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How to Avoid Overindulging at Parties and Family Gatherings

How to Avoid Overindulging at Parties and Family Gatherings

The group mindset at holiday parties and family gatherings is to overindulge in food, drinks, and frivolity. Even after you’ve had a few extra cookies and a second margarita, it’s guaranteed someone will prod you to have a few more.

Aunt Martha will take it as an insult if you don’t try her walnut chocolate chip cookies or the lamb cake from her favorite bakery. If you tell her you’re dieting or trying to eat healthy, your pleas will fall on deaf ears. How do you keep your relatives and friends happy and stay true to your diet or nutritional needs?

Most people who eat healthy may encounter resistance during the holidays (Easter, Christmas, Fourth of July barbecue, etc.) or at a birthday party or other celebration. And if you go to a lot of parties or social functions year-round, this may pose a real problem, especially if most of the other party-goers are strangers. Eating sparsely or turning down certain dishes may make you seem stand-offish or anti-social.

Here are a few ways you can maneuver the celebratory maze of extra food and alcohol without compromising your healthy lifestyle.  

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Plan Ahead

If you know you’re going to a party on Easter or anytime, keep it low-key the rest of the week. Eat fruits, veggies and drink lots of water or herbal tea to reduce calories and stay satiated.  Don’t go on a starvation diet, but save all your indulgence calories and then some for the holiday or special event.

Get Enough Sleep the Night Before

Always get enough sleep the night before a party. You’ll make better food and drink choices if you’re well-rested. If you’re tired when you go to a party, you’ll be more likely to indulge at the dessert table, which will release dopamine and serotonin.  

Honesty is the Best Policy

Most people will understand that you have a calorie/sugar/salt/alcohol limit for the night. You can indulge, but only so much. If you have really pushy friends who won’t respect your wishes, be firm with them. When the party’s over, you might want to ask yourself why you’ve chosen such pushy friends.

Dealing with Family Members

Family gatherings are another matter. If you come from a large family in which eating lots of homemade foods is seen as a sign of love and belonging, eating little or abstaining from sweets may be seen as a rejection of family values. Older relatives, such as grandparents, are most likely to feel this way. Common sense talk about health and diets may not make sense to some of your family members. After all, one night of sampling homemade fried chicken, lasagna, crumb cake and chocolate fudge cake can’t hurt you, they reason.

Avoid the wrath of the family food matriarch (or patriarch) by being seated at the other end of the table at formal gatherings, or spend time helping in the kitchen or watching the kids. If someone does urge you to eat more, tell them you love the food and want to eat more later. Don’t lecture them about how you need to maintain your weight or eat less sugar. Such protestations will only cause them to make you feel guilty or ungrateful for not eating the food a family member worked so hard to prepare.

Choose the healthiest foods you can, and keep you plate as full as possible all night. An empty plate gives nagging family members more license to convince you to eat past your limitations.

Try to remember that some of your relatives (and maybe even some friends) view the refusal of home-cooked food as a personal affront, or they may believe you think the food tastes terrible. Look at the situation from their point of view and treat them with kindness instead of flat-out refusal.

When the Eyes Want More Than the Stomach Can Handle

Of course, sometimes you are your own worst enemy, and no one has to force you to eat or drink too much. Eat a piece of fruit or peanut butter on a few crackers or another healthy snack before you go to the party. You could even eat a late lunch during your workday to keep culinary temptation at bay. When your stomach is full, you won’t visit the buffet table as often or help yourself to a third piece of cake.

Whether you’re at a buffet or sit-down dinner, it helps to take small portions of all (or most) of the foods served. That way, you won’t need to worry about insulting a cook by avoiding their dish entirely. You’ll sample everything at least once, and still have enough room for a bigger helping of the foods you like.

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Chew Slowly

Eat slowly. Chew every bit of food 15 or 20 times. It takes your brain about 15 minutes for your brain to register that your stomach is full after you’ve eaten your last bite.

Speed-eating, at a party or any other time, has other drawbacks. Fast eaters usually eat more, and are prone to indigestion and acid reflux. Eating too fast may cause you to ingest air as you swallow, causing hiccups.

Chewing slowly breaks down your food into small, digestible particles, allowing your intestines to absorb nutrients easily. A Japanese study showed that young women who ate more slowly consumed fewer calories during meals.  

Bring Your Own “Potluck” Dish

Bring your own dish to a party or family gathering. Most hosts will appreciate more food and it is a sign of camaraderie and a polite gesture. Beyond that, it ensures they’ll be at least one healthy dish you can nosh on most of the night. A fruit salad, trail mix or carrot sticks and dip are healthy choices.

