The holiday season is synonymous with family gatherings, parties and, of course, a plethora of food. However, with the festivities comes the risk of overeating and subsequent weight gain. One potent technique to combat this is mindful eating. By being aware and present while eating, we can enjoy the holiday foods we love, without guilt or unnecessary weight gain. But remember, mindful eating is a practice that takes time.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindful eating is an approach that involves paying closer attention to your food, your body, and your feelings. By focusing on your sensory experience of eating, noticing hunger and fullness cues, and understanding your emotional responses to certain foods, you can establish a healthier relationship with food. This technique has been shown to be effective at curbing harmful eating habits and fostering overall healthier behaviour.
Mindful Eating during the Holidays: 12 Essential Tips
Incorporating mindful eating into your holiday season can help you navigate the festive food challenges while maintaining a healthy relationship with food. Here are twelve tips to help you practise mindful eating during the holidays:
1. Recognise Signs of Hunger
Do you feel tired, sluggish, nauseous, or faint? Is your stomach growling and your mind wandering to thoughts of food, making it difficult to focus on tasks at hand? These can all be signs of hunger that are often ignored. Recognising what actual hunger feels like can help you eat more mindfully.
2. Sit Down to Eat
Standing around and eating at a buffet or grazing on leftovers in front of an open refrigerator can lead to losing track of how much you're eating. When you sit down to eat, however, you can better connect with the experience and gauge how much time is passing.
3. Breathe Deeply
Taking a deep breath before eating can help you achieve a degree of mindfulness throughout your meal. Deep breathing allows us to become more in tune with our bodies in the present, providing a chance to inventory our surroundings and check in with our body and emotions.
4. Focus on Sensory Cues
Taking time to really focus on the scent, taste, texture, and temperature of food is an essential part of practising mindful eating. Checking in with how your food tastes a few times throughout your meal can prevent you from slipping into mindless eating mode.
5. Stick to a Schedule
While you might think it’s smart to bank calories by skipping meals in anticipation of a holiday meal, forgoing breakfast or lunch could actually trigger mindless eating and overeating. Regular, balanced meals can lead to more informed decisions about what to eat.
6. Pack Your To-Go Plate First
Before settling down for a holiday meal, pack up all the things you think you’ll want more of later. This practice can help you remember that this isn’t your last opportunity to enjoy holiday foods, reducing pressure to eat opportunistically and past the point of fullness.
7. Allow Indulgence Outside of Holidays
Allowing yourself to have certain foods all the time can help you be mindful of how much you are having. You'll be less likely to overindulge when it's time to sit down for a holiday meal.
8. Practice Coping Mechanisms
Spending time with family members you don’t typically see can stir up a range of emotions. Recognising an unenjoyable eating experience can help you understand whether you’re eating for the right reasons or in response to a particular feeling.
9. Set an Alarm
Practising mindfulness throughout the day can set the stage for mindful eating during mealtimes. Setting a reminder or alarm on your smartphone for a few times a day can help you pause and recognise what’s going on in your body.
10. Slow Down
Eating slowly can give your stomach time to send the message to your brain that you are full, preventing overeating. Putting down your utensils or finger food between bites can help you eat more slowly and enjoy every mouthful.
Part of eating mindfully is appreciating your very favourite dishes. There’s a reason we don’t eat kale all day every day: Eating is more than the delivery of nutrients.
12. Cut Yourself Some Slack
It’s unrealistic to expect to eat 100 percent mindfully 100 percent of the time. But mindful eating can still be a helpful tool. Mindful eating is a spectrum rather than a binary practice. It’s better off to eat more mindfully when you can than stress out over eating every meal and snack with utmost concentration.
It's important to remember that the festive season is a time for joy and celebration, and that includes enjoying the food you love. By practising mindful eating, we can savour every mouthful without guilt or stress, creating a healthier and happier holiday season.