When celebrations revolve around delicious food and drink, it’s easy to go overboard. And what’s better than eating your favorite dishes and clinking glasses with a cocktail? That is, until you cross the line from satisfied to overstuffed. But it happens—and usually only takes one too many cookies to get there. So, in that spirit, here are some expert tips below to feel better after overeating and also avoid overdoing it too much this season.
Acknowledge how you feel.
“Overeating, is eating past comfortable fullness or satiety,” echoes registered dietician Taylor Wolfram. “This could be an uncomfortable physical feeling of fullness in the stomach or acid reflux. Everyone feels their hunger and fullness in unique ways and it’s important to be mindful while eating to learn what your individual cues feel like.”
Some signs you overate might include feeling so full you can’t move well, stomach pain, headache, exhaustion, gas pains, bloating, and fatigue, says Aaptiv trainer Jaime McFaden. You may also experience a sense of being “foggy” or even slightly down in the dumps.
But don’t rush to judge yourself for grabbing an extra helping or the last slice of pie. Simply note how you feel and ask yourself if you’re truly still hungry. If not, put down the fork to give yourself some time to digest.
Move your body—within reason.
You may feel inclined to zone out on the couch after a big meal, but try to keep moving. It’ll help reduce pressure on your stomach and minimize heartburn. However, that doesn’t mean you should immediately head outside for a run or grab the weights.
Too much exercise after a big meal can put additional stress on your body by increasing cortisol and adrenal levels, which could negatively impact your metabolism altogether, says McFaden.
Wolfram agrees, “Exercise should not be used as a tool to ‘make up for’ food choices or to ‘erase’ overindulgence.” She adds, “Exercise should be about moving our bodies in ways that make us feel good, no matter our eating habits.”
Aaptiv trainer Candice Cunningham encourages people to be consistent with exercise without trying to use it to “solve” overeating. “If you consistently work out, then keep doing it. You don’t have to overdo it just because you ate a little too much yesterday.”
Don’t restrict foods.
We’ve all been there: after eating five breadsticks, you swear you’ll never touch them again. Then, you skip dinner and put yourself on a salad diet for next 48 hours. Most experts agree this approach will likely backfire.
“Many people overeat because they’ve been restricting,” says Wolfram. “If you label a food ‘bad’ and tell yourself you shouldn’t have it, you’re more likely to overeat it. When we give ourselves unconditional permission to eat, we’re less likely to obsess about certain foods or find ourselves overeating them,” she says.
Rather, aim for balance by sticking to a nutritional meal plan most of the time. Take your time while enjoying a meal, and sit down to eat without distraction, whenever possible. Also, use simple tools and tricks to hold yourself accountable. McFaden employs what she calls the “apple theory,” which works like this: when you think you’re hungry, ask yourself if you’d eat an apple right then. If the answer is no, you might be eating due to habit or a mental craving. And Cunningham uses the 80/20 rule—“if you’re eating decent portions of nutrient-dense food 80% of the time,” she says, “you can have splurges here and there. Consistency is key, and you’ll feel and look better, too.”
Ask for help.
A pattern of overeating or frequently exercising to cancel out certain foods may indicate a deeper issue at stake, which should be discussed with a professional.
“The National Eating Disorders Association defines a binge as ‘eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than what most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances,” says Wolfram. “Overeating is eating past comfortable fullness (see the hunger/fullness scale). Anyone who is struggling with their relationship with food should consider working with a registered dietitian.”
Developing a positive relationship with food is critical, says McFaden. She recommends learning the basics of nutrition and what your body needs. This way you can make better decisions at the grocery store and while meal planning. The same is true for exercise: view your workouts as a tool to help you feel your best, be strong, increase energy levels, ward off disease, and achieve fitness goals—not an activity that rules your schedule, nor an excuse to eat whatever you want.
“When exercise is used to compensate for food choices, it becomes unhealthy,” states Wolfram. “If someone is chronically overeating, they should work with a registered dietitian nutritionist to help understand what is at the root of the behavior, and develop strategies to achieve a healthier relationship with food.”
Let it go.
Once you know you’ve overeaten, do your best to move on and set yourself up for future success—minus the guilt trip or shame talk along the way.
“It isn’t about being 100% perfect,” shares Cunningham. “Start with aiming to get eight glasses of water in and eating three meals. Then the next day, eat no refined carbs in the mix, then the next day the same deal. Use positive reinforcement to get back on track,” she concludes.
“When it comes to having a healthy relationship with food, what happened in the past shouldn’t dictate what happens in the future,” adds Wolfram. “Just because someone overeats doesn’t mean they need to skip a meal or go on a diet. Listening to internal hunger and fullness cues and eating mindfully are what matters most.”