In today’s video, I go over a study on how to deal with problems foods while you’re trying to lose weight. You know–those foods you crave that you can’t resist eating when they’re around, and/or foods that you tend to overeat once you start eating them.
I also talk about what habits actually lead you to have MORE problem foods, and which strategies work best for losing weight despite them.
Today’s video answers another question I get a lot: does intermittent fasting really make you lose weight? Specifically I’m talking about intermittent fasting throughout the day (aka time-restricted feeding), where you eat for part of the day and fast for the rest of it.
In the video I go over 5 studies on intermittent fasting, with a variety of fasting windows: 8 hours (aka 16:8), 6 hours (18:6), and 4 hours (20:4) and including studies on both morning and nighttime eating windows.
Hey friends! Today I have advice & a study for you on how to stop overeating between (especially before) diets. Sometimes, the overeating gets so bad that it completely counteracts the diet–at least that used to be how it was for me!
In this study, the researchers looked at how much weight was gained over the holidays by dieters versus normal controls (nondieters). And, more importantly, what kinds of dieting habits these groups had.
The dieters were people who had successfully lost weight in the past and kept it off for years–so they really knew how to diet. Before the holiday, many of them reported having “extremely strict” holiday diet and exercise plans in place: they had solid plans to control their portions, cut out treats, and exercise like crazy. Many of them also lost weight before the holidays to have a safety net in the event of holiday weight gain.
Sounds like a lot of people around November, right?
Not a single one of the 100 nondieters, on the other hand, reported having strict diet or exercise plans. None of them reported losing any weight to prepare for the holidays, either.
So the dieters were completely focused on weight loss, had strict plans in place to do that, and even preemptively lost weight to have a holiday safety net. And the nondieters didn’t care about weight or dieting much at all.
Guess who gained more weight?
During the holiday, the dieters reported exercising much more, and successfully sticking to their strict diet plans. They followed self-imposed rules, like only eating at home and not allowing snacking after dinner. They intentionally stopped eating before they were full, focused on their portions, and weighed themselves more often.
And yet, they gained weight: almost half of them gained more than 2lbs. Only 15% of the nondieters, on the other hand, gained weight.
The kicker is that even a month later, in February, three times as many dieters were still holding onto that holiday weight than nondieters.
But why did this happen?
The researchers found that paying less attention to their weight and dieting over the holidays predicted more weight gain in the dieters. And yet, the dieters were still paying more attention to their weight and diet overall than the nondieters, so that can’t explain why they gained more.
This seemingly paradoxical result really shows how dieting affects you: if you’re used to dieting, then the second you take a break from completely obsessing over your weight and diet plans, you start to gain weight.
So, what does this mean for you?
The only way dieting really works in the long term is if you maintain complete control 100% of the time, with no binges or overeating or slip ups. And that isn’t realistic. It’s usually more like a cycle of doing well for a little while, then overeating, then trying to make up for it by dieting more strictly, which leads to binging… rinse and repeat.
Dieting just doesn’t work in the long term.
So what can you do?
Be like the nondieters: try intuitive eating (here’s my post on how to do that). Don’t focus on your weight. Don’t make strict diet plans. Don’t impose eating or exercise rules on yourself. Instead, just learn to tune into your body’s signals so you can eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full–that’s it!
It takes some time to escape from a diet mentality and the cycle of strict dieting and slip-ups, but it is so worth it.
And if you want to lose weight, just focus on eating whole, plant-based foods. (No need to cut out treats though!) There’s a ton of research that shows that eating this way, without any dieting, leads to effortless weight loss.
The holidays should be a time that you can spend focusing on loved ones, relaxation, and self-care. Not a time that you have to spend all your mental energy on keeping up your diet.
The holiday season is a mostly wonderful time… but between the fun of getting together with loved ones, having more free time, and being surrounded by holiday decor, there lurks the fear of seemingly inevitable weight gain.
I spent years and years being so afraid of weight gain, and so desperately planning my post-holiday diet, that it was hard to enjoy the holidays at all. Especially Thanksgiving, because the whole day is so focused on food. But now that I’ve learned how to escape that cycle, I want to share some tips to help you stop worrying about your weight this holiday season too, so you can focus on what’s important instead 🙂
1. Eat more (of some things).
Sounds counterintuitive, I know.
But the science is clear: some foods are more satiating than others. Studies have found that if you eat 250 calories of potatoes, for example, you’ll feel more than twiceas full as you would from eating 250 calories of cheese1. And as a result, you also eat much less after eating potatoes than after eating cheese.
