Your experience of past holidays most likely included calorie-rich meals, friends, family, decadent desserts, seasonal spirits, and weight gain.
As this season rolls around, you may find yourself starting to panic and frustration setting in—although you enjoy the social events the holiday season brings, you don’t enjoy the tightness in your clothes when it’s all over.
So, you turn to stress and anxiety, because you aren’t sure how to have a successful holiday experience without gaining weight.
The answer is simple. To change your experience of the holidays so you don’t gain weight, you need to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is defined as the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
Simply put, it means to be present. When you pair mindfulness with eating, you boost your ability to be present and aware with and around food. Sounds simple enough, but you would be surprised at how often we stop thinking when it comes to eating, especially this time of year.
The biggest culprit to unconscious eating is multitasking: Snacking while scrolling social media, cocktailing while conversing with friends, watching tv while eating dinner. Eating is second nature, so pair that with something that requires a higher level of attention, and your focus will move from food to the other interest. That’s when your eating shifts to autopilot, which inevitably leads to overeating.
Counteract unconscious eating with mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a state of being you cultivate through presence. It comes from being in the moment with your mind, body, surroundings, and food.
Present With Your Mind
Tune into the thoughts and voices that float in and out of your head around food. These thoughts will be indicative of why you make the choices you do. Instead of letting your brain do the talking, mindfulness is being intentional with what and how you want to think.
When you are eating, being present with your mind looks like:
Focusing on your why. Why do or don’t you want to eat this food? It can be as simple as you want to lose weight, or you want your clothes to fit better.
Feel into the future. Think beyond the exact moment of eating. How will eating certain foods make you feel later? Will you feel more energized and stronger, proud of your decision, or will you be more lethargic, feel guilty, and increase your negative self-talk?
You always have two choices when it comes to food—you can either eat it or not. And inside your mind, you have two voices vying for your attention to help you make that choice. Your desire voice, the voice that creates cravings for non-nutritious foods, and your logical voice, your voice of reason around foods that feel good in your body.
If you normally eat unhealthy foods, your desire voice will be louder. But that’s only because you’ve exercised it more. Be mindful to allow both voices to be heard. Take time to hear what your desire voice is telling you and then give the same amount of time to hear your logical voice. Once you have given both voices equal airtime to be heard, then make your intentional decision on what food choice you will make.
Present With Your Body
There are two questions you can ask yourself that have a huge impact on making mindful choices with food.
Am I hungry?
Am I full?
The way to find the exact answer is to be present in your body.
You will know you are physically hungry or full if you feel a physical sensation in your body. A growling stomach, nausea, or a slight headache may indicate you are hungry. These are signs from your body telling you it needs fuel in the form of food.
If your body feels more settled and your stomach is calm and quiet, that means you are full. Take it as a sign to stop eating.
Be aware you could also be emotionally hungry. Emotional hunger is when you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, bored, or anxious. It’s basically any negative feeling that makes you want to turn to food to make yourself feel better. You will know you are emotional eating if no matter what you eat, you still don’t feel satisfied. You keep moving from food option to food option never feeling like you are fulfilling your need.
Being present in your body will help you distinguish between eating because you are really hungry versus emotional eating. Emotional eating leads to overeating and weight gain.
Present With Your Surroundings
Your surroundings are a key contributor to unconscious eating because your environment creates opportunities and triggers for you to eat and do other things at the same time.
Being present is focusing on one thing at a time. When you’re at a social event, be present in your conversation, only focusing on the people in front of you. When you’re eating, sit down, focus on your plate and your experience, and let that be the only thing you do.
Create a calm space with no technology to enjoy dinner in your home.
When you are at a family gathering, put your plate down, and focus on the conversation with the person next to you.
When you are out to eat, put your fork down when you are talking.
Present With Food
When you are multitasking, you are unaware of what food tastes like, how much you have eaten, what the experience of the food is like. Mindfulness is the opposite. It’s enjoying the food and how it feels in your body. It’s savoring the flavors, the texture, the taste of your meal.
Chew your food slowly, with intention, and acknowledge how it feels in your mouth, as you swallow. Delight in eating.
Mindful eating is a practice. It’s being present in the moment with yourself, your body, your surroundings, and your food. It’s dropping the “I should eat this” or “I shouldn’t eat this” and experiencing food in a new way.
Cultivating mindfulness is different from following a diet. When you know you can eat any food you want and are present, then you have the control to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. This is true freedom from food.