Keeping our food portions in check can be especially difficult during the holiday season, when all kinds of delicious temptations abound. While many of us look forward to this time of year, we are also aware that our diet goals can suffer from our annual gluttony occurring from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. Below we provide three useful, evidence-based tips to get through the holiday season without sacrificing diet goals. Why not start working towards New Year’s Resolutions early this year?
Tip #1 – Indulge First
Figure 1. Suozzi, N. (2016). Holiday Party in Toronto, Canada.
The holidays are a time of social gatherings and celebrations which are typically accompanied by delicious energy-dense foods and buffet-style spreads. It can be challenging to avoid overeating. The holidays are not meant to be a time of deprivation, so avoiding indulgences may be unrealistic and counterproductive. While it may seem counterintuitive, selecting an indulgent item first at your holiday party may result in fewer total calories consumed. A group of researchers conducted several experiments to determine whether the order of foods consumed influenced total calorie intake and found that study participants who chose an indulgent item to begin with were more likely to consume lower overall calories than those who first selected a healthy item (Castaño and Lopez, 2019)***.They found that this may, in part, be attributable to the licensing effect (Castaño and Lopez, 2019).*** Essentially, those who started with something healthy (doing something good) may feel entitled or “licensed” to subsequently indulge (doing something bad) to a greater extent***. So, when you are eyeing that dessert table at your next holiday party, and you know you are going to have some dessert anyway, why not indulge first?
Tip #2: Plan Pre-portioned Meals
Since you may have a busy scheduled filled with food-related activities this holiday season, you are likely to encounter many large portions. Studies have shown that larger portion sizes encourage overeating and one meta-analysis indicated that when portion size is doubled, consumption increases by 35% on average (Hetherington, 2018)***. Since you may have less control of portion sizes when eating away from home, it may be beneficial to prepare portioned snacks and meals for all other times during the holiday season. There is evidence indicating that portion-controlled foods can promote weight loss (Rolls, 2014)***.
Tip #3 - Select Satiating Foods
Figure 2. Suozzi, N. (2017). High Protein and Fiber Meal
There are many factors influencing our appetite and satiety. Some of these include physiological changes in our bodies that take place before we eat (Chambers, McCrickerd and Yeomans, 2015)***. Various hormonal and digestive changes occur in the body as we prepare to eat and these changes influence the absorption of nutrients, thereby affecting our sensations of satiety (Chambers et al., 2015)***. Even the absorption of nutrients which may take place long after we eat can influence our satiety (Rebello, O’Neil and Greenway, 2016)***.
While these physiological mechanisms may be out of our control, we can select foods that help us feel satiated. Foods high in protein can help us feel full, and research shows that incorporating whole grains and fiber may help us regulate our appetites (Rebello et al., 2016). One of the reasons that high fiber foods can moderate our appetites is that foods high in fiber frequently require a lot of chewing and this slows down the process of eating, thereby giving our bodies time to signal feelings of satiety (Rebello et al., 2016).
A separate study found that familiar foods have higher expected satiety and expected satiety is a strong predictor of portion size (Forde, Almiron-Roig and Brunstrom, 2015)***. Therefore, if one is looking to eat less this holiday season, it might be helpful to continue eating some of the foods that are typically included in the regular diet while also paying close attention to protein and fiber content. Boosting intake of these types of foods on days when planned festivities are scheduled may be helpful.
Armed with the three simple rules above, you should be able to confidently head into the Holiday Season knowing that your diet goals do not have to suffer this time of year. And remember, this Thanksgiving reach for that pumpkin pie first!
Chambers, C., McCrickerd, K., and Yeomans, M.R. (2015). Optimising Foods for Satiety. Trends in Food Science and Technology, 41 (2). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924224414002386
Forde, C. G., Almiron-Roig, E., & Brunstrom, J. M. (2015). Expected Satiety: Application to Weight Management and Understanding Energy Selection in Humans. Current obesity reports, 4(1), 131– 140. doi:10.1007/s13679-015-0144-0
Hetherington, M. M. and Blundell‐Birtill, P. (2018). The portion size effect and overconsumption – towards downsizing solutions for children and adolescents. Nutrition Bulletin, 43 (1). Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/nbu.12307
Rebello, C. J., O'Neil, C. E., & Greenway, F. L. (2016). Dietary fiber and satiety: the effects of oats on satiety. Nutrition reviews, 74(2), 131–147. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuv063
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