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How to Practice the 3 Rs for the Holidays

If you’re like me, you might still be in shock that it’s November and that the holidays are coming up. Even though Thanksgiving is late this year, Christmas items are out in stores, holiday movies are playing, and people are making plans.

Those plans always seem to include food, which makes this a difficult time for mindful eating. To help get through it, I suggest planning to use the 3 Rs. These aren’t Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, but instead a slightly modified version.

Reduce, Reuse, and Refuse.


This one is fairly straightforward, even if it’s not always easy to do. This is simply to reduce the amount that you might normally eat, or that you might be expected to eat.

This works best if you plan for it. Before you go to a holiday gathering, mentally prepare to take smaller portions. If you can, also use a smaller plate and avoid too many refills.

It helps to remember that this isn’t about denying yourself. You can still have the things you love, but just try to have them in smaller amounts. That way, you can enjoy more of the foods without getting overstuffed and feeling miserable.


Another tip that helps keep you from feeling deprived is to reuse the food as leftovers.

This is especially helpful if your host encourages you to eat more. Instead of filling your plate again, prepare by bringing a couple of containers with you and asking your host if you can bring some of the food home.

That way, you’re still showing how much you appreciate what they’ve made, but you can also stick to the reduced quantities. As a bonus, you get to enjoy the food again over the next couple of days!

In my dad’s family, this has become the norm, since my aunt always cooks more than we can eat. This is an example of just the desserts – and it’s for 6 people!

My dad and I have learned to come prepared with a few containers for different items, and it works well all around.

You can also explore different recipes for Thanksgiving leftovers if you’re looking for inspiration on how to use the leftovers.


The last option is the hardest. Just say no to some things.

This is a tough one, so you should reserve it until it’s absolutely needed. But remember that if someone keeps pushing you to eat more than you need, or to eat something you don’t like, you have the right to refuse.

The challenge is worrying about how this might feel to the host or the person who made the food, and that’s a real issue. When you say no to someone’s offer of food, they might feel hurt or insulted and like you don’t care about them. Even if you try to reassure them, it doesn’t always get through.

Over the past year, I’ve realized another subconscious reason why we may get upset when others don’t eat as much as expected. We worry that something is wrong with them, that they might be sick or worse.

This came home to me with my elderly cats earlier in the year. When Salem stopped eating very much, I knew it meant the end was coming.

This is never a fun thing to think about, and it’s even less fun over the holidays.

So if you refuse something, do it gently. Explain that you’re trying not to overdo it because when you eat too much, you feel uncomfortable and lethargic, and you don’t want to feel that way. You’d rather have small amounts of a few things so you can enjoy the holiday and everyone’s company, as well as the food. (Or say whatever works for you. Practice ahead of time if it helps.)

This won’t necessarily make everything okay, but it will hopefully make things easier.

Also, if you’re thinking ahead, you can even explain this to the hosts beforehand. That could make it feel less personal and give them some time to get used to the idea.

Holidays Are About Food – But Not Only Food

Food is an important part of the holidays. Having our traditional meals on certain days each year helps anchor us and draw us together.

But the holidays aren’t only about the food. This is something I try to remember. It’s not always easy, but when I do, it makes the holidays more enjoyable.

However you end up eating over the holidays, I hope you have a wonderful time. And if you use the 3 Rs, let me know how it goes!

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