And you can take advantage of this fact to help you pace yourself during your holiday meals.
If you’re mindful about having a good helping of those satiating foods (think starches & veggies), it’ll balance out the high calorie density, low satiety foods (think meat, cheese, & desserts), and help prevent you from overeating.
So what exactly does that look like? Try having a dish as close as possible to a plant based whole food–maybe mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, a veggie side, or even stuffing–that you eat first or that you serve yourself extra of, to give you that baseline of satiation before going for seconds (or thirds) on everything else.
Another strategy is to have some snacks or appetizers before the big meal. This can help by making sure you don’t go into dinner feeling ravenous and overstuffing yourself before your brain can catch up.
2. Don’t plan to diet beforehand or afterwards.
This is a big one. Almost everyone who has ever dieted plans to diet before and/or after the holidays. But it’s exactly that mindset that leads to overeating and weight gain in the first place.
In fact, studies show that people who are most successful at losing weight in general are the ones who gain the most weight during the holidays2.
Sounds crazy, right?
A few years ago I would have thought so too, but now it makes perfect sense.
First, we know that dieting leads to yo-yo weight gain and loss in the long term. So dieting before the holidays is the perfect way to set yourself up to go into binge mode during the holidays and gain all that weight back… and then some3.
Second, when you go into the holiday season expecting to gain weight, that’s exactly what happens. It’s a very easy self-fulfilling prophecy, because the expectations are all in your mind, and it’s your mind that causes you to overeat. (Your body never asks for that!) When you start eating, you probably have negative emotions about how much weight you’re going to gain. And we know that for people who diet, negative emotions lead to more overeating.
It’s a vicious cycle that leaves you miserable during the holidays, and heavier (and still miserable) afterwards.
So what should you do instead? Ditch the diets, and start eating intuitively instead. (Check out my guide for how to get started.) Your mind and waistline (and probably your loved ones too) will thank you.
3. Plan to make yourself more holiday foods afterwards.
Part of what makes us overeat at holiday meals is that the food is scarce. Maybe it’s even “forbidden” the rest of the year.
If you don’t eat that pecan pie today, you might not get to eat it again until next year.
But the reality is that the only reason holiday food is scarce or forbidden is if YOU decide that you aren’t allowed to have it at other times. And that makes it so much more alluring. After all, there’s a reason they say that the forbidden fruit is sweetest.
And, science shows that people who avoid eating certain foods for dieting purposes end up overeating them later3.
If you don’t allow yourself to have certain foods most of the year, you end up overeating them even more during the holiday season because you know you’ll be deprived of those foods again soon.
This is not your last chance for pecan pie, so you don’t need to eat it like it’s your last time having pecan pie.
So this tip is an easy one: just allow yourself to have your favorite foods. (This is a good anti-weight-gain tip in general, not just for the holidays!) Either make some of your holiday favorites before the season starts to test out some recipes, or schedule a day after the holidays to make or buy those holiday foods you always crave. (And, of course, save leftovers from the holiday meal itself!)
Or best of all, go all out with intuitive eating and just eat what you want when you want it. No scheduling necessary. That’s how I’ve lost weight and maintained it–it just works.
With this tip, you’ll go into your holiday meals knowing that the pecan pie really isn’t that rare–and if you know there’s more where that came from, you’ll feel much less of an urge to overeat it.
(Can you guess that I really love pecan pie? 😉 )
4. Treat it like any other meal.
Try changing your expectations going into your holiday meals. If you don’t treat them like a big daunting event where you’re expected to overeat, you’ll be less likely to overeat.
Like the last tip, this is also about reducing the scarcity of the food: the goal is to get rid of that feeling that the Thanksgiving food (or other holiday food) is a limited resource. Don’t treat the food like it’s the special part of the day. That’s not what makes a holiday a holiday.
It’s the loved ones, the focus on what you’re thankful for, or even just a day off from work that makes it a holiday.
If you want to create something special and rewarding in your day, in place of focusing on the meal, you could also try treating yourself to some self care: is there a book you’ve been wanting to read, a videogame you’ve been dying to play, or some bubble bath you’ve been wanting to try? Treat yourself or set aside some time for yourself during the day to make it feel special.
5. Shift your focus.
Changing your mindset is so powerful. Mindset makes us overeat in the first place, and mindset can be the reason we stop.
This holiday season, try shifting your focus. Instead of thinking about how food will affect you and your body, focus on who you’re sharing that food with. Focus on why you’re there eating a holiday meal in the first place.
And, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, try replacing guilt, shame, and fear with gratitude. Gratitude that you have food to eat, loved ones to eat it with, and a body that allows you to enjoy the holidays. Maybe your body doesn’t look exactly how you want it to (yet), but try to appreciate it for what it allows you to do.
After all, practicing gratitude has been shown again and again to make people happier4, and even to improve their body image5.
And with that, I wish you all a very happy holiday season. I hope that these tips can help you enjoy it even more. ❤
Hey friends! Today I have advice & a super cool study for you on how to stop negative emotions from making you overeat or binge eat. This study also has useful advice for how to feel fewer negative emotions generally!
For the highlights, check out the video:
And now, the details & how to use the strategy into your own life:
Emotions are a MAJOR cause of overeating–in fact many scientists think it’s THE cause of binge eating disorder (BED).
So in this study, they tested whether a simple psychological trick could prevent people from overeating when feeling sad.
They had two groups: a group of 39 overweight women with BED, and a control group of 42 overweight women (weight-matched) without binge eating. Their average BMI in both groups was 34. The BED group was bingeing 4x a week on average, for at least the last 6 months.
They had the participants watch a really sad movie, had them use one of two emotional regulation strategies, then looked at how much they ate afterwards from bowls of biscuits and chocolate M&Ms.
They split the BED and control groups into two strategy groups: suppression and reappraisal. For the people in the suppression group, they told them to suppress their emotions:
Try to hide your feelings. Try to behave in a way that someone watching you would think that you don’t feel anything at all. Try to hold a neutral expression so no one can read your feelings from your face. You can feel whatever you feel, but try your best not to show it.
For the people in the reappraisal group, they told them to try to change how they felt about the movie by focusing on different aspects:
Try to distance yourself from the movie and see it objectively. Whenever you sense a change in your feelings while watching, try to internally step back. For example, think of how the photographer and actors succeeded in presenting the scene.”
(Instructions in studies tend to be REALLY repetitive to make sure participants get it, so I paraphrased 😉 )
Suppression means doing nothing to actually help you stop feeling the feelings, but just hiding or ignoring them. Reappraisal means trying to be less involved in the negative emotion–focusing on other aspects of the situation, distancing yourself from the situation, or looking at it as sort of a scientist. Reappraisal is actually a big reason why some people cope better with negative emotions than others: they naturally do more reappraising. (More specific advice on this below!)
So the participants watched a movie scene about the loss of a loved one, and other studies have shown that the movie scene makes people really sad. After the movie, both groups of participants rated themselves as feeling more sad than before the movie. But, the group that had done reappraisal during the movie felt less sad.
Then, they gave each participant a bowl of biscuits and a bowl of M&Ms, and told them they were doing a taste test to see how the movie affected their ratings of how good the food tasted. They had 15 minutes to eat & fill out questionnaires about how good the food tasted. They had all been told to eat a regular meal 2 hours earlier, so they weren’t coming in hungry.
Participants in the suppression group ate 40% morethan the reappraisal group. And this applied to both people who binge ate, and those who didn’t. Over 15 minutes this amounted to 30 extra calories, but imagine…
If you would usually have eaten 1100 calories in a binge, this strategy could make that an 800 calorie binge instead.
And, more importantly, learning reappraisal can help you deal with negative emotions better over time (tons of other research has shown this) and break the bingeing cycle completely.
Interestingly, the group with BED tended to use suppression in daily life much more than the control group, and used reappraisal a lot less. So that may explain how binge eating arises in the first place.
So, how can YOU start reappraising?
Reappraisal means changing the way you think about a situation. Most of the time, we only feel negative emotions because we decide that a situation is bad: for example, for one person starting a new job might be exciting; for another, it might be terrifying. Same situation, different perspectives.
So how do you reappraise a situation?
Let’s say your significant other breaks up with you. A natural reaction may be to feel worthless, self-loathing, etc. A reappraisal strategy here would be to focus on how maybe the situation isn’t the worst thing ever. Focus on the ways in which it might be a good thing: maybe he wasn’t a great match for you anyway, maybe he prevented you from seeing friends or pursuing your hobbies, and there’s definitely someone better out there for you.
Suppression, on the other hand, would be to “put on your brave face” and make it seem like the breakup didn’t affect you.
With reappraisal, challenges become opportunities for growth.
Try asking yourself questions like these:
What did you learn from the situation?
Can you find something positive that might come out of it?
Are you grateful for any part of it?
Are you better off in any way than when you started?
Could it have helped you grow or develop as a person?
So, next time you’re feeling overwhelmed with emotions, try reappraisal. It may help you feel better instead of leading to a binge.