Why Do We Over Eat at the Holidays?

When we think about the holiday season, we often think about all the delicious food that will be floating around our homes, our offices, our kids schools, our churches. It seems the more the food, the more the merrier. But it can come at a cost if we aren’t careful. There are many reasons why we over indulge during the holidays. Our families might place significant importance on certain meals. Or we might have clients, friends, coworkers bring goodies to celebrate the season. Whatever the reason, holiday food and over consumption go hand in hand.

However, scientists actually have a term for why we continue to eat even though our stomachs are full and we know we should stop. Ingestion analgesia is the brains’ way to ‘defend eating from ending’. We actually block out the negative physical feelings of our stomachs as they are being pushed passed the uncomfortable. Ingestion analgesia takes it ones step further by blocking our negative emotional responses to over eating as well. The more we eat, the more our bodies feel like we want to eat more. So physically our bodies aren’t sending the correct messages that our stomachs are full. And emotionally our brain isn’t telling us that we’re full, and that we should stop and digest. If it seems like we don’t have any control physically or emotionally, what can we do?

Taking a moment around a meal is important in the way we process and enjoy food. Eating mindfully, taking breaks, and really tasting your food can help our bodies adjust to the holiday feasts. Chewing slowly to allow your digestive system to adapt to the food your consuming. A suggestion might be to remove yourself from the area or room the food is in, so you’re less likely to be near it and constantly going back for more.

There is no doubt that the season brings delicious, nostalgic, and euphoric symptoms for us and our families. But trying to focus on other traditions that don’t involve food can be a good way to take a break from all the temptations. Also making new traditions, like taking a family hike before the big dinner, or a bike ride after dinner can be a fun way to add physical activity. Enjoy everything about the holidays, even the food, but trying to be mindful and healthy can help ensure the start of a great New Year. If you’d like to read more about why we over eat during the holidays, take a look at Gary L Wenk’s article on Psychology Today!