The holidays can be an exciting, stressful, anxiety-provoking time of year, as well as a time for helping us to to see what matters most to us, and what we really cherish. With all of the hustle and bustle, obligations and commitments, as well as preparation and planning required, we can often find ourselves living for the future, or stuck in the past. One of the most powerful things to bridge past, present, and future together is also something very simple: food. Taste and smell are some of our most intricate senses associated with emotion and memory, and many of us have vivid and rich recollections of our favorite holiday meals, and an eagerness to relive and get to enjoy these experiences again!
This post is all about being able to enjoy the richness and meaning of the meals prepared – without anxiety over additional calories, stuffing down or numbing of negative emotions, or eating distractedly and without enjoyment as we take care of others and forget about ourselves. If slowing down, connecting with, and savoring your food – so that you can get the most enjoyment whilst staying present to how you and your body feel – sounds like something you would like, then mindful eating may be the restorative practice you have been looking for. Check out our tips below to better understand principles of mindful eating, and what it can look like for you!
1. Slow down and savor your food.
- Inhale and take in all the aromas around you. Enjoy the beauty of your plate and the spread before you. Be present with your food, and notice the way the food tastes when it enters into your mouth. Especially for the first bite, notice the way it feels and tastes against your tongue — as you bite down, do the flavors change? Check in with how the texture changes with the amount you chew, and take your time to explore these changes before you swallow. If possible, set your knife and fork down between bites, and allow yourself to catch a breath before you begin the same sweet process again.
2. Be intentional with your plate, and follow your pleasure.
- Just because it’s on your plate doesn’t mean that you have to eat it. You only have so much stomach room! Give yourself permission to be intentional with choosing the things that are pleasing to you and your senses. If you try something for the first time and don’t like it or you think that you are going to like it, and turn out to not be a fan – it’s okay to leave it there! Really focus on enjoying the things that you are consuming – whether you are looking for something vibrant, green, and crunchy, or something rich, warm, and satisfying – it’s your palate, your plate, and your taste buds. It will be more rewarding to eat the things that are pleasing to you or make you feel good, vs. committing to things just because you put them on your plate.
3. Your worth is not associated with what’s on your plate.
- Are you doing keto? Great. Have some food restrictions? Honor your needs as you are best able! Dieting, recovering from disordered eating, or navigating some of the food angst that can come up around this time of year? I’m talking to you! What you do or do not put on your plate does not determine your worth and value as a person.
- If someone is strongly encouraging you to try something and you cannot or do not want to eat it, this does not make you a bad person. Having a salad does not speak to your character, and neither does having dessert. Whatever foods you choose for your holiday celebration, you are loved and valuable, regardless of what you put on your plate. Be careful of demonizing yourself or putting yourself on a pedestal because of these food choices, as you are SO MUCH MORE than the summation of the contents of your meal.
4. Be thoughtful with your drink.
- Alcohol can be more prevalent around the holiday season than usual. People will have different stances regarding what, if any alcohol is the appropriate amount for them – but if you do plan on drinking, remember that staying hydrated with water is going to be even more important for you! You can try alternating a glass of your preferred drink with a glass of water throughout dinner, or have a plan for how many glasses of water you want to have before the night starts. Your skin, body, and future self will thank you!
5. Be curious and practice getting attuned with your hunger and satiety signals.
- Many tips for healthy eating center on focusing on external cues (i.e. not getting seconds, tracking calories, eating from a prescribed food list, having 1/3 of your plate be filled with vegetables, getting a smaller plate, etc.). While some people benefit from and do well with having structure through external cues like these, other people may find them to be restrictive or shaming, particularly if they judge themselves negatively for not following through with what they set out to do.
- If a food plan is right for you, talk it over with a trusted loved one or professional, or feel free to search templates that are a good fit.
- Mindful eating, on the other hand, seeks to promote getting connected to internal body cues, and lessening some of the rigidity associated with food rules and/or food restriction. An example of getting connected to your hunger and satiety signals could include having a food rating system, such as:
- ‘Green light, yellow light, and red light’ – corresponding to ‘I feel hungry and want to eat;’ ‘I need to slow down and am starting to feel full;’ all the way to ‘I am too full and need to slow down or take a break.’
- Hunger scale spanning -10 to +10. Any negative sign (-10 to -1) corresponds to hunger, whereas any positive number (+1 to +10) corresponds to levels of fullness, with 0 being comfortably in the middle, neither hungry nor full. As a continuum, a -10 would be starving and ravenous and about to tear into the holiday foods like your life depends on it, whereas a +10 is that place that many people get to where they feel beyond stuffed, unable to move, or potentially sick to their stomachs. Some ideas for tuning into your hunger might include waiting to eat until you are a -2 to -3, & stopping when you reach a +2 or +3.
- When the holidays come, you will have a better idea of what your hunger and fullness signals are (through practice AND through having gone past them accidentally – you don’t know your boundaries sometimes until you cross them). YOU get to be the one to determine what you want your ‘break time’ (from eating) or stopping point to be. Maybe last year you ate to a +9 and felt sick to your stomach? You can choose to stop at a +4 all the way to a +7, and practice noting what this is like!
The holidays can be SO much more than food, and if you have loved ones whose presence and connection with you leaves you feeling nourished and good, then pay attention to all the beauty and warmth there, beyond what is happening with your plate.
On the other hand, if tension, dissent, or negative interactions can play out with your holiday script, it can be easy for food to become a distraction or numbing agent. This will make it even more important for you to promote tuning into and noticing the function that food is serving, and if it is the kind of experience that you want and desire.
Regardless of your goals for the holidays, if tuning in to your body sensations, becoming mindful with your eating, and truly savoring your food sound like something you would like, take any of the tips that feel helpful for you, and leave those that do not! If you need additional support, it may be helpful to seek out support from a dietician or nutritionist; therapist; coach; trusted loved one; or supportive resources such as books, podcasts, etc.
Happy holidays, and blessings to you and your loved ones!