Mindful Eating for the Holidays! — Not Your Ordinary Tips

This holiday, make the season bright by enjoying your food without guilt and showing up in your holiday best. Mindful eating can help you have your holidays and your holiday food, too.  These holiday tips are not your usual “show up for the party full so you won’t be tempted with goodies” and “drink lots of water so you won’t be hungry” kind of suggestions. These tips will help you be excited to show up at the next party to celebrate the good feelings and food of the season and not wake up January 1 feeling like you need a spa. Discover the sparkle of the season and the joy that goes along with it.

Mindfulness refers to the practice of being aware, in the moment, without judgment.  Not easy to do because our mind wanders about half of the time to something else beside the present. You might be making your to-do list, preoccupied with an email you got earlier in the day, or stressed about a meeting you have to go to later. The practice of mindfulness encourages you to notice these preoccupations, and then to gently bring yourself back to what is actually happening.

Take this strategy to eating. Mindfulness can help you be fully present for the experience of eating and the joy that you can receive from food. It can also help you realize when to stop eating (hint: it might be before the food is all gone).

The study that I conducted on my mindful eating program indicates that mindfulness can keep you from overeating and bingeing, while learning to bring kindness and compassion to yourself. Further, it helps you eat when you’re physically hungry as opposed to just eating because food is present or because you’re feeling an uncomfortable emotion. Sounds like just the ticket for the holidays, yes?

Here are 10 tips for mindful eating during the holidays. Use the ones that work for you and leave the rest. Even one or two can help you have a holiday you can feel good about and that tastes good too.

1.  Take a few deep breaths and acknowledge how you feel.

Before you rush into the party or sit down at the holiday meal, stop and take a few deep breaths. Four or five should do. Acknowledge how you feel. Rushed? Stressed? Sad? Nervous? Hungry? Put your hands over your heart and tell yourself “This is just what wants to be here right now.” Even a moment or two of breathing and acknowledging will put you in touch with yourself. You can even go into the bathroom to do this if you have to.  You will feel like you have a friend joining you at the party. That friend would be you!

2. Eat and drink what you really want.

Forget any tips that say just eat carrot sticks and celery. It’s the holidays. Choose the food you really want to eat. You might not get that particular food any other time of the year. When you choose the food you really want, you will be satisfied. If you don’t, you could graze all night and never feel like you’ve had enough.

3. Serve yourself a plate of food.

It is easier to see what you’re eating if you consciously pick what you want and then put it on a plate. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re not eating because you’re walking around snacking on each table of food. It does add up. While you’re filling your plate, check in with the body to see how much food it wants, in terms of volume. You’ve honored your taste buds by picking the food you want, now honor your body by taking the amount that it would prefer.

4.  Sit down.

It’s tempting at some parties to stand around and eat. If you sit down, though, you are more likely to be relaxed. Have your food in a comfortable chair, if possible. Find someone to sit with that you feel comfortable around. Anxiety and eating don’t go that well together. Relaxing and enjoying do.

5. Slow down.

There can be a degree of anxiety when you’re at a party or holiday gathering. There can be certain co-workers, family members, or even friends that you have a hard time being around. Consciously take your time to pick your food, sit down, and slow down. Alternate taking a bite of food with spending time in conversation. Notice how you can take your attention back and forth from one to the other without it being noticeable. Or, maybe even talk to your friend about how delicious the food is.

6. Savor.

You’ve picked the food you want, now savor it. Don’t miss the experience. Be fully present for the eating experience and if thoughts of guilt arise, let them go. Don’t give them a home here. Savor and enjoy! Don’t miss the true joy of special food during the holidays.

7. Check in with your fullness.

You’ll want to check in from time to time to see if you’ve had enough. Like I said earlier, you don’t want to gauge the time to stop on whether or not there is still food on the table. At the holidays, there is always more food. Listen to your belly and honor it when it says “enough.”

8. Move away from the food when you’ve had enough.

If you have food sitting in front of you, chances are you will be tempted to eat, particularly if you are feeling anxious. Make a conscious decision to stop when you’ve had enough and do something that indicates this choice. For instance, you can push away from the table slightly, you can take your dinner plate to the kitchen, you can put your napkin over the plate (if it’s a paper napkin), you can move to a different part of the room where there isn’t food. What you do will depend on the circumstances, of course, but any small gesture indicating to yourself that you’re done is helpful.

9. Learn to say “no.”

Many people say that they have a difficult time saying “no” to the social pressure of eating at holiday dinners and parties. The discomfort comes from feeling like the people offering the food will be insulted or feel disrespected if you don’t eat everything that is offered. One way I have gotten around this is to take a portion of food but only take a bite or two if I am already full and really don’t want it. The other way I deal with this is to just say “no.” In other words, be brave. Be the one who helps changes the culture around food.

10. Don’t make food your only pleasure.

Too often people turn to food for their only pleasure because it’s fast, quick, and easy. You’re worth more than that! Find time to take yourself out for a holiday shopping trip and buy something that feels comfortable and looks fantastic. Wear clothes and shoes that fit who you are today. You will feel confident when you show up at the party. When you feel confident, you’ll be more relaxed and less likely to turn to food to feel good. It’s a win-win!

11. Don’t forget to take care of yourself.

Keep up your regular self-care activities during the holidays and choose activities that will be the most meaningful, joyous, and connecting. You don’t have to go to every holiday party or event. If you schedule in some time to relax, you’ll be more available for the activities that you show up for. Enjoy instead of overcommit!

12. Stay tuned for Mindful Eating Month in January.

Don’t tell yourself “I can eat as much as I want because I’m going to go on a diet in January.” Diets don’t work in the long term (you should know this by now!) and mindful eating gives you the skills to use all year round. After the rush and bustle of the holidays, join The Center for Mindful Eating for a whole month of mindful eating tips during Mindful Eating Month. Stay tuned on the website or their Facebook for more details.

13. Take my Eat for Life Class

Lastly, you can take my Eat for Life class starting in May to deepen your understanding and practice of mindful eating, moving, and living. Here you learn that the tips you use for the holiday season are really no different than the the tips you use for everyday life. .

For more, join me for a conversation about these tips on Thursday, December 5, at 1:00 p.m. ET on The Center for Mindful Eating webinar. Click here for more information. (If the webinar is not listed yet, please check back… it will be there soon!)