Avoid Overeating at Thanksgiving With Dietitian’s 15-Minute Rule

  • Holiday eating doesn’t have to be a cycle of restriction and binging, a dietitian said. 
  • Instead of trying to eat less to compensate for a feast, focus on eating more slowly. 
  • Enjoying small portions of favorite foods can help you tune into natural hunger cues. 

Stop depriving yourself the day before to “make up” for the Thanksgiving dinner you’re soon to enjoy — a simple strategy can allow you to enjoy holiday food while maintaining your healthy eating habits, according to a dietitian.

One of the easiest ways to eat more healthfully without sacrificing foods you love is to slow down, said Kim Shapira, author of “This Is What You’re Really Hungry For,” and dietitian with more than 25 years of experience, including with celebrity clients. That’s especially true during holiday celebrations that can be overwhelming, sometimes stressful, and full of foods that can trigger temptation to overdo it, she said. 

“We tend to eat quickly and tend to eat distractedly, not thinking about the food that’s on our plate,” Shapira told Business Insider. “In the holidays it’s important to be intentional.”

Her approach to nutrition aims to remove the emotional baggage from eating, moving away from feelings of guilt or fixation on certain foods like rich meals or sweet desserts to avoid cycles of restriction and overindulging. 

“When we label food as special, we’re sensationalizing it. It’s not a treat or reward, it’s not healthy or unhealthy, it’s food. And we eat food when we’re hungry,” she said. “Eat what you love and make sure it loves you back.”

Try the 15-minute rule to curb overeating 

A foundational tip in Shapira’s healthy-eating method is the 15-minute rule: start with half your normal portion on your plate and spend at least 15 minutes enjoying it to allow your body to register if you’re still hungry before opting for seconds. 

The more mindful approach to meals is part of Shapira’s overall approach to healthy eating that prioritizes tuning into your body’s natural hunger cues. 

“Wait 15 minutes, scan and see if you need more food, or if you’re just eating because it’s fun or delicious. If that’s the case, save it for another meal,” she said. 

A brightly candlelit table set with a holiday feast of turkey, sweet potatoes, green beans, stuffing, cranberries, and wine

To enjoy a feast without feeling too full, taste a little of all the foods you enjoy and tune into your natural hunger cues before going back for seconds.

Liliboas/Getty Images

Looking forward to leftovers can help you make healthier choices

A key part of Shapira’s 15-minute rule, and building a healthier relationship to food in general, is to remind yourself that you don’t have to eat every meal as though it’s your last. Fortunately, most holiday feasts have ample leftovers you can take home to enjoy later or even repurpose into delicious and creative recipes.

Persistent restriction or anxiety around eating can make you feel deprived over time, increasing the odds that when you do indulge, you’ll be tempted to binge well past the point of satiety, Shapira said.

Instead, work toward enjoying what you eat without guilt so that you can respect your natural hunger signals without fear, she recommends. For the holidays, that means allowing yourself to celebrate and sample the different seasonal foods on offer without feeling the need to pile your plate with oversized portions which can leave you feeling uncomfortably full later. 

“Take a dollop of everything you want to try when you’re hungry. Go back to your seat and taste those things. Then you can come back and take more of only the things that you want,” she said.  

Once you’ve eaten your fill, it can be helpful to make a to-go plate of your favorite foods to enjoy later once you’re hungry again, since thinking of the meal as a one-time opportunity can drive overeating.

“Know you can have more and there will always be more,” Shapira said. “Trusting that we can eat more later helps us feel safe.” 

A holiday dinner with a close up of a pie

There’s room for dessert in good healthy eating habits over the holidays — focus on enjoying what you love, and not overdoing it.

Drazen Zigic/Getty Images

Eating less to prepare for a big holiday meal can backfire

While some dieters try to hack the holidays by skimping on meals and snacks before a big feast, abstaining beforehand can actually increase the risk that you’ll overdo it when you finally eat, according to Shapira. 

“Restricting ahead of time is setting yourself up for failure,” she said. “Put it into perspective as just another Thursday. Our bodies thrive on consistency, so it’s really important.”

Having an all-or-nothing approach to healthy habits during the holidays is a common mistake which makes it harder to be consistent — trying too hard to follow a strict diet too often causes people to get discouraged, turn a small lapse into major overindulgence, and then repeat the cycle. 

Instead, Shapira recommends being realistic about the holidays, trying to maintain simple healthy routines like walking daily and drinking plenty of water, but also making time to enjoy the special, celebratory time of year.

“A lot of people have this idea that they have to be perfect. If you try to be perfect and you’re not, it will cause you to give up,” Shapira said. “Allow yourself to enjoy the food and not be perfect.”

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