Mindfulness & Intuitive Eating During the Holidays
You may have heard it before: “slow down”, “stop multi-tasking”, “savor the moment”, or the infamous “live in the moment”.. but how often are you actually abiding by these pieces of well-intended advice? If you have trouble with mindful eating, you’re not alone. It can be difficult to decode what “mindfulness” actually means, and how to it to practice it in the real world when you’re a student, a full-time worker, an intern, a parent, or you just find yourself continually going from one task to another without stopping for a breath.
Why is mindfulness so important for our well-being? Mindfulness and intuitive eating can help you become more in tune with your hunger cues, put the joy back in eating, and prevent mindless eating. Listen, it doesn’t take a mind-reader to see mashed potatoes, pies, turkey, and mouthwatering side dishes in your holiday-future! Still not sure exactly what the whole mindfulness thing is all about? Let’s break it down, and uncover four ways to practice mindfulness during the holiday season.
“a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.” (Psychology Today, 2016)
Intuitive eating means rejecting the diet mentality, keeping an awareness of and attending to your hunger and fullness cues without judgement and without using emotions to fuel eating habits. An intuitive eater has a peaceful relationship with food and does not label food “good” or “bad”. They eat a balance of “play food” and nutritionally balanced foods. (Tribole & Resch, 2012)
5 Tips to be Mindful This Holiday
1. Take breaks
Although it’s tempting to scarf down Thanksgiving meal or holiday treats, slowing down your bites, putting your fork (or cookie) down in between bites, can help satiety cues.
2. Keep visual cues of what you eat
This means lingering with your plate for 5 minutes after you finish eating, keep wrappers or whatever “evidence” you have of finishing a snack or meal. This will keep you visually accountable for what you’ve eaten. No need to let dishes or wrappers pile up forever- just avoid rushing to clean up immediately after your last bite!
3. Use your senses
Hear, taste, smell, touch, see. Often we eat in “autopilot” and hardly register eating at all. One of the key components of mindful eating is becoming aware of your senses and using them while you eat, sans distractions!
4. Let go of your inner food-critic
It’s easy to fall back on self-criticism during the holidays. We tend to eat more often, or eat foods we don’t normally eat, and poof! We associate our lack of self-control with being “bad”. Part of the mindful eating philosophy is staying aware of our inner food critics. Foods are not a measure of self-worth, so when you hear self-criticism, let it go in one ear and out the other.
5. Communicate with your family about your goals!
Try your best to do this PRIOR to your family event, so things don't feel "awkward" or uncomfortable during the dinner itself. Make sure your family knows how important a healthy lifestyle is to you. You don't have to defend yourself or over-explain... just say your goals, why they are important to you, and maybe even offer to bring a healthy side dish or dessert! Who can argue with extra help?
Interested in learning more about mindful eating?
There are many books out there on mindful eating that serve as great resources to begin your journey of eating mindfully. I read “Intuitive Eating” & “Mindless Eating” for my undergraduate nutrition counseling and community nutrition courses. They were so insightful, and I believe, very useful for future nutrition professionals because they dive into the psychology behind mindless eating habits. After really becoming passionate about the mindful eating topic, I read “Eating Mindfully” on a plane ride back home from vacation. “Eating Mindfully” is a great beginners guide to mindful eating. For a detailed overview of these books, see the table below.
Mindful Eating in the Literature
“Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works” by Evelyn Tribole & Eylse Resch
This book is a great one to read one chapter at a time. There is so much great information that it’s best when read piece by piece, with time to reflect. If you can, keep a notebook as you read Intuitive Eating so you can do the activities in the chapters and reflect on new concepts.
“Intuitive Eating” takes you through the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating. It even has a chapter on raising intuitive eaters and a chapter discussing intuitive eating and its impact on eating disorders. You can discover which “type of eater” you are, or, you can use this as a reference for someone interested in intuitive eating!
“Eating Mindfully” by Susan Albers
You don’t have to read the entire book all at once, author Susan Albers makes it easy to do one chapter at a time and many of the pages are mindfulness exercises and bullet-pointed tips, so the pages are a quick read!
If you want to start engaging in mindfulness practice right now, “Eating Mindfully” is for you. The book is divided into five parts: mindfulness of the mind, body, feelings and thoughts, and mindful eating motivations. The checklists, activities and inspirational mantras make this a painless read for those who don’t love reading.
“Mindless Eating” by Brian Wansink
Mindless Eating is a quick read, and the chapters will keep you interested in the experiments that uncover the mindless eating habits of individuals and how to avoid mindless munching.
Brian Wansink is a professor and food psychologist at Cornell University writes about mindless eating topics such as: why we eat more dining with friends, why larger plates/bowls make us eat more, and how does the color and music of the room impact our eating habits?
Have a mindful holiday and savor all of your thanksgiving favorites!
I challenge you to teach at least one family member or friend what you learned about mindful eating.
Albers, S. (2012). Eating mindfully. New York, NY. MJF Books.
Eating Mindfully Book. (n.d.) Retrieved from
Intuitive Eating Book. (n.d.). [Web Image]. Retrieved from https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51OmgdrsNeL.jpg
Mindless Eating Book. (n.d.). [Web Image]. Retrieved from https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/61ualtkQWGL.jpg
Mindful Eating Plate. (n.d.). [Web Image]. Retrieved from https://www.solentsu.co.uk/pageassets/support/advicecentre/mindfullness/eating.jpg