For many people, the holidays equal comfort food. Food seems to be associated with everything during this time of year. There is food at parties, food given as gifts, food at the food courts when doing our holiday shopping, and more. The excess food can make it hard to stay on track with healthy eating goals.
Luckily, there are some easy, little things we can focus on to help us handle these challenges during the holiday season and beyond. Concentrating on being mindful of our choices and the WHY and HOW we are eating are keys to enjoying the holiday season while still nurturing our bodies and soaking up the greatness of this special time.
Slowing down and being aware of what we are eating and why helps keep us from overeating and staying in the present. Mindfulness has become a buzzword lately but has been around for a long time. It is a practice of being nonjudgmental, staying in the moment, and being present with what you are doing and why you are doing it. This is an important skill all of the time, but especially during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
During the holidays, we all get busy with all of the stress and to-do lists that our eating takes a backseat. We resort to eating on the run, eating in the car, eating at our desks, or while we are doing other tasks. We start adding eating to our to-do list and it becomes another thing to check off the list. It turns into something we do just to get done instead of making mealtime a time of intention and enjoyment.
There are many problems with distracted eating. A study that examined the impact of eating while distracted showed that eating while distracted could lead to eating up to 50% more than when not distracted. This increases our overall calorie intake, the likelihood of overeating, and the risk of weight gain. Eating quickly or while doing other things also takes our focus off the taste and people report tasting and enjoying their food less.
Mixing distracted eating with the high availability of food and stress during the holidays can lead to unhealthy eating habits and losing focus on our health goals. Let us review some tips to help keep us more mindful of our eating during the holiday season.
When we eat quickly, we are more likely to overeat. It takes time for our brain to get the message that we are full. Simple tricks such as putting your fork down between bites, pausing for a drink of water, eliminating distractions, and paying attention to your food can help you slow down your speed when eating and prevent that overly full feeling.
We also need to hit the brakes during the process of plating our meals. How many times have you traveled through a buffet line and ended up with an overfilled plate and items that you did not really like? Sometimes we just start piling up the food and are not focused on being intentional on what we really want.
A good tip is to walk through the buffet line, see what the options are, and make a plan of what you really want before putting anything on your plate. You will save room for the items that you want the most and will not end up with a plate of too much food that you end up eating because it is there. It is easy to get to the end of the line and continue to add to your plate where you could have had a better plan of action with your choices at the party or event.
Pay Attention to Hunger Cues
Make an effort to check in with how hungry and full you feel before, during, and after you eat. A lot of us eat for reasons other than hunger. This habit begins when we are kids. We eat because of the time, because food is there, or because other people are eating. During the holidays, especially we may also eat because of stress and emotions. These triggers for eating can lead to eating when we are not actually hungry.
An important step to take is to check in and see how hungry you are. Are you really hungry? Signs of actual hunger include an empty feeling in your stomach, headache, low energy, light-headedness, or stomach growling. If you are not actually hungry a good rule of thumb is to give yourself about 10 minutes before you give into eating or get up to get seconds. Remember, it takes time for our brain to know we are full but we also get into the groove of eating and sometimes forget to stop and check-in before we are overstuffed.
By giving yourself 10 minutes, you may get engrossed in conversations or something else and then realize that you are not hungry anymore. Use your body’s cues to help you be more mindful.
Deal with Distractions
Distractions are everywhere during the holiday season. There are many people, catching up to do, and plenty of holiday activities. Sometimes we lose focus that these distractions are the best parts of the holidays so we want to deal with those distractions, not get rid of them. Separate them from eating. One big tip for being more mindful and enjoying yourself more is to visit with people in a room away from the food. This can help you not only be more present with your loved ones but also help prevent mindless grazing.
Appreciate your Food
Slow down, be grateful, and take in all of the senses of your food…the sight, smells, presentation, and all of the prep work that went into making it. This simple step can help you slow down and enjoy your food more. Take the time to tune into those things at each meal and snack.
Take a second now to think about your favorite holiday meal. It could be a Christmas dinner with family from your childhood, a special birthday dinner with friends, maybe a wedding…just a great memory of a meal you had. Most likely, you shared it with family or friends; you were likely sitting at a table, and took your time to enjoy that meal. Think about your surroundings, the people, the food, and the mood. This is a perfect example of mindful eating. Your favorite meal was probably not behind the wheel of your car when you are rushing to get to work. It was probably not while you were cleaning up the dishes from a party. And probably not in front of your computer screen on a busy day at work. It was probably a time when you took time to appreciate the food, the company around you, and the setting and were not rushing through it.
Eat with Intention
This is probably the most important tip for mindful eating. Know why you are eating and make that a conscious choice rather than just eating because the food is there. Are you going to be happy after the second plate of food? How will you feel after a few handfuls of chips? Think about how your choices will make you feel and how hungry you are. Think about how that extra piece of pie will fit into your health goals. Have intentions every time you are going to take a bite.
Slow down, enjoy the company around you, make memories, and take in all of the senses of the food you are eating. This can be a hectic time but being mindful can help us be thankful and present for this time that only comes once a year. By being aware, deliberate, and enjoying our food without guilt this holiday season we will end up with a full heart instead of an overfull stomach.
At Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating, we wish our customers, employees, and loved ones a happy and healthy holiday season!