During holidays or celebrations, it’s easy to overeat and enjoy more than one serving of your favourite dishes. Eating is an important part of socializing, and food is meant to be enjoyed.
But when you eat more than you intended to, it’s common to feel guilty and upset about your decisions the next day. According to U.K.-based fitness coach Sarah Duff, punishing yourself for indulging isn’t healthy, and it can even prevent you from achieving your wellness goals.
“Overeating can provoke feelings of negativity and stress, which for some people, leads to a total derailment from any diet or efforts to make changes in order to live a healthier lifestyle,” Duff posted on Instagram. “You don’t need to punish yourself for your slip-ups, ever.”
Duff wrote that it’s unhealthy to skip meals or do an excessive amount of exercise to compensate for overeating. Instead, she listed some suggestions including resuming your normal routine of working out, eating balanced meals, and talking out your negative thoughts.
Tara Miller, a Toronto-based holistic nutritionist and intuitive eating counsellor, agrees with that compassionate approach. Miller said it’s important to be kind to yourself when it comes to overeating, and remember that you are not “good” or “bad” based on what you eat. This, she said, is key to overcoming negative feelings around eating, and ultimately what helps you develop a better relationship with food.
“As a society, we attach so much morality to our food choices,” she said to Global News. “Maybe you didn’t eat enough during the day, causing you to eat past your fullness. Or maybe you just loved the taste of what was served … observe your actions non-judgmentally.”
In fact, our judgment of food is often the reason why we overeat, Miller said.
“The feeling that we should eat an ‘appropriate’ amount of ‘appropriate’ foods gives these foods and quantities power,” she explained. “Rebellion against this restriction is a really common reaction.”
“Feared foods,” like rich meals and heavy desserts, can cause us to develop a “Last Supper syndrome,” Miller said. This means that when we have these foods in front of us, we eat as much as we can because we feel like we won’t be able to eat them again soon.
To combat this, Miller said we should regularly allow ourselves to enjoy the food we like, and not see food as something we need to fear.
“When we have this permission, we can start to let how we feel guide our choices, rather than how we think we should eat,” Miller said. “Restriction can lead to bingeing, feeling crazy around food, obsessive thoughts about food, and ultimately, a poor and confused relationship to food.”
And if you do overeat and want to return to more balanced eating, Miller said not stressing out about it is the first step. Like Duff, she said perspective is key and acknowledging that eating more than usual isn’t the end of the world, nor the end of your otherwise healthy routine.
“In order to move on from the situation, I recommend using that compassionate voice to challenge your critical one,” she said. “Understand the reasons why you may have eaten past fullness, and be kind.”
“Because feeling full and upset never feels good.”