Stand, Don’t Sit

Stand and socialize (or just people-watch) after getting your first plate of food at a buffet. Standing or moving around will help burn calories and make it easier to meet new people. Standing is also better for your digestion than prolonged sitting.

If you’re attending a sit-down dinner, opt to help with serving food or retrieving it from the kitchen. It will keep your moving and take the focus off what you’re eating – or not eating.

Another way to avoid going back for thirds or fourths is to make the rounds and talk to as many guests as possible – or just hold court with a few close friends.

Chew Gum

Chew gum before the party, or after the meal when deserts are being served.  Gum perks up your digestive system, tricking it into thinking it’s getting food. This will give you a fake sense of being full so you’ll indulge in fewer desserts.

Don’t Avoid “Bad” or High-Calorie Foods – Just Eat Smaller Portions

A slice of pecan pie or chocolate fudge may seem like a sinful overindulgence if you’re used to eating healthy. Don’t deny yourself any treat at a party because you think it’s too sugary or calorie-laden- just eat a tiny sliver of cake instead of a big, heaping piece. Some nutritionists believe banning bad foods during a holiday gathering or a party will just cause you to overeat later.

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Avoid Alcohol to Eat Less

When you drink alcohol, it will impair your judgment, and you may start eating more without realizing what you’re doing. Drink club soda or water instead, and stay away from the bar (or the table with all the booze).

Tips for Avoiding a Hangover

Drinking lots of alcohol does more than cause you to overeat. Even a small amount of alcohol can impact your driving ability. There’s no harm in drinking a beer or glass of wine at a party, but being goaded into drinking more alcohol than you can handle can be dangerous, especially if you’re driving home.

It’s not always easy to avoid alcohol at a party or family gathering. If you don’t drink much alcohol when left to your own devices, even two or three drinks (or one strong drink) can leave you feeling hungover and sick the next morning.

If you think you may drink more than your share at a party, take a taxi or Uber round trip to the festivities, or have a sober friend drive you home.    

To stay as sober as possible, drink a glass of water (not soda or juice) between drinks.

Vodka and other clear liquors won’t make you as inebriated as darker spirits. Spicy mixed drinks like Bloody Marys are safer than a Rum and Coke. The opposite is true for beer – dark beers have fewer calories and more antioxidants than light-colored beers. (Yes, beer has antioxidants.)

Avoid carbonated soda as a mixer; the bubbles will help deliver the alcohol to your bloodstream faster. Juice is a much safer mixer.

White Russians and other sugar and dairy filled mixed drinks will wreak havoc with your teeth and waistline as well as your blood alcohol level. If you must have a drink that doubles as a dessert, stick to one small glass.

Recovering from a Food Binge

The day after a party or family dinner, you may feel bloated, (and hungover if much alcohol accompanied the rich food.) Eat a protein-centered breakfast of yogurt or eggs the next morning, and drink ten glasses of filtered water to flush out excess sodium and alcohol. Eat fresh fruits and veggies throughout the day, and fish or chicken for dinner. Don’t skip meals he day after a party. It will just make you eat more when you start eating full meals again.

If you also drank too much alcohol, your blood sugar will need a boost. Drink some apple juice or another fruit juice to raise your glycemic index. A bagel or other high GI food will raise blood sugar even more.

Natural Hangover Remedies

If you feel nauseous the morning after drinking too much at a party, drink ginger tea (preferably made with real ginger roots, no bagged tea) or eat a small piece of fresh ginger. Ginger has been used as a natural cure for nausea, vomiting and motion sickness for centuries.

Drinking depletes your body of vitamins, so be sure to get enough vitamins the next day from food or supplements. It’s especially important to get enough Vitamin B12 and folate. Foods with lots of Vitamin B12 include milk, eggs, cheese, fish and red meat. Citrus fruits, avocados, broccoli, peas and dark leafy greens contain folate (aka folic acid.)

Too much alcohol does more than dehydrate you. It robs you of electrolytes. In addition to drinking water, you should also make sure you eat bananas and other foods containing potassium. You can also drink Pedialyte or Gatorade to replenish electrolytes.    

Going outside may be the last thing you want to do when you’re hungover, but oxygen helps toxins from alcohol break down faster. Take a walk and get a little sun. The endorphins from walking and Vitamin D from the sun will make you feel better and help you return to normal sooner.

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