Nothing says “welcome to the holiday season” like a busy calendar filled with Christmas office parties, get-togethers with friends and neighbors, and delicious dinners with family and loved ones. Amidst the festivities, it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of indulgence, often forgetting the essence of mindful eating and its profound impact on our well-being. This Christmas, get into the spirit of the month without sabotaging your wellness, your immune system, and your waistline. When you eat mindfully, you’ll not only nourish your body but also nourish your soul, fostering a sense of balance, gratitude, and wellness amidst the holiday bustle.
Why is Mindful Eating Important During the Holidays?
The holiday season often tempts us with an abundance of rich, calorie-laden foods. Did you know that the average person eats a whopping 7,000 calories or more on Christmas day alone? “That’s more than three times the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommended daily caloric intake,” reports ABC News.
And that’s just food. Don’t forget the celebratory drinks like beer, wine, champagne, and Christmas beverages as you toast the holidays and ring in the new year. Registered dietitian Mary Hartley told the outlet that the average person can easily down more than 1,100 calories just in Christmas dinner appetizers. “Christmas dinner is often a feast that includes turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, rolls, veggies, salad, butter and gravy,” she adds. “It usually includes several glass of wine or beer, bringing the meal’s calorie count to 1730.”
That’s where mindful eating comes in. It encourages awareness of portion sizes and helps in making balanced choices, allowing us to enjoy treats without overindulging. And that’s the key — you aren’t sacrificing enjoyment this Christmas, nor are you dieting. You’re slowing down and savoring the moment, which in turn leads to more self-awareness of what and how much you’re eating.
In a review of nearly 70 different studies, mindful eating “improved eating behaviors such as slowing down the pace of a meal and recognizing feelings of fullness and greater control over eating,” explains Harvard Medical School. “Slower eating was associated with eating less food, as participants felt fuller sooner. Mindfulness and mindful eating interventions appeared most successful in reducing binge eating and emotional eating.”
- Boosts your immune system: Harvard notes that eating mindfully is “associated with a higher diet quality, such as choosing fruit instead of sweets as a snack
- Supports digestion and true enjoyment: Rushing through meals or mindlessly snacking can impact digestion and the enjoyment of food. Mindful eating encourages us to slow down, savor each bite, and appreciate the flavors, aiding better digestion and satisfaction.
- Connects us emotionally: The holidays can bring various emotions, and food often becomes a focal point for celebrations. Mindful eating helps us recognize emotional triggers related to eating, fostering a healthier relationship with food by addressing emotional needs without solely relying on indulgent foods.
- Puts us into the true reason for the season: Mindful eating cultivates gratitude for the food on our plates, acknowledging the effort and resources that went into each meal.
Mindful Eating 101
Don’t let the term intimidate you. All it involves is tuning into the sensory elements of eating—such as taste, texture, and aroma—while being attuned to physical hunger cues and fullness signals. This approach encourages a non-judgmental observation of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors related to food without rushing or automatic pilot eating.
How to Eat Mindfully This Holiday Season
When you sit down at Christmas dinner or dip into the appetizers at a New Year’s Eve cocktail party, engage your senses. Before eating, take a moment to observe the colors, textures, and aromas of your food. The University of California-Berkeley recommends eight types of “senses” and cues to pay attention to:
Eye hunger: Did you see food and then want to eat?
Nose hunger: Did you smell food and then want to eat?
Ear hunger: Did you hear food cooking or being eaten and then want to eat?
Mouth hunger: Did you taste food and then want to eat more?
Stomach hunger: Did your stomach feel empty or growl and then you wanted to eat?
Mind hunger: Did you realize it was a certain time of day or think that you “should” eat more of a particular kind of food and then want to eat?
Emotional hunger: Did you feel sad, lonely, or anxious and then want to eat?
Cellular hunger: Did you get an intuitive craving for a specific food and then want to eat?
Then, consider portion size. Many people find it helpful to use smaller plates or bowls to control portion sizes — some studies suggest we’re more tempted to overeat simply because our plate or bowl is large — and avoid the urge to overload your plate. Remember, you can always go for seconds if you’re still hungry after finishing your initial serving. This isn’t about dieting or restriction. It’s about mindfulness.
Once you start eating, eating mindfully involves:
- Eating at a leisurely pace: Put your utensils down between bites, chew slowly, and savor the flavors. This allows you to fully experience the taste and texture of each mouthful while aiding digestion and recognizing when you’re comfortably full.
- Listening to your body: Pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Check in with yourself before, during, and after eating. Eat when you’re moderately hungry and stop when you’re comfortably satisfied, not stuffed.
- Practicing gratitude: Take a moment before or after your meal to express gratitude for the food on your plate. Acknowledge the effort that went into its preparation and the nourishment it provides.
- Identifying triggers and staying calm: The holidays can be stressful. Notice emotional or environmental triggers that influence your eating habits. Are you eating out of stress? Mindful awareness helps you distinguish between physical hunger and emotional cravings. “Your body’s voice won’t be as reliable if you’re stressed,” explains the University of California. “Stress makes all of your digestive processes go haywire, leading your body to react poorly to everything. As a result, you may have a harder time identifying the specific foods your body wants and doesn’t want. That’s why calming the body is so important.”
If you’re new to mindfulness, you don’t have to jump in right away. Try starting small and practicing regularly. For example, you might start with practicing this at home with your regular dinners. Begin with one meal a day or a few times a week and gradually expand your practice. Consistency is key in cultivating mindfulness in eating habits.