It’s difficult to be mindful when eating socially at the best of times, and the holidays make it that much harder. You’re surrounded by all these special foods you don’t usually have, and you’ve got many social events crammed into a short period.
How do you stay mindful and not go overboard with eating during all these events? Here are 5 tips to help.
Tip 1: Have a Plan
Planning may not seem to relate to mindful eating, but as I’ve written before, it helps to have some kind of guide or intention when you go to gatherings.
You won’t be planning everything that you’ll eat, of course. You may not even know what foods will be available, or exactly when you’ll be eating.
But here are a few guidelines:
Don’t go to the gathering when you’re very hungry. Being extra hungry might seem like a good idea since you enjoy food more when you’re hungry, but it typically backfires and leads to overeating.
Plan to savor your food. This is harder in a social setting, but as much as possible, eat slowly and focus on what you’re eating.
Don’t go for endless refills. Many social meals are buffets, which makes it easy to keep going back for more. See if you can set a goal for yourself of not going back, or only going back once.
Decide how you want to feel. And finally, think about how you want to feel afterward. If you don’t want to feel super stuffed or lethargic, deciding this ahead of time may help you avoid overeating.
Tip 2: Check in With Yourself
It also helps to take a little time during the gathering to see how you’re feeling. Not just physically, but also emotionally.
From a physical standpoint, are you already full, or maybe too full? Are you tired or do you have a headache or do your feet hurt from standing?
Emotionally, see if you’re enjoying yourself, or if you’re stressed. Is anything happening that’s making you upset? Or maybe you’re bored but feel like you can’t leave yet?
Many of these can lead you to want to eat even if you’re not hungry, especially if the food looks particularly tempting… smells amazing… or you’re seeing someone else eat it. Do your best to take a step back and evaluate what’s happening with you before deciding to go for more food.
Tip 3: Focus on More Than Food
Food is indeed a big part of our holidays, especially with Thanksgiving. One article even noted that without traditional foods, Thanksgiving is just any old dinner party.
I can see their point, but at the same time, Thanksgiving would also not be a holiday if you ate all those foods by yourself at home. It’s the mix that makes everything come together.
Certainly, enjoy the foods, but try not to make that the whole focus. Remind yourself that you really can have those foods at another time if you like them a lot, and that overeating won’t make you enjoy them more. If anything, overeating is apt to make the occasion less enjoyable.
And if you find that you’re not enjoying the whole holiday experience, maybe you can try some new traditions next time. For example, I won’t be having a traditional meal on Thanksgiving but will instead be going to an Indian restaurant with a friend, and we’ll both enjoy it.
Tip 4: Don’t Judge Yourself
Some of the biggest challenges with holiday eating come after the fact. If you’ve overeaten, you may be tempted to judge yourself harshly. This could include negative self-talk and possibly more eating as a way to make yourself feel better.
With that in mind, perhaps one of the best gifts you can give yourself for the holidays is not to judge yourself. Treat yourself gently, especially if you overate. This is not the time for punishment but instead for self-care and reflection.
Tip 5: Use the Opportunity to Learn
That brings me to my last tip. If you’ve found that you’ve overeaten, or eaten foods that you didn’t like or didn’t agree with you, take some time to think about what happened.
Did something happen that upset you? Were you with family members that you don’t normally see and it brought up old issues for you? Were you feeling stressed in general about the holiday season?
You may also find that you were subconsciously giving yourself a “pass” to eat more because it was a holiday or special occasion. This can happen a lot on Thanksgiving, with its rather odd focus on gluttony, but remember that you don’t have to do that.
You’re allowed to eat however much or little you need to be satisfied and comfortable.
If you can identify what triggered you to eat more than you might like, brainstorm some ideas of what you could do differently next time. Then write it down to help you remember.
This isn’t a guarantee that you won’t overeat again, but it will lessen the odds.
Enjoy All Parts of the Holidays
It can sometimes be tempting to just say you won’t eat any of the tempting foods over the holidays, but if you do that, you’ll be missing out. You’ll likely also feel resentful and rebellious and might end up eating them later anyway.
Instead, try to enjoy the holiday foods in balance with other things you might enjoy. Maybe it’s the family visits… or the decorations and lights… or the music… or having something to break up the days when we don’t have as much sunlight.
Whatever it is, if you can remember to focus on more than the food, make a plan, and learn from prior holidays, you’re more likely to avoid overeating – and you’re more likely to have a good time.
And however you choose to celebrate, have a happy Thanksgiving!