The Practice of Mindful Eating Through the Holidays

Day 1: Mindful Eating

Can you guys believe it’s already December?! Where in the heck did 2015 go…

At In Balance, we’re pretty big fans of the holidays and all things Christmas/chocolate/hot mugs of tea/celebrations/family time… the list goes on! To celebrate the season BIG TIME on the blog, we’ve got all hands on board at In Balance headquarters to bring you the 12 BALANCEd Days of Christmas.

So what can you expect? In the 24 days leading up to Christmas, we’ll be bringing you 12 B-A-L-A-N-C-E inspired blog posts to make this holiday season healthy and bright for you and your loved ones. For those curious about what the B-A-L-A-N-C-E acronym stands for, check-out this blog post from the archives, written by IB Founder & Nutritionist Brenda Wollenberg to get an in-depth overview.

Without further ado…

On the first day of Christmas, my In Balance nutritionist gave to me…

The Practice of Mindful Eating Through the Holidays

Mindfulness is a term you may have heard swirling around the world of health and wellness recently. This traditionally Eastern practice has been gaining traction in the West as mindfulness meditation, movement and even breathing grows in popularity.

What is Mindfulness?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the pioneers of mindfulness in the West, summarizes mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment”. The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society says it best in this video (worth the watch!):

How Does Mindfulness Relate to Food and Nutrition?

I see that puzzled look on your face. What does this practice of paying attention on purpose have to do with eating and Christmas? Let me paint a picture for you:

It’s been another hectic day leading-up to Christmas. The kids are off school for winter break (read: no child care). You’ve had them in tow all day as you mad-dash around the city to locate a lingering few gifts, drop-off some items at the post office (in what was surely the world’s slowest line-up) and pick-up groceries for tonight’s Christmas party. You look at the clock. It’s 5pm. The realization hits you that in the past 10 hours, all you’ve managed to consume is an eggnog latte and the head of one gingerbread fellow. Blood sugars are low, tempers are high, and tolerance is waning.

By some miracle, you get home, prepare some chips and dip for tonight’s potluck party, set the kids up with Netflix, pizza and a baby sitter, and rush out the door with your partner and zero minutes to spare. You arrive to the party hangry (you know the feeling: over-hungry to the point of anger) and ready to devour whatever is edible and in sight. B-line to the buffet table, your plate quickly fills with all the carb-and-fat-loaded goodness you can get your hands on: fluffy white bread and spinach dip, nacho chips and cheesy dip, pastry wrapped mini sausages, heavily iced Christmas cookies. You find room for a snap pea or two on your plate.

The food is inhaled in a moment, without much notice of what it felt or tasted like. In fact, you’ve downed it so fast that your brain hasn’t had 30 seconds to register fullness before you’re back at the buffet for round 2. More carb-fat-sugar-goodness, another plateful down the hatch. By this point, your brain has caught up, and the over-stuffed bloat kicks in. But nothing that another mug of mulled wine can’t flush down.

This story (minus the kids!) is all-too familiar to me. I wish I could say that as a nutritionist, I’ve got all things health-and-wellness figured out. But even we “healthy folk” can get caught up in the hustle of the season and lose sight of self-care (stay tuned to Day 8 where I’ll talk a bit about making time space during the holidays). This 1st Day of Christmas, I’m giving myself (and you!) the gift of mindful eating for health. Here’s how.

Step 1: Make the choice to eat regularly throughout the day (before the hangry sets in!), no matter how busy or full the day is. This takes a little bit of knowing your hunger cues. For those unfamiliar with that sensation, start with a simple map and build from there: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner. As you get to know what hungry feels like for you, listen and respond appropriately.

Step 2: Create a window of 10 minutes or more to eat in a calm and intentional space. This can often be the most challenging point of the mindfulness practice, taking time to eat sitting (not in your car on the go!). It’s also one of the most vital as you learn to hear and respond to your body in the act of eating. It doesn’t necessarily have to be at your kitchen table, but do try to find a spot where you are sitting and focusing solely on eating.

Step 3: Notice how the food you choose to consume tastes. Look at the food. Smell the food. Touch the food. Finally, put the food in your mouth. Chew it slowly, intentionally, multiple times. How does it feel, taste? Notice all aspects of your energy fuel.

Step 4: Notice how the food you choose to consume makes you feel. Food is made for celebration, for enjoyment and to be an overall positive experience. Are you connecting with how food makes you feel when you consume it? Take the time to notice how something heavier and fat/protein rich makes you feel, vs a more carb-based choice. What happens when you base your diet largely on non-starchy vegetables vs processed and sugary foods? Each of us responds differently to food. Take the time to listen to your body and hear what it is telling you.

In Health, Charlotte Taverner

What’s your goal for mindful eating through the holidays? Share with us in the comments below!

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