How Do You Stick To Healthy Eating During The Holidays?
Healthy eating during the holidays? What’s that? Healthy can be a loaded word, especially for women who’s anxiety is heightened by fears of their bodies being too big and taking up too much space. To be clear, this is not a blog about how to lose weight during the holidays. No judgment on that goal, it’s just not the focus of this blog.
This also is not a blog about how to maintain your weight during the holidays. Nor is it a blog about how to slow down weight gain during the holidays. Weight, you’ll notice, is not in the title of this blog.
Stress Eating, Anxiety And Finding Meaning During the Holidays
This is a blog about how to eat during a time of high stress and delicious food. Many of us have put so much meaning into the food we put into our mouths: quantity, quality, timing, and combinations. We may have even hung our pride or identity on how and what we eat.
When we combine the meaning we give food about our health and worth, the seasonal holiday stress we feel and the changes we experience this time of year (e.g. seasonal foods, gatherings centered on eating, etc)… Well, they can combine into a combustible mixture of feeling out of control and self-loathing. But you can take steps to lessen the impact or eliminate that explosion.
An Anxious Relationship With Food At Christmas
Food does have a lot of meanings. It nourishes us, is delicious and enjoyable, and connects us with those we love. And these are just to name a few! When the holidays roll around, those delicious foods that we enjoy with our loved ones seem to be everywhere, in large quantities, and are often the focal point of our celebrations. These changes can inspire us to worry about the negative impacts:
- physical discomfort that can come with overeating (e.g. heartburn, nausea)
- emotional stress of overeating (e.g. shame, guilt, regret, fear)
- longer-term consequences to our health
- unwanted or socially undesirable changes to our appearance
It would be lovely if we could enjoy the amazing food of the season without stressing about being immoral, lazy, indulgent, undisciplined, or pre diabetic. It would be wonderful to enjoy the company and the food without a running dialogue of judgment in the background. But is it even possible?
Yes! It is possible to enjoy the food of the season.
What if we changed the food and health related goals from not gaining weight during the holidays to not feeling guilty when eating enjoyable foods and not feeling deprived when stopping eating those foods? What if we could embrace a mindful approach to how our bodies feel when we eat? Let’s play with the idea of eating when moderately hungry and stopping when moderately full.
How Do You Eat Mindfully Over The Holidays?
Mindfulness is being present and aware of what we are doing while we are doing it. Mindful eating is being present and aware of what you are eating while you are eating it and paying attention to how it feels physically and emotionally.
Paying attention to the joys of the holiday season would be amazing. Eating the yummy food, noticing how good it is while it is being done, and stopping when the stomach gives the cue that it’s satisfied can be so physically comfortable and emotionally satisfying. The cake can be eaten, enjoyed, and not over-indulged on before it becomes its own problem.
Will this help aid weight loss? Who knows, there are too many individual factors. What will not happen is a decrease in guilt and an increase in enjoyment of what was eaten. And less guilt and shame is good for your mental health.
Release Anxiety & Give Yourself Unconditional Permission to Eat
It is hard to overeat when one is mindful while eating. When mindful, the physical cues of satisfaction and fullness cannot be ignored. The only way to ignore them is to disassociate. Disassociation leads to more stress. This simple-but not necessarily easy-practice of paying attention while eating can increase emotional enjoyment of the act of eating and decrease the physical discomfort of over or undereating. It leads to emotional and physical satisfaction.
At a bare minimum, you’ll want to put your phone out of reach, turn off the TV and tune into the people and food around you. Breathe. Notice the texture and seasoning of the food. Enjoy how it smells and how it feels in your mouth. Can you hear a crunch as you chew? Is it warm and sweet? Does it make you thirsty?
Mindfulness Reduces Holidays Anxiety and Stress
It may seem a little backward, but mindfulness can also decrease holiday related stress, too. As busy as it gets, it can be easy to just plough through whatever is on the task list, not really noticing what is happening or how it connects to anything else. This is a form of disassociation and although it feels helpful in the moment, it takes away connection and awareness, thus lessening the power and enjoyment of the moment. Checking in, being mindful of one’s surroundings, what is happening, and how one is responding to it is what brings enjoyment and meaning to the activity.
You don’t have to try to be mindful all the time, or even throughout the entire party. Just
check in occasionally, and take stock of what is going on, in context, the thoughts and
feelings that are present. Take an inventory of all five senses:
- What is seen? Really look at the decorations.
- What is heard? How cute are those kids singing Christmas carols?
- Does the food, candle or tree smell good?
- How’s the temperature?
- How cozy is that Christmas sweater?
- And of course, how does the food taste?
Then, what emotions accompany those senses? Is the singing actually enjoyable or is it a little grating? Is there too much vanilla in the candle (or is that just me?). And of course, go ahead and really enjoy that Christmas food – it won’t come again until next year. Enjoy it.
It sounds simple because it is. Yet, when we practice mindfulness we truly experience deeper enjoyment and pressure begins to decrease.
The Connection Between Mindfulness And Stress
Mindfulness can often be described as a grand spiritual experience where everything is lush and precious. This is not the case. It might happen. Usually, though, mindfulness will not turn the holiday season into a hallmark movie. It will slow down the rushed feeling, decrease stress, decrease guilt, and increase enjoyment of the moment.
It’s a busy time of year with a lot to do. Take a breath, look around, check in with all five senses and watch the moment calm down and enjoyment increase. Especially while enjoying that amazing holiday food. Everyone here at Guided Wellness Counseling is wishing you a happy, healthy holiday season.