood sugar levels, setting off the yo-yo effect that can lead to cravings. (You can read more about glycaemic index and the effect of sugar in your body in our earlier article “Sugars – the highs, lows and alternative”).
Is it craving or hunger?
- If you are finding it hard to tell the difference between a craving and real hunger, imagine eating a of plate vegetables. If you want to eat this then your body may need some nutrition. If not, it’s likely just a craving.
- After we’ve eaten our main meal, many of us get a taste for something sweet. Wait 20 minutes after eating to see if you’re still hungry as it takes time for the hunger signals to be shut down. If you feel full, but still want something sweet, it’s a craving.
Dish it out
- Portion out leftovers immediately after cooking and put them in the freezer to remove temptation for a refill.
- Using smaller plates means less space to pile on the food. The same applies to containers if you’re making batches for the days ahead.
- Organise healthy snacks to tide you over throughout the day between meals, such as nuts and raisins, or carrots and hummus.
When in doubt, get out!
- Sometimes it can be as simple as getting out of the impact zone! If you’re not preparing a meal, and find yourself lingering around the fridge, get out of the kitchen!
- Many of us eat out of boredom. If it’s gloomy outside and we don’t know what to do with our time, we might eat to fill a void. Try to get out none-the-less. If it´s raining, put on your raincoat and move your body. Fresh air and exercise helps you to feel rejuvenated and motivates you to stay on track.
- It is far too common these days to find ourselves cramming food into our mouths in front of computer screens, phones and televisions. Instead try to accommodate time into your schedule to find a quiet comfortable place where you can focus on your food. Eat mindfully, really taste and savour each mouthful. Chew well, and remember to breathe! Also, getting away from the screens and taking breaks helps improve productivity.
- Getting a good night´s sleep can have a big effect on how we eat. Generally, if we have not slept well, we tend to overeat the next day to get us through the hours.
- Winter can be a lonely time for some people. Food that we consume can nourish our bodies, but what about nourishing our souls? We can use food as a comfort or numbing mechanism. Consider other areas of your life that you may feel more starved in. It might be time to reach out to friends, take up a new hobby or ask for professional support to help stop overeating.
Stop and question your hunger
Before eating, or taking a second (or third!) helping, ask yourself three questions:
- How hungry am I?
The Centre for Health Promotion and Wellness have shared their Hunger Scale. It can help you to identify how hungry your body really is. The Scale ranges from one to ten, where one is beyond hungry, five means the body has enough fuel and is satisfied, and ten is beyond full. You can try it anytime you feel “hungry”.
- Is this powerful decision to eat this?
Making powerful decisions around food can really change our relationship with it. Often, we approach eating “treats” from a space of recklessness, emptiness or anger, which can contribute to lack of self-esteem and other negative mindsets.
- How will I feel after I’ve eaten this?
This ties in with the previous question and will help you identify whether you are making a decision from a place where you are going to enjoy the time you eat, without any aftermath of guilt or regret.
If you regularly experience cravings, or know you overeat, you might consider visiting La Crisalida, a leading health and wellbeing retreat in Europe, to explore or kick-start eating a healthy plant-based diet, in one of our detox and weightloss retreats. We hope these simple tips help you to stop overeating this winter