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A Mindful Approach to Holiday Eating

by shaban asif on

It’s no secret that holidays are an overwhelming time of year in terms of eating. Irresistible choices at holiday parties and chronic holiday diet articles stir us to obsess about eating or to nonstop splurge because the holidays come once a year. Mindful eating is a technique that incorporates awareness and knowledge about the foods you consume. This approach is not a diet technique that restricts or omits certain foods; it is a lifestyle that allows the mind to “follow the gut.” 

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Between work, family, and social parties, holiday eaters experience an array of free eating opportunities. A common mindset when approached with a buffet or holiday eating is the “free for all” eating method. This leads to packing plates and eating in a hurry to get seconds or helpings before the item runs out. Another common “free for all” characteristic is to over-indulge in alcohol because it is free.  

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It is similar to the “feast and famine” eating method where people starve all day to “save room” for holiday eating.. Yes, overeating wrecks waistlines, but this method is a detriment to mindsets. It leads to negative behaviors in terms of food selection, portion sizes, and thoughts such as, “I’ll start exercising and diet in the New Year.” The following tips help overcome “free for all” behaviors.

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Select Foods with Awareness

The power of mindful eating lies in the hands of awareness. Awareness, and knowing what works for you, is the secret to healthy holiday eating. When faced with endless food opportunities, it is ideal to have a mental game plan. Check in with your gut on what your body is truly craving. A helpful question to ask before a holiday party is, “What am I craving today that will satisfy my body?”


This question plays an important role in understanding what your body seeks for nutrients and what your brain seeks for pleasure. For example, if you eat hummus everyday and know hummus will be at the party, will trying the hummus give you the caloric pleasure you seek? Or do you find hummus boring since you eat in everyday? If you find it boring, what other foods or flavors will you find more satisfying? Asking these questions increases awareness and better choices through “following the gut.”

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These questions are important because every holiday party food selection differs as well as daily exercise routines. For example, if a person completes 90 minutes of exercise on the day of a holiday party, the body will desire or crave a different food selection. The body may crave a heavier protein or carbohydrate source. Honoring this satisfies the body and decreases binges on sugary foods.

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Increase Personal Knowledge

Awareness combined with knowledge is personal power to supply the body with what it requires. Most Americans have heard the traditional eating techniques such as using a smaller plate, selecting smaller portions, and skipping the sugar. Although people know this to be true, they often ignore these vital health tips. Increasing personal power means to get educated about what you are eating. When a person understands the “why” behind the notion, he or she is more likely to adopt mindful eating habits. 

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This is the perfect opportunity to speak with a health coach, fitness trainer, or nutritionist about specific foods. There are also plenty of online and print resources available to understand modern day food concerns. For example, if you research the adverse effects of high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors, holiday sugar cookies may not seem as appetizing because it does not healthily supply the body. When personal power is gained, this leaves more room for the foods you enjoy. 

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Overcome Cyclical Behaviors

For many, holiday eating is “clockwork” and experiences the same routine season after season. Common pitfalls include:

-“Overstuffed” eating
-Choosing or eating foods you did not desire
-Letting yourself Go 
-Surrendering to hopeless choices

-Thinking traditional sayings such as, “I’ll start exercising and eating right in the New Year.”

The most common trend experienced is when people start eating Halloween candy and continue to overindulge through New Year. Once New Year’s Day approaches, weight loss pursuits begin with exercise and caloric restriction. The winter in general is a sluggish time of year, and combined with holiday eating, it leaves bodies tired and lifeless. 

The first step to overcoming cyclical behaviors is to be honest and recognize behaviors without judgment. The next step is to think about the following questions:

-How does my body feel after heavy eating?

-How do these choices affect my digestion and energy levels?

-How long does it take me to feel “normal” again?

-Am I tired of feeling this way?

-What is a realistic, first step toward better change? 

Recognizing patterns and behaviors increases awareness and empowers personal knowledge. This helps a person to avoid cyclical patterns. 

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Savor the Foods you Enjoy

When tying together this information, select and savor foods that you enjoy. For example, if you do not care for the taste of coconut, skip the coconut macaroon. This avoids the extra calories and the hunt to satisfy the sweet tooth. Satisfy the sweet taste bud with a food that you enjoy. 

*Note: If you continuously crave sweets, it maybe a sign that a macronutrient is deficient (usually protein), or palate has adapted to a sweet diet. Readjust palates through whole foods and fresh fruits and vegetables. 

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Place Barriers on Peer Pressure

A mindful approach that is often hard to adopt  is the power of saying “no” to certain foods. At times, friends and family members coerce people into eating or drinking something they do not want. Most people do this unintentionally, but people fall into the trap of succumbing to peer pressure.  

Choose the power of “no” to extra helpings or foods that do not agree with you. Be kind, honest, and truthful. If rejecting the rest of the mashed potatoes, an effective response includes, “I’ve enjoyed every bite of your delicious mashed potatoes. However, I cannot stomach any more food. If you are certain that you’d like me to enjoy the rest, I’d be happy to take the rest home and eat it tomorrow with my lunch.” 

Overall, mindful eating is not a difficult task, but rather an inner dialogue of finding what foods agree with you, recognizing patterns, and restructuring palates toward healthier choices. 

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