Adopting Mindfulness Throughout the Holiday Season
Thanksgiving has come and gone and if you’re like most people, so has the presence of gratitude. Perhaps you went around the table on Thursday giving thanks for the feast before you, only to curse the same food on Frid
ay for sitting like a brick in your belly. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Thanksgiving is only the beginning of a plethora of parties and seemingly justifiable excuses to indulge in traditional treats. But while these excuses may seem logical in the moment, looking back on choices to delight in buffets and banquets may come with the guilt of overdoing it. But what if I told you that you could have your pie and eat it too, without having to break out the sweatpants? Gratitude is an offshoot of mindfulness. It is the result of taking time to be aware but not overwhelmed by our environment or our lives. Mindfulness encompasses many areas but Mindful Eating is the process of becoming aware of the food we eat as well as our bodies as we eat it, in a nonjudgmental way (Albers, 2008). Studies show that those that eat mindfully reduce binge eating and emotional eating tendencies (O’Reilly et al., 2014). By intending to eat mindfully this holiday season, you can save yourself from feeling uncomfortable, falling into a trap of guilt, and putting on pounds that are hard to take off later. So how does one eat mindfully, you ask?
The following are 6 strategies adapted from Jan Chozen Bays book, Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food.
#1) Slow Down
Take your time to sit down with your food. Give it a long look before your grab the fork and knife. Spend a moment giving thanks to all the people who worked hard to bring that feast to your plate and the animals that may have given their lives to nourish you. Roll the first bite around in your mouth, taking note of the flavor and texture. Chew slowly and efficiently, making sure to chew each bite at least 15 times before swallowing to aid in digestion and nutrient absorption. Put the fork down in between bites and pay attention to how each bite makes your body feel.
#2) Intend to Eat Just Enough
“Just Enough” is different for everyone and will vary according to circumstances. This practice is about eating until you are almost, but not quite full. Stopping when you are satisfied will insure you don’t feel uncomfortable after a meal. The Okinawans call this practice hara no hachi bu, which translates to “stomach eight parts full” and is a reflection of the Japanese proverb: “eight parts of a full stomach sustains the man. The other two parts sustain the doctor” (Bays, 2008). When you’ve reached the point where you feel satisfied, drink some water and reflect on the meal you just ate. If after you’ve reflected you still feel like eating more or taking a second helping, attend to the impulse by silently saying “I am continuing to eat more to benefit “ and see what the mind comes up with.
#3) Energy In – Energy Out
It’s common knowledge that the calories that go in our body must equal the calories we expend in order to maintain our weight. I often see people compensate for lofty meals with high intensity and double workouts in an unhealthy way. The body is receptive to our intentions even if we aren’t aware of it. When we impose harsh requirements on our bodies with intentions of punishment and retribution, our cells are listening. Does that mean I don’t advocate for working out to compensate for extra calories? No. On the contrary, physical activity is a cornerstone to optimal health. But instead of putting extra hours in at the gym, I invite you to find strategies to burn those added calories through ways that feel less punitive. Take the bike to work for a week. Park the car in the back of the parking lot. Use the stairs. Play basketball or go for a walk at the beach with friends. If you absolutely get jazzed about putting in two hours at the gym, then go for it. Do something active that feels good to you and whatever you do, do it with love and gratitude.
#4) Plan an Exchange
Do you know that your book club is going to have a ton of sweets at your December gathering? Is your office Holiday party heavy on the alcohol? Do you usually throw caution to the wind at these yearly events and feel awful afterward? Take a moment to plan on some substitutions. What if you brought a bowl of fruit to book club, adding a healthy option to the dessert buffet? Maybe you could bring some sparkling water to the office party and slip a lime wedge in your glass for a non-alcoholic option between party beverages. Instead of feasting on leftover cookies at night in front of the TV, try a small piece of dark chocolate (85% of higher) to satisfy your sweet tooth. Taking a moment to plan out some substitutions will help you make better choices in the moment, even if all your choices aren’t “perfect”.
