The holidays are a special time of year when we gather over delicious food with our family and friends. In many families, there are certain recipes that are only served for these special occasions. And much of the foods served tend to be more indulgent and higher in refined grains, salt, fat, and added sugar than everyday meals. All of this makes it harder to eat smart.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because I love being with all my extended family, sharing our favorite holiday recipes, and making memories together. As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I want to make healthy choices, but still enjoy my favorite holiday foods and not feel guilty about it. And this is where mindful eating comes in.
What is Mindful Eating?
Mindfulness and mindful eating are becoming more mainstream. Mindfulness is about being present, paying attention to your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations, and practicing acceptance. It might sound touchy-feely, but there is actually a lot of evidence about the benefits of mindfulness in reducing stress and improving health. Mindfulness can be applied to almost any part of your life, but we’re going to focus specifically on mindful eating.
Mindful eating applies these principles to how we eat. Mindful eating asks that we pay attention to how we feel as we choose and savor foods we eat. Eating mindfully slows us down, reminds us to pay attention to the taste, texture, smell, and appearance of food as we eat it, and assess how it makes us feel mentally and physically. Mindful eating allows us to choose foods that provide nourishment but also pleasure, depending on what your body is asking for. Eat when you’re hungry (not just because it’s meal time) and stop when you’re full (not when the plate is empty). Mindful eating should be done without judgement, focusing sensations and how food is affecting you. In a nutshell, mindful eating is about listening to your body and fully experiencing your food with each bite.
How to Use Mindful Eating Over the Holidays
Mindful eating has been shown to reduce the amount of calories people eat, as well as improve food choices and increase satisfaction with their choices. Mindful eating is great for the holidays, letting you fully enjoy your celebration meals and balance pleasure and health. These tips can help you eat smart, mindfully.
- Slow down. Most holiday celebrations last for hours, so there’s no rush to scarf down your meal. Take small bites, chew fully (30 times is commonly recommended), and put down your fork between bites. Because it can take 20 minutes or more before your body registers fullness, this can help you feel satisfied with less food.
- Use small plates and small portions. Most Thanksgiving meals have multiple dishes, more than a typical meal. If you serve yourself typical portions of all the dishes, you’ll have a HUGE meal. Instead, try to take just a few bites of each dish. Then you can enjoy all the foods at the meal without overloading your belly. Using smaller plates can help automatically reduce portion sizes.
- Check in with your body. As you eat your meal, scan your body to see how you’re feeling. Are you getting full? Is the food satisfying? Pay attention to these signals from your body and listen when you feel comfortably satisfied. Many of us (myself included!) intentionally eat past the point of comfort at holiday meals. Being more mindful can help change this tendency.
Eating mindfully takes practice before you begin to see the impact and benefits. I recommend reading some of these resources for more information. You can also start using some of these strategies at meals and snacks now so that you are more comfortable and aware of your body’s signals before Thanksgiving and other holiday meals. If you have any questions or experience with mindful eating, share in the comments! And for a more information on healthy celebrations, check out these 10 Tips from MyPlate.