Mindful Eating Over the Holidays

With the upcoming holidays, this season can be an indulgent time for food. The parties, family gatherings, and sweet treats galore can make it difficult to allow our internal signals of hunger and satiety guide us in our eating. For people who experience body-image concerns, weight-related health concerns, or those who have disordered eating, the holidays can be all the more challenging and distressing. It can be difficult to practice mindful eating over the holidays, so we’ve shared some guidelines below.

There are times when many of us eat on auto-pilot – when we’re distracted and not paying attention to the food we are consuming. We eat when we watch TV, we eat when we are in the car, we eat when we are running to and from class or work. Our minds are in one place and our bodies are in another and we’re often not connected to the experience of eating. Thus, we lose touch with our bodily cues for when to eat and when to stop eating. The exercise of mindful eating can help us reconnect to the act of eating, to our bodies, and to our sensual experiences. When we are more connected and present with ourselves, we can make more informed, intentional choices about food and about our bodily needs. And this includes mindful eating choices – even over the holidays!

Not the next fad diet

While mindful eating is not a diet or a weight-loss strategy, many people find that when they practice mindful eating they tend to binge eat less frequently and they can make more informed, deliberate choices about the types of foods they put into their bodies. Mindful eating is simple to do and just takes patience and persistence to practice regularly. We recommend starting off slowly and beginning your practice with a small snack or the first several bites from a meal. Follow the steps below as a guide to start mindful eating over the upcoming holidays.

Find your space

Try to find a location that is relatively free from distractions. Avoid having the TV on in the background and choose a quiet space that is away from roommates or family. Be seated upright in a comfortable position (ideally at a table) and place a meal, snack or piece of food in front of you.

Look at your food

Begin by exploring the food with your eyes. Take in the colors, shapes and sizes of the food. Maybe even observe how it is distributed on your plate or bowl. Notice what you see. Try to visually observe the food with openness and curiosity, as if you have never seen anything like it before. If you notice yourself having judgments about the food or anything else, see if you can acknowledge those judgments and then allow yourself to let them go. Bring your focus back to the food in front of you.

Get a whiff of it

Next, bring your nose close to the food. Close your eyes and breathe in deeply, inhaling the aroma. You may want to do this for a few breaths. Notice how your body is responding to the aromas. Does your mouth begin to salivate as you anticipate eating? Does the smell bring up memories or associations? Notice if any other thoughts or feelings come into awareness and then bring your focus back to the smell.

How does it feel?

Now pick up your utensils (if using them) or use your fingers to feel the texture of your food. Is it soft? Viscous? Textured? Firm to the touch? Maybe there are multiple types of textures involved in your meal. Try to take the texture in, again without judging it as good or bad. Take as much time as you need here to notice the feeling of your food.

Have a bite

As you’re ready, prepare to lift a bite of the food to your mouth. As you do this, notice the intention to move your hand to your mouth. Slowly, and in your own time, take the food between your lips. Without biting it, place it on your tongue, and allow yourself to notice the first taste of your food. As you notice the texture of the food in your mouth, move the food around in your mouth. When you’re ready, bite into it. Become aware of how your lips, teeth, tongue and cheeks all work together to chew your food. Bring your awareness to any impulse to swallow, noticing this before doing so.

Chew on it

Take your time to chew slowly. In your own time, gently swallow the food. If you have any thoughts, emotions or other experiences that come up, notice what these are without judging them. If you have thoughts about food, your body, or anything else, just try to notice what these thoughts are, then gently, but persistently allow yourself to let go of them, and bring your focus back to the process of eating. Notice as you move your food intentionally from your mouth down your throat and into your abdomen. Bring your awareness to any other sensations that arise.

Try it again

Repeat this mindful eating process above for the next few bites of food. Take your time and allow yourself to notice (without judging) thoughts, feelings and sensations that arise. Once you become aware of these experiences, see if you can mentally detach from them and shift your focus back to the sensations of the food you are eating. As you try it again, allow yourself to connect with the nourishment in the present moment as your body and mind come together in the same space.

Take a (mind) full breath

Once you are done eating with mindful awareness, take a few gentle breaths with your eyes closed. You can then expand your awareness back to the rest of the room. Be easy and gentle with yourself. We recommend practicing this once a day to begin to cultivate increased awareness of your body, your relationship with food, and yourself. You may have many opportunities to practice mindful eating over the holidays, depending on how packed your schedule is! We wish you all a restful and balanced holiday season.

How we can help

If you have difficulty with your relationship with food that entails frequent binge eating, purging behaviors, or other weight loss compensatory techniques, you are not alone in these challenges. If food or body-related thoughts occupy your time and consume your thoughts, our therapists are standing by to support you. Browse The Shrink Space to find therapists who specialize in eating disorders and body image-related concerns. You can filter for providers who specialize in things like eating disorders, nutrition, obesity, and weight loss. You can also access our list of resources for additional means of support. If there are other ways we can offer support to you, please email us! We’d love to connect.

For additional information about navigating the holidays this season, see our post on going home for the holidays!

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