#5) Choose a Day to Mindfully Fast
I just heard some of you screen expletives at your computer screens. I know. Fasting is not one of my strengths either but research suggests that calorie restriction and intermittent fasting can reduce the rates of age-related diseases including cancer, diabetes, neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases while extending overall lifespan (O’Flanagan et al., 2017). Fasting has been practiced by many different traditions for thousands of years. Hippocrates recommended the practice of abstinence from food and drink for those that exhibited certain symptoms in 5th century B.C.E and modern-day religions such as Catholicism and Judaism each have some form of fasting for sacred times (Encyclopedia Britannica). Intermittent fasting is even recommended in many integrative clinics as an adjunct therapy for cancer treatment and while science requires more human studies before it will definitively recommend the practice for therapeutic purposes in Western medicine, it’s clear that fasting has served a purpose for quite a while. So do I suggest you go on a water fast for the next week or cut your calories down to a ridiculous amount. No. Let’s be realistic and above all, safe. A juice cleanse is a great way to fast intermittently during the holidays. Pick one day every other week to drink fresh juices. Not ready to embrace your inner Jack Lalanne? Pick a day to just eat fresh fruits and vegetables, choose one day a week where you stay away from all processed and fast foods, or maybe take a break from social media for a certain length of time. Simply setting an intention to be healthier intermittently throughout the holiday season can help keep you on track and inspire a feeling of lightness. And working with a good nutritionist is always helpful, too ;).
#6) Silence the Inner Critic
You have the best of intentions. You’re going to print out this blog post and paste it on the fridge. You’ll plan out some substitutions and mark a day on the calendar to drink juices. And somewhere along the way, despite your lists and plans, you will fall just short of perfect. Then, before you know it, that inner commentator will perk up and remind you of your failures. His or her voice is often harsh and damning. This is where mindfulness is perhaps most important. Mindfulness asks you to notice these thoughts without judging them. So instead of thinking “UGH! I’m so stupid for failing to meet my goals” and then topping it off with “ACK! I’m even stupider for thinking I’m stupid”, relax. Take a breath. Sit down to meditate if you can. Acknowledge the voice. Tell it “Thank You” for caring so much about you that it takes the time to speak up. Then, tell it that what you need right now is love and support and let it go. Sometimes that isn’t enough. In cases where that inner critic doesn’t quiet down easily, imagine it’s presence is small, like that little notification in the corner of the computer screen. Yes, you’re there, I see you, and I choose to ignore you while I continue to do important work, such as loving myself just the way I am. Because you’re human. You’re not a Buddhist Monk (I mean I don’t think you are. Are you?). You are perfectly imperfect and that is WAY more interesting than the people that live by the rules 100% of the time (whoever they are).
The holidays truly are the most wonderful time of the year. Strangers smile and say hello a little more, friends and family come together, relationships get mended, and magic surrounds us. Setting intentions of mindfulness and practicing gratitude throughout the season is not just a Hipster ideal or spiritual propaganda. It is literally beneficial to health and wellness. Wishing you a peaceful, magical, and mindful Holiday season. Hoping to see you in the New Year.
Albers, S., (2008). Eat, drink, and be mindful: how to end your struggle with mindless eating and start savoring food with intention and joy. New Harbinger Publications, Inc: Oakland, CA.
Bays, J., (2009). Mindful eating: a guide to rediscovering a healthy and joyful relationship with food. Shambhala: Boston, MA.
Fasting (n.d.). In Encyclopedia Britannica online. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/topic/fasting
O’Flanagan, C. H., Smith, L. A., McDonell, S. B., & Hursting, S. D. (2017). When less may be more: calorie restriction and response to cancer therapy. BMC Medicine, 15, 106. http://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-017-0873-x
O’Reilly, G. A., Cook, L., Spruijt-Metz, D., & Black, D. S. (2014). Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Obesity-Related Eating Behaviors: A Literature Review. Obesity Reviews : An Official Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 15(6), 453–461. http://doi.org/10.1111/obr.12156
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I’m Amberly, a Clinical & Integrative Nutritionist. I help women who’ve had cancer go from just “surviving” to THRIVING by amping up their nutrition, reducing stress, and teaching them how to be in the present moment.
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