After enjoying a holiday meal, do you tend to feel guilty or regretful about how much you ate or what you ate? Do you tend to overindulge during the holidays, because you keep telling yourself you are going to diet in the new year? Do you find yourself preoccupied with food and judging what you can or cannot eat?
If you want to stop stressing out about food, the secret is learning how to eat mindfully. What is mindful eating exactly? Mindful eating is the experience of being so intensely focused on your food, the act of chewing, and the savory flavors that you leave your meal with high satisfaction. (This is why people who can eat mindfully actually need to eat less!)
The conversation of mindful eating comes up quite frequently in sessions I have with clients. However, during the holidays, it becomes even more challenging to practice mindful eating if you tend to engage in emotional eating, binge eating, restricting, or even "happy" eating as I call it (where you rationalize eating more before it is a special occasion). However, I DO think it is possible to tolerate the extra stimulation of the holidays, enjoy the varieties of foods, and still leave the experience with no guilt. How? I want to give you some concrete tips to practice:
1.) Before deciding HOW MUCH to eat, assess your hunger level. You might even rate your hunger level on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being very full).
2.) Before deciding WHAT to eat, scan the whole table of food and figure out what you want to eat before loading your plate. Consider having a balance of the food groups, at the same time honoring what you are craving and is most appealing to you.
3.). Drink water before you eat and while you eat. Sometimes people mistake hunger for being thirsty. Also, drinking water in between bites can help you to slow down.
4.) SLOW DOWN. Take 12-15 chews per bite. Put your fork down to take a breather. Purposely get crunchy or hard to chew foods on your plate to slow you down (i.e. salad, carrot sticks, steak that you have to cut).
5.) Once you are full at around a 4, consider stopping and taking a break. You will feel better eating until you are full at a 4, not a 5. Wait at least 30-60 minutes before eating dessert so that your brain has more time to register fullness.
6.) Focus more on quality rather than quantity. A trick to mindful eating is getting your brain so satisfied with what you eat, that you know when to stop. This happens by purposely choosing foods that are savory and fulfilling to you. Therefore, if you end of eating something but don't like it, it's okay to let it go! (Hopefully this happens so discretely, it doesn't insult the cook!) Save room for what you really want to eat and tastes good rather than feeling pressure to eat everything offered.
7.) Use mindfulness skills to intensely throw yourself into what you are doing. Try not to do two things at once (i.e. eating while watching the football game). Really taste the food. Assess your fullness level as you go. Look at the food with your eyes and notice the colors, shapes, and textures. Even think about how the food was made.
Those are some of my basic tips. What you DON'T want to do is rationalize to yourself that it is holiday and therefore eat everything offered, eat without awareness, get so focused on external things that you are not even in tune to your body, and then feel dissatisfied after the experience. Or, another trap is to label certain foods as "bad" and you neglect what you are craving and then also feel dissatisfied after the experience (which can lead to food preoccupation or a binge later on). Remember: You CAN enjoy the fun variety of foods and eat in such a way that you feel satisfied, but you are so in tune with your body that there is no guilt or regret at the end of the meal!
Questions to ask yourself: How do you normally eat? What has been a consequence of not being able to eat mindfully? What is one new insight or behavior you would like to implement in your daily life to help you learn to eat mindfully?
For Former and Current DBT clients, these are skills used:
1.) One Mindful--you are doing one thing at a time with full awareness
2.) Observe skill--you are noticing and sensing your hunger and fullness level to give you more information
3.) Non-judgmental stance--you are not judging foods as good or bad, but instead focusing more on the experience of eating and accepting what is in front of you
4.) Wise Mind--look at the whole picture of what is going on rather than allowing your emotions to dictate your decisions