Emotional connections to food are woven into the fabric of the holidays. Eating is often a way to celebrate, connect, and bond with others – from office parties with co-workers to baking with grandchildren and sharing traditional meals with family. However, what nutritionists call “mindless eating” and “emotional eating” may lead to potential problems during the holiday season. Not only is food seemingly everywhere, but you may feel more stressed, lonely, or overwhelmed. So how do you handle all of the special eating occasions without having “too much of a good thing?”
I’ve found that an ancient concept called mindful eating has powerful applications to modern challenges – including the overabundance of food during the holidays. (Find more tips on more healthful holiday eating here.) Rather than follow a rigid set of rules, mindful eating is a dynamic, flexible approach to decision-making based on the idea of eating with intention and attention. Mindful eating is a gift you can give yourself several times each day during the busy holiday season – and beyond!
Eating with intention
While it may seem obvious, it is important to have a purpose for eating. Setting an intention provides a focus that guides your decisions about why, what, how, and how much you eat. Here are several examples of helpful intentions:
- I will feel better when I’m done eating than I did when I started.
- I will eat when I am hungry and stop when I am comfortably full.
- I will choose foods that meet my needs for nourishment and enjoyment.
- I will balance my favorite carbohydrate-containing foods with lower carbohydrate-containing foods for optimal blood glucose control.
- I will take the time to enjoy my meal mindfully without rushing or getting distracted.
Eating with attention
Bringing awareness to your snack or meal may improve your pleasure, satisfaction, and success at sticking to your meal plan. I suggest people ask and answer these four questions to focus their attention so they may enjoy the season more while eating less mindlessly:
1. Why am I eating?
Whenever you feel like eating, pause to ask yourself, “Am I hungry?” then look for physical signs that you need fuel. This step may increase your awareness of eating because you feel stressed, obligated, or nostalgic.
When you’re hungry, think of your appetite as an expense account. How much do you want to spend on appetizers or on the entrée? Do you want to save room for a couple of bites of dessert? Go through this process mentally to avoid eating too much, feeling uncomfortable for the rest of the evening, and potentially causing a blood sugar spike.
2. What am I eating?
During the holidays, there is often so much food around that you can afford to be picky. Survey all the food at a buffet before making your choice. Skip the ordinary appetizers, the cold mashed potatoes, and the store-bought cookies.
Don’t deprive yourself of foods you really love because deprivation and guilt are powerful emotional triggers that may lead to overeating. Instead, mindfully select a balance of foods to help keep your blood glucose in your target range.
3. How am I eating?
Eating a wonderful meal mindfully can be a satisfying emotional experience. Start with the simple yet powerful act of expressing gratitude. Reduce distractions and sit down to eat – even if it’s just a small snack. Eat slowly and put your fork down to give every bite your full attention. Appreciate the appearance, aroma, and flavor of your food. Make an effort to pay close attention to how your body feels as you eat. You will eat less and enjoy it more.
4. How much am I eating?
It’s easy to get distracted and miss your body’s signals that you’ve had enough to eat at social gatherings, especially if food is the main event. Be aware of mindless grazing that leaves you feeling stuffed but unsatisfied. If your intention is to feel good after eating, it may help to step away from the table or to move the food away from you to avoid nibbling unconsciously.
Mindful eating is a gift you give yourself that can delight all of your senses! Enjoy the atmosphere, conversations, entertainment, traditions, and the shared experience of eating throughout the holidays.
For more tips on enjoying the holiday season, visit The DX archive.
Michelle May, MD, is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle. May is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience