How to eat what you want and achieve balance this holiday season

Natasha Asselstine, R.H.N.

Natasha Asselstine, R.H.N.

Oh the dreaded holiday dinner table… The juicy meats, the steaming rice, the heaped potatoes, the sugar cookies right next to the darling gingerbread men. Not to mention the mulled wine. The very foods that tempt us to trade in our long-term health goals for immediate satisfaction. And at this time of the year, they come in an army.

So, what do we do?

Some people with an admirable amount of discipline are able to maintain balance with ease, taking just enough to satisfy their sweet tooth. But for others, they either abstain from the treats altogether or fully indulge with the promise to “get back on track” in the new year.

But what if we didn’t have to pick one extreme or the other? What if we could enjoy the feast without experiencing the guilt, grogginess or weight gain? The premise of mindful eating suggests that you can eat whatever you want as long as you’re fully present and concentrating on the food alone. In a culture of multi- tasking and having way too much on our to-do lists, we instead find ourselves eating on the go, in front of a tv or computer, or skipping meals entirely. We eat too fast and therefore eat too much, as it takes about 20 minutes for our brains to learn that we are full. And by eating while distracted, we end up missing the sensory pleasures associated with eating, and will therefore eat more often because we’re never fully satisfied with the experience.

Instead, try sitting at the dining table for every meal – away from stresses and distractions. Fully absorb every aspect of the meal so you won’t end up overeating or making poor dietary decisions because you’re eating to a point of genuine satisfaction.

Here’s how to practice mindful eating:
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  1. Avoid distractions. Do not eat in front of the tv, computer or while you’re on the phone. It’s best to eat in a quiet environment, and way from others if you can.
  2. Take smaller portions. Eat whatever you want knowing that you can always have seconds or thirds, if you still want them.
  3. Use all your senses to become fully present with the food you’re about to enjoy. Look at your food, inhale its aroma, and feel every bite that enters your mouth.
  4. Chew your food really well.
  5. Listen to your body’s responses to the food you’ve eaten. Was it too sweet, too salty? Did it leave you feeling good or uncomfortable? Maybe you’re actually satisfied after one serving of pie, or feel heartburn coming on and know that your body needs to take a break from eating. The quicker we learn to associate an unpleasant reaction from a specific food, the easier it will be to avoid it in the future. Plus, you’ll start eating the foods that leave you feeling good – which are also likely going to be the foods that are supportive of your health goals.

“To practice mindful eating, simply enjoy every bite of food as if it’s your last.”

Mindful eating isn’t just something to practice over the holidays. In fact, it may be a simple concept but it often takes quite a few trials (aka weeks) to fully master it. If this is something that resonates with you, I encourage you to practice it from now
and find some ease with it before the holiday festivities begin. Just be prepared to be the last one sitting at the table.

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