There is virtually no one on Earth who is able to get through the holiday season without indulging, at least once, in their favorite foods—be it a glass of eggnog, a plate of sugar cookies, or an extra helping of buttery mashed potatoes.
But another thing that many of us have in common is the immense guilt we feel after eating a little more than we should have. We’ll often beat ourselves up internally and head to the gym first thing the next day, thinking it will solve all of our problems.
The thing is, one bad meal (or even a few days of unhealthy eating in a row) will not make or break your healthy habits the rest of the year. In fact, sometimes a break from routine can keep you on track long term and make you realize why you set health goals for yourself in the first place.
If you are nervous about going overboard this season, one of the best things you can do is remember to pace yourself. It’s easy to grab huge helpings when everything is in a giant casserole dish and nothing is pre-portioned. A good rule of thumb? Servings of meat, like roasted chicken or pork, should be about the size of your fist, starchy sides such as stuffing and potatoes should be about a ½ cup or less, and same for most desserts.
You can also eliminate the urge to overindulge by slowing down and taking a brief break in between helpings. Our eyes are almost always bigger than our stomachs. If you give yourself fifteen to twenty minutes of time after your first plate before reaching for another, you might be surprised how full you actually are. And if you aren’t full yet, go ahead and grab another small serving.
If you find yourself waking up the day after a big holiday meal feeling sluggish, you might be inclined to call the day a wash and continue on the same eating pattern as the day before. But you have an opportunity to refresh your body and get back on track right away, preventing the binge from going on any further. Be sure to hydrate with plenty of water the day after a large meal to flush your system, and, even if you’re feeling tired, try and go for a short walk or engage in minimal exercise for a mental boost.
The most important thing to remember is that focusing all of your energy on how bad you feel after binging will only hurt you mentally and encourage you to engage in the same behavior again and again. Understanding that a single holiday won’t undo months of healthy eating and exercise is an important step in a meaningful and sustainable lifestyle.