Go on…have your cake – eating mindfully during the festive season
Whether it be a family dinner, a weekly Sunday lunch, Diwali, Eid, Thanks Giving, Christmas Day or Rosh Hashana… one thing that is guaranteed, if your family is anything like mine, is that there will be food – an abundance of it!!
Thinking back to the experience I have had with my patients as well as my own family festive occasions, I have noticed how, at times, such wonderful occasions can be tainted with sequences of unfortunate events that involve food anxiety, over-eating and inevitable regret. There is light at the end of the tunnel !!
It all begins with the cycle of pre-empting the amount of food there will be at the event and how you are going to possibly avoid eating it all, followed by some mindless feasting which then results in a self-induced famine and copious amounts of exercise to desperately ‘undo the damage’.
On a scale of one-to-full, leaving your festive family meal, how do you feel? Stuffed! Uncomfortable!
Guilt, anxiety, mindlessness won the war!
Festive seasons are a great time to learn some important skills which allow you to relax about food and eat better at the same time. They are a great opportunity for us to become more mindful.
What is mindfulness anyway?
Mindfulness as stated by Jon Kabat-Zinn is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experiences, moment to moment“. Similarly, mindful eating is allowing yourself to become aware of the positive opportunities that your food choice has for you, while using all your senses to really appreciate the different textures, colours and flavours in a non-judgemental way. It is about being in tune with your hunger and satiety cues and allowing them to guide your eating, developing a healthier relationship with food. As Glenn Mackintosh, the founder of Weight Management Psychology and team member on Australia’s Biggest Loser, explains, mindful eating’s second name is intuitive eating.
Research shows that mindful eaters are not only much healthier, but they also sit at lower body weight than dieters and they have lower rates of eating disorders. It is a shift from overclouding your mind with anxiety and guilt around food, taking away the ‘food rules’ to being more conscious about how the foods you eat make you feel, the way in which you eat them and your satiety cues.
The key principles to healthy and mindful eating during a festive season or at big occasions are:
1 Be prepared – eat normally throughout the day
The key here is to still ensure you have your daily meal routine. Eating balanced meals as part of your regular daily routine is key. According to the Satter Eating Competence Model, this ensures that that you arrive at your event hungry enough to enjoy your meal, but not starved.
2 No more rules – give yourself some freedom
What happens with too many rules? We rebel. Research shows that people who forbid foods generally land up craving these items more causing them to over-indulge as a result of the guilt associated with it. Many people who follow the rules tend to reward themselves with the “forbidden” food in a guilt-ridden mindless way, resulting in overconsumption and more weight gain. Allow yourself to eat what you enjoy in a mindful way. How do you do this you may ask? Wait to see what’s on the menu for the night, and in a non-judgemental or anxious way, dish up a plate of the foods that you enjoy the most – trying to ensure you have some variety while you still max out the nutritional benefits that all the foods have to offer.
3 Re-establish hunger intuition
Honouring hunger is the name of the game. When we babies we are able to self-regulate, we cry when we are hungry and stop eating when we are full. As we grow older, parents possibly force us to finish the food on our plate, we eat according to a clock or according to a diet; forcing us to ignore our hunger cues. Before and throughout the meal, consciously assess how hungry or full you are according to a hunger scale, with 1 being beyond hungry to a point of feeling sick up to 10 being beyond full and feeling physically miserable. So, assess how hungry you are and dish up the foods that tickle your taste buds accordingly.
4 Be in the moment
Be present when you eat. I know there is a lot of socializing and catching-up that takes place at such family meals, but that is no reason to get distracted, eat quickly or eat standing. Find a seat next to your favourite person, slowly chew your food, savouring the different flavours and textures. Eating while multi-tasking is bound to land you up in a cycle of chew, swallow, dish more, repeat.
5 “Hara Hachi Bu“ – eat until 80% full
Respecting fullness is an important element – tapping into your hunger intuition and learning to acknowledge when you are full. Taken from the Power 9 framework of the Blue Zones, the mantra “Hara hachi bu”, is said by Okinawans before every meal. This is a reminder to stop eating when they are 80% full. That 20% gap is the difference between feeling stuffed and feeling comfortable, and scientifically has been shown to be the difference between losing weight and gaining weight.
6 Quit the clean plate club
Were you brought up to finish the food on your plate or else? It’s time to hand in your card and resign from this club. If you are worried to waste food, then maybe use a smaller plate to dish up but finishing your food and feeling uncomfortable because you were programmed to, will not help you. Leaving a bite or two on your plate makes a difference.
7 Wait 20 minutes before going for seconds
Give your body some time to digest your food. It is both your brain and the stomach that allow you to feel satisfied after a meal through the brain receiving many signals from digestive hormones secreted by the gastrointestinal tract as well as nerve signals that link the gut and the brain. The theory states that by eating to quickly, you may not have given enough time for cross-talk between the gut and brain to occur.
8 Stay hydrated and drink intuitively
Don’t forget to drink water. It helps with digestion and keeps you hydrated. Eating intuitively comes hand in hand with drinking intuitively. Yes, I am referring to alcohol. We all want to celebrate and have a good time, and although many of us have been down this road, restricting food intake to compensate for alcohol calories and ‘drunk eating’ is not the best way to go about this. Be mindful, think of how your drink is making you feel and how you will feel after drinking it and enjoy it.
9 Stop picking and just take a piece
You tell yourself you CAN’T have crisps, a piece of bread, quiche or brownie and, yet, somehow you find yourself picking at all these ‘forbidden’ foods that have either landed up in front of you or find their way into your hand instead of the Tupperware. Stop! Dish out a portion for yourself, sit down and enjoy your food without the fear and guilt. When you pick at food with a pre-occupied mind, you land up eating more than you would if were to take a small portion.
10 Give your body what it enjoys
Although we are trying to ditch the rules, it is still important to understand which foods make your body feel nourished, energized and strong and which make your body feel drained, bloated and uncomfortable. This, in fact, becomes your natural motivation to eat well.
Come one!! Give it a go. Yes, there will be times you do go home after over-indulging and feeling pretty stuffed, but I encourage you to be a mindful eater during your festive season. You may even notice how you land up eating less. Dive into the eating experience and see how your food choices balance out, nourish your body the way it needs and teach yourself new skills to improve your eating habits at the same time!!
Nourish yourself to the sunrise.
Written with love ,
Sunrise by HM
Nourished yet? Comment on what I should write about next?
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