Mindfulness—that is, non-judgmentally paying attention to what’s happening while it’s happening—can help. Here are four mindful eating tips for the holidays that could help you enjoy your food, without going too far.
1. Truly savor your food. How many of us slave over making a special holiday meal and then sit down to eat it all in record time, without really tasting it? Perhaps the most important thing we can do to eat mindfully is to learn to slow down and to savor our food.
When you sit down to dinner, take a moment to really see the food in front of you, to smell the aromas, to let the flavors rest on your tongue before swallowing or picking up that next bite. Mindful eating is not about denying yourself the pleasures of eating; it’s just the opposite: It’s all about enjoying fully whatever you eat. You don’t want to miss out on the flavors of the holiday season, so don’t feel you can’t have that piece of pumpkin pie or sugar cookie. The key is recognizing that you are making a conscious choice to do that and then really savoring the experience in all of its richness—without feeling guilty about it.
2. Expect social distractions and take precautions. We all know that when we’re engaged socially we cannot be truly focused on what we are eating and drinking. Research shows that when other people around us are indulging, we tend to indulge more, too.
Try to be conscious of this tendency as you gather with others. Alternate drinking glasses of wine with drinking glasses of sparkling water. Don’t socialize at a cocktail party within easy reach of the food table. If you’re having a sit-down dinner, put your fork down between bites of food and while conversing. Or, instead of having food-focused social gatherings at all, suggest other ways to get together with your friends and family, like going caroling or taking a New Year’s Day hike. Whatever you do, be prepared to be distracted in social situations, and have a plan that makes sense for you.
3. Check to see how hungry you are before you take your first bite. Most of us eat because the food is in front of us, whether or not we’re truly hungry. But if you pause a moment before eating to check in with yourself, you may find that you’re not hungry at all, or at least not as hungry as you thought.
Many of us reach for food for reasons other than hunger—emotional reasons, like feeling lonely or being stressed out. We think eating will make us feel better, and it may, in the short run. But more effective remedies for these feelings might be calling a friend or taking a walk. If we don’t stop to recognize that we feel uncomfortable rather than hungry, we may miss these important emotional cues. Even when we know we’re hungry and we’re sitting down to eat, it still helps to monitor our hunger level before heaping food on our plates. Taking small portions, consistent with our hunger level, can be a good way of keeping overeating in check.
4. Practice gratitude. Holiday meals are a perfect time to stop and give thanks for all of the abundance in our lives and for the many people whose efforts went into providing the meal before us: the farmers who grew our food, the truckers who transported it to the grocery store, the artisans who crafted our plates, the cooks who prepared the dishes.
To recognize all that goes into creating a meal is a great way to eat mindfully and to experience gratitude for all that’s given to us. Plus, expressing gratitude—whether that gratitude is directed toward God, the universe, or the people in your life—is a key way to make us happier and less stressed. So, don’t forget to say “Thanks.” It may help you feel overjoyed rather than overstuffed.
Jill Suttie holds a doctorate in psychology. She is Greater Good’s book review editor and a frequent contributor to the magazine. This article was originally published on the Greater Good Magazine online.