As the cold weather rolls in, and the mileage is (probably) decreasing, while the treats start showing up in the break room and the holiday gatherings increase, it can be difficult to keep up a healthful eating routine. At the same time, I’m sure we’ve all read those articles on how to “survive” the holiday season with all the “indulgences” and days of “falling off the wagon” with our nutrition. As a dietitian, I’ve probably even written an article on this very topic - and I apologize!
Over the last couple years, I’ve made a conscious effort to change the language I used around nutrition and the advice I give. The topic of holiday food and eating shouldn’t be surrounded by guilt, tips to survive, or underlying diet advice that adds stress instead of enjoying the time of year that should be enjoyed, surrounded by friends/family, that just happens to also include delicious food. Just as we probably think “What’s a holiday without pumpkin pie/all the gravy/sugar cookies/name-that-holiday-favorite?” many people might also relate to, “What’s a holiday without that feeling of guilt and regret about our food choices?” It doesn’t have to be that way.
Practicing mindful eating techniques can help you enjoy the holiday season, while enjoying yourself, without feeling guilty or going on a single pre-holiday diet.
The Center for Mindful Eating defines “Mindful Eating” as:
Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom.
Using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body.
Acknowledging responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment.
Becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.
It may seem like a lot of information, but here are some tips to help you get started on being more MINDFUL at holiday meals:
1. Place no foods off limits.
You already know the holidays are going to be filled with treats and opportunities to get together for meals. Instead of placing those holiday favorites off-limits, which could result in you feeling dissatisfied after a meal and craving those foods even more, give yourself permission to eat some of those holiday favorites and focus on fully enjoying each bite. For example, skipping that pie to eat a plate full of lean protein and vegetables might seem healthy, but the reality is that you’re not eating pie every day (probably), and you can fit that pie into a healthy diet. Placing that pie off-limits if you really want it may make you want it even more and cause you to overeat those foods when you DO allow yourself to eat some.
2. Don’t skip meals before get-togethers.
This may be a tip you’ve read before, but it’s important to say it again because every holiday, I hear from family/friends that they’ve been “saving up” all day for the meal. By skipping meals, we often show up to our next meal overly hunger, which can lead to overeating when it does get to mealtime.
3. Learning to say YES to certain foods also means learning to say no to certain foods.
Going off number 1 – you can also say “no” to certain foods, even if they’re only served once a year, if you really don’t like them…even if your family member has asked you to try their recipe or has tried to serve you a second serving. For instance, I can think of one food I always put on my plate and eat every year, even though I don’t necessarily like it…*cough* cranberry fluff salad *cough*. Saying “no” gives you space on your plate for those foods you DO enjoy.
4. Slow down during mealtime to really enjoy the food.
Again, this time of year is all about spending time with family/friends and enjoying some time together. Putting appetizers on a plate (instead of picking/grazing), putting your fork down between bites, and tuning in to how hungry/full/satisfied you are can help you enjoy the food and time with family. An example of this is when you’ve recognized “I’m pretty full right now…” you can stop eating, instead of continuing to eat what’s on your plate because there’s still more food.
More on this topic later, but if you want to check out some more light reading on this topic, I recommend:
The Center for Mindful Eating - Resources
Intuitive Eating - 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating
Harvard Health Blog - 10 Tips for Mindful Eating
Fannetastic Food - How to Eat Well During the Holidays