Holiday Moderation or Indulgence? Is There a Place and Time for Overeating?

Holiday woman

Contributor: Margaret Geraci, RD, LDN, Director of Nutrition Services, Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

Where do you draw the line between moderation and overeating? As the holiday season approaches, the lines between moderation and overeating can often become blurred. For example, during holidays and birthdays, you may have a few extra bites of something you really enjoy, or you may consume twice as much as you knew your body needed simply because it is there. This distinction is difficult to make in the moment.

Understanding the Difference Between BED and Overeating

First we must differentiate between binge eating disorder and overeating. Binge eating disorder is characterized in the DSM 5 by recurring episodes of eating significantly more food in a short period of time than most people would eat under similar circumstances, with feelings of lack of control. This may cause guilt and embarrassment which often leads to binging in hiding. The binges occur at least once a week for 3 months.

In contrast, overeating is something Americans frequently face related to enlarged portions and prevalence of food; but overindulgence is not the same as true binging.

Oftentimes individuals are so used to completing large portions mindlessly, making moderation a learned skill. This is where mindfulness is helpful at meals. Some mindful eating skills include: paying attention to each of your senses as you eat; removing all distractions while eating; and savoring the taste and checking in on your hunger/ fullness on a scale of 1 to10 throughout the meal.

Connection Between Overeating and Addiction

Holiday table There is a strong correlation between overeating and addiction. Studies by Drewnowski A, Krahn DD, Demitrack MA, et al have indicated that both alcohol and high-fat sweets can cause the release of endogenous opioids in the brain. When the overeating becomes an addiction, seeking a dietitian, therapist and an eating disorder team is likely necessary.

Now, with all that said, it is important to keep in mind why food exists. Certainly, food is a key component of each day because it sustains life. No gas in the tank and the car will not run. No food in our bodies for a prolonged period of time and death will result. As with all living creatures, we must routinely eat to remain healthy and alive.

However, food also exists simply to provide enjoyment. This is particularly the case during the holidays. Just as pictures of pilgrims are part of Thanksgiving and beautifully wrapped gifts are part of Christmas, certain foods are inextricably linked to the holiday season. They are meant to be enjoyed.

Holiday mealsHow All Foods Fit

Does this mean that you consume all the candy corn, pumpkin pie and Christmas cookies? No. Even during the holiday season, we all must be smart and mindful. But allowing yourself to indulge and enjoy special foods on holiday occasions is an expected and legitimate aspect of the season.

Therefore, is there a place and a time for overeating. Of course, as long as that “place and time” does not become a daily event. In fact, if over-eating becomes an uncontrollable trend, an individual may need to seek a therapeutic team to assist with those urges.

Community Discussion: Share Your Thoughts Here!

How have you learned to balance all foods, especially during the holiday season?

Maggie Geraci HeadshotAbout the Author: Margaret Geraci, RD, LDN, is Director of Nutrition Services at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center.

As Director of Nutrition Services, Maggie‘s job entails many duties. She oversees the dietitians and diet technicians, carries a caseload of adolescents, supervises the menu and meal planning stages and develops nutrition-related protocols. She also implements current nutrition recommendations, participates in community outreach and trains dietitians.

Prior to joining Timberline Knolls, Maggie was the Nutrition Manager at Revolution in Chicago. She started with Timberline Knolls as a diet technician and progressed to a Registered Dietitian.

Maggie attended Eastern Illinois University for her undergraduate degree in Dietetics and Nutrition and then completed her dietetic internship at Ingalls Memorial Hospital.

She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Behavioral Health DPG and South Suburban Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.


[1]: Drewnowski A, Krahn DD, Demitrack MA, et al. Naloxone, an opiate blocker, reduces the consumption of sweet high-fat foods in obese and lean female binge eaters. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995;61:1206 –1212

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 26, 2016
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