“It’s the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you be of good cheer
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”
Or so they say. But weight worries and food concerns can really sabotage the holiday spirit.
Because, well, all that food! It’s everywhere. It’s impossible to avoid and impossible to resist. We want to eat it, but we don’t want to eat it. The tug-of-war can feel relentless. And sometimes, it’s easiest to just take the path of least resistance and worry about it in the new year.
The problem with this path, though, is that we still don’t truly get to enjoy the food.
With every cookie, that little voice reminds us that we are doing something we shouldn’t be doing. That guilt and shame can strip the pleasure right off that eating experience.
When the pleasure becomes harder to find, we typically eat more as we search for it. This is one reason why it’s easy to overeat during this season.
Additionally, we are busy. In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season we find ourselves eating on the run, eating in unusual environments (for example, standing up at a cocktail party), and eating while distracted (because we have a lot of catching up to do with friends and family).
This affects both the type and quantity of foods we typically choose and makes it easy to end a day or leave a gathering feeling overfull and under-satisfied.
So, barring declining party invites and avoiding holiday meals at all costs, how can you enjoy all that the holiday season has to offer without worrying about overeating?
Swap Food Rules for Mindfulness and Gratitude.
Make this holiday season the perfect opportunity to practice letting go of food rules, shoulds and should nots, and judgements about food choices., Instead, focus on slowing down, enjoying the food on your table, and appreciating all that these holiday gatherings and meals symbolize for you.
Instead of making the holidays all about managing (or not managing) your eating, “being good” or “giving in,” focus on how you can soak up every moment of the season before it’s gone. And, give yourself permission to enjoy every sweet morsel and savory bite of those once-a-year holiday favorites you choose to eat.
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A few tips for increasing mindfulness…
1. Aim for Intention
Make your decisions about when and what to eat intentional instead of automatic, that is deliberately choosing to eat and enjoy a cookie versus mindlessly munching at the dessert table while caught up in conversation. No doubt you will enjoy the cookie more and you’ll likely even eat fewer of them.
How can you be more intentional about your holiday food choices?
Consider introducing a practice of pausing before choosing. Then, evaluate your options, assess your hunger level and true desire to eat, and select the food(s) that look the most satisfying (sometimes that might me a cookie and other times it may be the crudité).
Try to find the perfect amount that will not only taste good but feel good in your body.
2. Stay Present
Be present in your interactions with others. Be present as you eat. Be present in those (probably few and far between) silent moments.
By remaining present in interactions with others it will remove the focus from food and allow you to fully engage in long overdue conversation with family and friends.
As you eat, slow down, close your eyes, let each bite touch every taste bud, and allow yourself to feel the food in your body.
In this busy season we may find ourselves putting food in our mouths when our minds are really somewhere else. This makes it really easy to override the body’s fullness cues and eat far past the point of comfort without realizing it.
Also, when we aren’t fully present as we eat those more highly palatable foods, it’s as if we are giving our taste buds just a teaser of that flavor leaving them longing for more. We never truly feel satisfied because we never fully experience the foods. Thus, we keep going back for more.
By remaining present in the silent moments, you are providing yourself an opportunity to rest, relax, feel your body, and focus on meeting all of your self-care needs.
Let go of judgment.
The good food/bad food mindset typically isn’t helpful during the holidays (or really ever, for that matter). Here’s why:
- It leaves us feeling deprived. We feel as if we aren’t able or allowed to eat the way everyone else is eating.
- The more we resist the more we desire it.
- Once we do “give in” and eat it (because we almost always will at some point), we barely enjoy it because the feelings of guilt and shame flood in.
- The “what the hell?” effect follows. “I already blew it I might as well have whatever I want now and deal with it tomorrow (or next week, or next year).”
- Instead, when we can look at that table of food through a more neutral lens, where all foods are acceptable, we can better decide what we really want and how much we need to feel satisfied, without feeling tempted by the forbidden fruit (because there isn’t any).
Thoughts and fears about food can be all-consuming.
And, with so much of our attention occupied by the food, we may fail to appreciate everything else that makes the holidays so special. So, this year, try to replace those fear based thoughts with thoughts of gratitude, like:
- Gratitude for the food your table and the people who made these meals possible.
- Gratitude for friends and family near and far.
- Gratitude for time off to spend with friends and family.
- Gratitude for health.
- Gratitude for beautiful snow covered mountains or for warm sandy beaches, wherever you happen to be.
And the list can go on and on…
By approaching these meals and occasions with gratitude instead of fear we are able to focus on all of their positive aspects and appreciate these foods for being more than just the sum of their nutrients. It is an opportunity to come together, to share a meal, and to be reminded of all the reasons we have to be thankful.
Moreover, fear empowers the food, and letting go of the fear will empower you.
And, by expressing gratitude beyond the dinner table, we are reminded that while food is part of our holiday experience, it is just that, part of our experience.
The holidays are about the food, but they are not only about the food.
It should also be noted that overeating is part of normal eating. Everyone overeats from time to time and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, those experiences actually serve to help better inform future decisions about what and how much to eat.
And, overeating is particularly common on special occasions when we have access to an abundance of foods that only come around once per year – because they are just that good. Maybe we even decide it’s worth feeling a little overfull to fully experience these foods – that’s okay, too.
It’s when one, or two, or a few overeating experiences spiral into days and weeks of overeating, because the “what the hell” effect kick in, that it can be more problematic for us – and this is where mindfulness and gratitude can help.
So this year, give yourself the freedom and flexibility to wholly experience and enjoy the holiday season.
To be fully present for every bite, every conversation, and every quiet moment.
To practice kindness and compassion toward yourself, even if you do find yourself occasionally a bit too full.
And, to focus on the food without losing sight of all the other reasons that make the holidays so special.