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Just in time for the Holidays.
Leftover Halloween candy. Marathon Thanksgiving meals. Up-for-grabs office chocolates. One holiday party followed by another…and another.
Whether you want to avoid overeating and gaining those extra pounds, you need to control your blood sugar (for example, if you have diabetes), or you simply wish to consume only what your body requires, the holiday season can make that goal challenging.
But mindful eating might help you reach it.
Mindfulness refers to the practice of being aware and in the moment. All too often, our thoughts wander somewhere other than where we are in the moment. Perhaps we are preoccupied with what happened an hour ago, worried about what might happen tomorrow, or stressed over what we need to do next week. Mindfulness encourages us to notice these preoccupations, and then to gently bring ourselves back to the now.
Mindfulness can help you fully enjoy a meal and the experience of eating — with moderation and restraint. Some studies suggest that mindfulness-based practices help improve eating habits. For those who binge-eat or eat for comfort or out of stress, mindful eating may even aid with weight loss.
Here are 10 tips for more mindful eating. Not all of these tips may feel right for you — try a few and see how they work.
Before you begin eating, take a moment to reflect upon how you feel. Are you rushed? Stressed? Sad? Bored? Hungry? What are your wants, and what are your needs? Differentiate between the two. After you have taken this moment to reflect, then you can choose if you want to eat, what you want to eat, and how you want to eat.
2. Sit down.
Don’t eat on the go. Have a seat. You’re less likely to appreciate your food when you are multi-tasking. It’s also difficult to keep track of how much you are eating when you snack on the go.
3. Turn off the TV (and everything else with a screen).
Have you ever glanced down from your phone or tablet or computer, only to wonder where all the food went? These distractions make us less aware of what and how much we are eating.
4. Serve out your portions.
Resist eating straight from the bag or the box. Not only is it easier to overeat when you can’t see how much you’ve had, but it is also harder to fully appreciate your food when it is hidden from view.
5. Pick the smaller plate.
You might crave less if you see less. Smaller plates will help you with your portion control — an especially good strategy for those all-you-can-eat buffets.
6. Give gratitude.
Before you start to eat, pause and take a moment to acknowledge the labor that went into providing your meal — be it thanks to the farmers, the factory workers, the animals, mother Earth, the chefs, or even your companions at the table.
7. Chew 30 times.
Try to get 30 chews out of each bite. (30 is a rough guide, as it might be difficult to get even 10 chews out of a mouthful of oatmeal!) Take time to enjoy the flavors and textures in your mouth before you swallow. This may also help prevent overeating by giving your gut time to send messages to the brain to say you’re full.
8. Put down your utensil.
Often, we are already preparing the next morsel with our fork and knife while we are still on our previous bite. Try putting down your utensils after each bite, and don’t pick them back up until you have enjoyed and swallowed what you already have in your mouth.
9. Resign from the Clean Plate Club.
Many of us were brought up to finish everything on our plate and were not allowed to leave the table until we did. It’s okay to cancel your membership to the Clean Plate Club. Consider packing the leftovers to go, or just leaving the last few bites. Even though nobody likes to waste food, overstuffing yourself won’t help those in need. (This is also where Tip #5 comes in handy.)
Try eating your meals in silence once in a while. When it’s quiet, it is natural for the mind to wander; acknowledge these thoughts, and then see if you can gently return to your experience of eating. Be conscious of the food’s consistency, flavor, tastes, and smells, and fully appreciate the moment. Of course, mealtime can be an important time for sharing the day when the whole household gathers, so having an entire meal in silence might be impractical or just feel awkward. But even spending the first five to 10 minutes in silence can be refreshing and set a grateful tone for the rest of the meal.
Mindfulness offers many benefits throughout the year, but can be especially helpful during the holidays, even beyond healthful eating. Purposefully focusing your attention on the present can help you embrace companionship, connectivity, and overall contentment and help make the season more meaningful for you.
Wynn Armand, MD
Harvard Health Publications