Mindful eating during the holiday season

Published 12:54 pm Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Healthy holiday eating is a popular topic, but the focus is typically on which foods to avoid or recipe substitutions. However, how often do we look beyond what we should be avoiding and instead at how we should be eating? It’s equally important to work on a healthier relationship with food and eating, which can be described as “mindful eating.” This involves paying close attention to whether we’re hungry or full, slowing down and being in the moment with each bite or sip, and having a more positive view of eating.

Emily Schmidt

Emily Schmidt

A major aspect of mindful eating is paying attention to hunger and satiety. Before reaching for the candy dish or going for seconds at the dinner table, pause to analyze how hungry you are on a scale from 1 to 10. If 1 on the scale means “extremely hungry to the point where any food sounds good right now” and 10 is “extremely full to the point of feeling ill,” it’s best to stay within the range of 4 to 7. At 4 on the hunger scale you are just beginning to feel slightly hungry. On the other hand, 7 is a comfortable level of feeling satisfied after eating, but not close to feeling uncomfortable or stuffed. Preventing ourselves from getting too hungry is just as important as preventing excessive fullness. This involves slowing down at meals and snacks and allowing the stomach’s satiety signals to reach the brain.

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To slow down and be in the moment while eating or drinking means truly savoring each bite or sip. Many of us have been conditioned to quickly eat a meal or snack for the sake of time, or perhaps because growing up you had to eat fast or you wouldn’t get enough to eat. Try chewing each bite 10 or even 20 times and really think about how the food tastes and feels in your mouth. Oftentimes we eat so quickly and mindlessly that we barely remember the details of how something tasted. Make eating a positive experience where each bite of pumpkin pie or mashed potatoes is not just another bite.

When eating is a positive, nurturing experience, it’s easier to enjoy a small glass of egg nog or piece of fudge guilt-free. With a negative or fearful attitude in mind when approaching a holiday dinner table or buffet, we’re more likely to overindulge in large portions of tasty food and beverages and end up feeling guilty about it later. Allowing permission to enjoy things in moderation, rather than constantly restricting, is the key to keeping things in line and avoiding overeating. Setting a goal of having zero desserts or sweet treats this holiday season is setting you up for enjoying a few too many cookies and slices of cheesecake.

Ultimately, working on your relationship with eating and food this holiday season may be something to consider. The issue may not always be what you are eating, but instead how you are eating. Listen to your body and recognize what it needs or doesn’t need, savor and enjoy each bite or sip in a mindful manner, avoid a negative perspective of eating, and there’s a good chance you’ll have a holiday season full of good health.

Albert Lea resident Emily Schmidt is a registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea. She enjoys writing, cooking and spending time with her son and family.