With the holidays fast approaching, you may be getting excited about the celebrations, time spent with loved ones, and plenty of food to go around.
And one thing that many holidays and cultural gatherings have in common is this - you know food is going to be involved!
With this can come a mix of emotions surrounding meals and what food is going to be eaten, especially for those concerned about sticking to nutrition-related health goals. However, for many, tuning into a more mindful approach to interactions involving food and letting go of total restriction and perfection around eating can help remove the stress of holiday eating.
Do you feel like you can only say yes to certain foods? Do you tell yourself that you can’t have seconds? Or maybe you tend to eat mindlessly and past the feeling of comfort?
These feelings can be resolved by tuning into your body and practicing more mindful eating. Mindful eating can be a great way to intentionally celebrate the holiday season while still feeling like your best self.
In today’s article, I will be sharing a few tangible tips and advice for navigating the holiday season using mindful eating.
So, let’s get started!
What is Mindful Eating?
You may have heard the term “mindful eating”, but what does this really mean?
Mindful eating is the act of using all of your emotional and physical senses to experience and enjoy the food you are eating. It encourages you to have a conscious awareness about what you are putting into your body.
Mindful eating is not about the calories, fat, or grams of carbs in the food you eat. Instead, it puts a focus on being fully present and expressing gratitude during your meals.
You may be wondering, what is the benefit of eating more mindfully during the holidays?
Incorporating mindful eating practices into your routine around the holidays can help you feel more present, improve your mood, and experience, and make you less likely to feed into disordered eating habits and thoughts.
These thoughts and habits may creep up on you, especially around the holidays. This can look like starting to count calories, restricting your meals, and saying no to foods you want to eat out of fear of weight gain.
Instead, I encourage more intentional eating as the holidays approach us. Keep reading to learn four ways to navigate mindful eating this holiday season!
1. Allow Yourself to Enjoy All Foods
When eating mindfully, you must first start by allowing yourself to eat whatever you want without feeling guilty. There are no “good” or “bad” foods. All foods can fit into a balanced and healthy diet!
For many of us, the moment we say we can’t have a certain food that we often enjoy around the holidays, we want it even more! Saying no to your favourite treats can lead to feelings of deprivation and restriction which can increase your risk for overeating. And when you do indulge, there can be a feeling of guilt and shame which can negatively affect your relationship with food.
The holidays are about having fun and enjoying yourself and the company of loved ones. This is the perfect time of the year to enjoy cultural foods, homemade traditions, and your favourite pumpkin pie recipe.
2. How to Listen to Your Hunger and Fullness Cues
During the holidays, many people lose their ability to tune into their hunger and fullness cues. These are the cues that your body tells you to indicate if it’s feeling hungry, full, or somewhere in-between.
Think of your hunger and fullness like a scale between 1-10: 1 being starving and 10 being full past comfort.
Celebrations may involve grazing on snacks, eating large meals, and extra helpings of dessert. This may cloud your natural cues that tell you whether you are feeling hungry or not.
So, how can you tune back in?
Here are a few strategies you can use:
● Pause before you grab more food and ask yourself how hungry you are feeling
○ If you are unsure, drink a glass of water, then reevaluate again.
● Let your hunger and fullness cues guide your food choices. Eat the foods you are craving and skip on the ones that don’t sound as good.
○ You don’t have to eat all the choices you are presented with if you aren’t feeling like it.
● Bring a few to-go containers with you to your family’s house in case you have leftovers and can’t finish your plate. This encourages you to not eat past fullness, and you won’t feel like you are wasting food.
● On the flip side, if you feel like having seconds, then go for it! Wait for about 15 minutes to tune into your feeling of fullness and if you’re still hungry, feel free to enjoy seconds!
Note: Ensuring regular intervals of nourishment during the day (before food gatherings) can help to avoid extreme hunger and food cravings which may lead to overeating and undesired food choices. In other words, starving for the “main event” can make it difficult to honour your satiety cues (aka your feeling of fullness) and make mindful choices.
3. Eat More Slowly & Savor Each Bite
If you are eating too quickly, it may be hard to tell if you are satisfied and feeling full.
The key to help with this is to eat more slowly! We know that eating slowly helps to manage food intake, but it is a hard habit to change (Hawton et al. 2018).
So, what can you do to help you eat more slowly?
First, you can take little breaks while eating (or having a drink). Take a second to chat with those around you and talk about the food. This helps you with both eating slowly and enjoying your food.
Next, remember those hunger and fullness cues. How do you feel? Do you want more? Are you eating more just because it is there? You can take small breaks during your meal to listen to your body for the answers to these questions.
Lastly, if you are eating something delicious, slowing down can help you fully experience the food.
4. Incorporate Mindful Movement
Being active does not have to mean doing structured exercise every day during your whole holiday. You do not have to be a perfectionist about your movement!
Even just something as simple as a brisk walk with your dog can feel great and help you feel more present.
Other ideas include going for a gentle swim, biking, or playing indoor sports just for fun with your family or friends. All of these keep you active and help to reduce your stress levels and manage your appetite (Blundell et al. 2015).
Remember that you don’t need to feel guilty if you skip a workout. The holidays are meant to be fun. You also should never feel the need to exercise because you “ate too much” the previous day.
Mindful Eating During the Holidays: The Takeaway
Every year in my work as a dietitian, I have nutrition clients who get anxiety as the holiday season approaches. For many people, the holidays tend to involve stress around mealtimes and unnecessary food rules.
You have the choice to make this year different! Instead, I encourage you to implement some of the mindful eating practices in this article.
These are easy and tangible ways to be more present and increase your enjoyment with your food and mealtimes.
Which of these resonate the most with you? Pick 2-3 to focus on and write them down in case you need a reminder!
Note: If you have a nutrition-related medical condition that makes it challenging to avoid food restrictions and you’re stressed about the holidays, I encourage you to reach out to your dietitian to discuss and learn more about ways you can navigate your dietary needs and health goals during the holidays. There are many ways you can tune into your body and learn how to work with it, instead of against it.