10 Mindful Eating Tips For The Holidays
I published this article in the winter of 2018 but am reposting it, as these mindful eating tips apply to all holidays, including those this Spring. Before hitting your next event or holiday dinner, have a looksie and let me know what you think!
The temperature is dropping and the colder weather is prompting an almost primal pull toward heavier food and larger meals. This abundance is something to be grateful for, but if you want to stay on track with your nutrition plan and avoid gaining excess weight this holiday season, it’s important to adopt a mindful eating practice.
In today’s post, I share 10 mindful eating tips that will help you stick with a healthy diet, enjoy the foods you love and avoid weight gain (and guilt) during the holidays.
10 mindful eating tips for the holidays
1. Start your day with movement
Start your day with healthy choices that get your muscles pumping and encourage mindfulness. On the morning of your holiday celebration, move your body and take time to quell your mind.
Exercising reduces cortisol (your stress hormone) levels, which can help prevent holiday stress eating. These activities will clear your mind, make you feel good and prepare you for the busy day ahead so that you can mindfully tackle the large amounts of food around you.
Start your morning with a glass of lemon water and drink water throughout the day to promote good digestion, energy and focus. The better hydrated you are, the more efficient your body will be at transporting nutrients, encouraging circulation and metabolism. Water also helps regulate your appetite so that you eat less during your meal.
3. Select a small plate
If you have the option to choose your own plate, grab the smallest you can find – salad plates work well. Research suggests that people tend to eat around 20 percent fewer calories when they put their food on smaller plates. Eating from a smaller plate is a great strategy to follow in buffet type settings because it will help you with portion control.
4. Assess your hunger
Be mindful of your hunger and fullness cues before you nosh and continue to check-in throughout the meal. Ask yourself how you might feel if you eat the food in front of you. Will you feel satisfied and content, or will you feel full, bloated and exhausted? What are your wants and what are your needs? Do you need nourishment in the form of food or do you need something else? Differentiate between the two.
Decide if you’re experiencing true hunger (belly rumbling, slight empty feeling in your tummy) or psychological/emotional hunger (comes on when you’re bored, stressed, happy, angry, sad, fatigued, etc.). Determining where you are on the hunger spectrum will help you make more mindful (and often healthier) choices. If you’re unsure whether or not you are experiencing true hunger, drink a glass of water then reassess your hunger in 15-20 minutes.
Once you have taken this moment to reflect, you can then choose if you want to eat, what you want to eat, and how much you want to eat. Accept your decision and enjoy the moment. Remind yourself that you made the mindful decision to eat the food in front of you. Don’t let guilt ruin your experience.
5. Sit while you eat
When you sit during a meal, you invite mindfulness and appreciation to your eating experience. When you stand and eat, there can be a lot of distraction. Sitting while eating is more likely to reduce the speed at which you eat, may reduce the overall amount of calories you consume, and may increase satiety.
Studies show that sitting down for a meal may help your brain register that you’ve consumed a “real meal,” reducing the likelihood you’ll overeat during the next round of food.
You’re also more likely to feel bloated when you eat while standing. This is partly because the standing position may cause you to eat more quickly, thus increasing the amount of air swallowed during a meal, potentially worsening gas and bloating.
Also avoid eating “on the go.” It’s difficult to keep track of how much food you eat when you multi-task and munch on the go.
6. Make smart choices
Make high-quality proteins and fats part of your meal, as these foods will help reduce carbohydrate cravings and encourage satiation.
Load up on veggies – especially non-starch varieties that are high in fiber, good for blood-sugar control, will fill you up and provide you with healthy phytonutrients.
Some smart, non-starchy veggie options include: green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, salad greens, collard greens, mustard greens, green beans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, artichokes and fennel. Starchier veggies like butternut squash and sweet potatoes can still be part of a well-balanced plate, just eat 1/2 cup portions of these.
7. Engage all of your senses and focus on the food
Slowing down the pace at which you experience your meal helps you eat with intention and lets you enjoy your food more mindfully.
When you sit down to eat, engage your senses and savor your meal. While taste is a primary element of the meal, also appreciate how the food looks on your plate. Take a moment and assess the color(s) and aroma of your food. Ask yourself if you really want it and if it’s more than you need?
Enjoy your food by savoring each and every bite. How does the texture and temperature feel in your mouth? Think about the sounds it makes as you chew. What flavors can you taste? Is it salty or sweet, mild or spicy? Consider the types of nutrients you’re consuming.
Put your fork down between bites and appreciate every aspect of what you’re eating before you take another bite.
8. Chew slowly and chew more
Slow down the pace at which you eat. Digestion begins with the act of chewing; enzymes in saliva chemically break down food and your teeth break it down physically. The more you chew, the more efficiently you digest your food and absorb its nutrients.
Increasing the number of chews before swallowing may contribute to a lower risk of obesity. Eating more slowly can reduce appetite and increase feelings of fullness, both of which may reduce the total number of calories consumed during a meal.
Aim to chew each bite 30-40 times (rough guide) before swallowing. Research suggests that chewing food forty times (instead of the usual 15) can cut your calorie intake by 12 percent. This technique may prevent overeating by giving your gut time to tell your brain that you’re full.
9. Eat with your non-dominant hand
If you’re right-handed, eat with your left-hand. If appropriate, use chopsticks. This challenging technique forces you to bring awareness to your meal and makes you slow down the pace at which you eat and can reduce your total caloric intake.
It will also help keep your brain sharp. Sure, it may feel awkward as hell and you might look like a weirdo, but embrace the fact that you are doing something healthy for yourself. Own the weirdness!
10. Resign from the Clean Plate Club
Just quit already. It’s completely okay not to finish everything on your plate. If your belly is feeling full, stop eating. Leave the last few bites of food on your plate and consider packing the leftovers to go. I understand no-one likes to waste food, but overstuffing yourself silly won’t help those in need.
Thoughts about these mindful eating tips?
These 10 mindful eating tips will help you intentionally focus on the present during the holiday season. Practicing these mindful eating techniques throughout the day, every day, will help you invite good health, happiness, and meaningful experiences into your life.
- What do you think of my mindful eating tips?
- How do YOU stay healthy during the holiday season?
When she is not slaying fat and building muscle, Jennifer can be found trekking barefoot, traveling, cooking and refining her photography skills. She also enjoys reading and writing about food culture, history and the science of human movement.