Tips for Mindful Eating During the Winter Holidays

Here come the holidays with parties, family gatherings, and food galore. Of course, all the shopping, cooking, and company, can make the holidays stressful, and stress can lead to overeating and unwanted weight gain.

Mindful eating can help, says Rachel Stahl, MS, a registered dietician in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism. When you are mindful, you are aware and present in the moment. Thoughts may preoccupy you, but you can learn to return to the now. “Eating can be a mindful activity when you become more aware of your physical hunger and satiety, and use all your senses when eating,” Stahl says. This technique can help you manage or even reduce holiday stress, so that you can fully enjoy your favorite foods in moderation. But, Stahl adds, “Mindful eating takes practice and doesn’t happen overnight.”

She offers these tips to get you started:

  • Use small plates. This can help with portion control.
  • Limit distractions. Disconnect from electronics like your phone, computer, or TV. Sit down at the table to be fully present in the meal.
  • Slow down and taste your food. Chew slowly, utilize all your senses, and lower your utensils every few bites. “It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that it's full. Giving yourself time to digest a meal will help you notice your body’s signals.”
  • Enjoy meals with others. “Use mealtime as an opportunity to connect with one another. This will help you take breaks between bites, so you don’t eat too quickly.”
  • Don’t skip meals or healthy snacks. ‘Saving’ your appetite for holiday feasts can lead to low blood sugar, intense food cravings, and over-eating.
  • Snack smart. Eat a high-protein snack—a handful of nuts, veggies and hummus, or fruit with 1-2 tablespoons of nut butter--before a holiday party so you’ll be less tempted by all the chips, crackers, and cheese.
  • Eat sitting down. You’re less likely to appreciate and keep track of what you eat if you’re eating on the go.
  • Serve dedicated portions. Eating straight from a bag or box makes it easy to overeat because you can’t see how much you’ve had.
  • Ditch the Clean Plate Club. Wasting food feels bad but stuffing yourself won’t help the hungry.
  • Honor your fullness, even if it means passing up dessert or a second helping of food that someone spent hours preparing. Just politely say, “No, thank you, really.”
  • Allow yourself to enjoy your favorite holiday foods. “Try to let go of any food rules. Shift your mindset from labeling food ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to focusing on having a healthy relationship around food. Practice moderation so that you can eat the foods you enjoy without overeating. Restricting too much can leave you feeling deprived and guilty which can set you up for overeating later on.”
  • Manage stress by meditating, taking short walks, reaching for a warm cup of herbal tea, spending time with people who make you laugh, getting enough sleep, eating a well-balanced diet, staying hydrated, and embracing social support. “For some people, high levels of stress can increase hormones, notably cortisol, and the “hunger” hormone ghrelin, which are linked to increased appetite. Stress can contribute to cravings that lead us to crave more foods high in fat, sugar, or both.”
  • Dump New Year’s Diet Resolutions. “Instead of thinking, ‘I’ll just eat whatever I want during the holidays,’ plan ahead before the holidays by adding more exercise, eating a well-balanced diet (no “fad” or “crash diets” or juice cleanses) and approaching holiday meals in a more balanced way.” After the holidays, don’t try to lose a lot of weight fast. “It’s better to lose weight at a slow, steady pace, 1–2 pounds per week. People who lose weight slowly are more likely to keep it off long-term.”

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