Whether you’re on a special diet or just trying to eat more mindfully, holidays have a way of throwing a wrench in your best-laid plans. Temptations abound (how can you say no to extra servings of those favorite dishes?), and family, as much as we love them, can cause added stress―which, we also know, often leads to unwise food decisions.
But with a little effort, you can indulge in holiday treats―within reason, of course―while staying on a healthy and mindful track. Here’s how.
1. Be mindful about how you eat
First off, remember to chew slowly. It may sound simple, but the slower you eat, the less likely you will be to stuff yourself and feel uncomfortably full. Why? Research suggests that for some people eating slowly gives the brain time to register feelings of fullness and satisfaction. You’re also more likely to taste, and enjoy, what you’re eating.
To help jumpstart more mindful eating during the holidays, culinary educator Lauren Chandler also recommends taking a break from whatever party or gathering you’re attending for a quick walk around the block. “Take a breather. Get some fresh air,” she says. This can help you be more deliberate about what you eat next.
2. Fill half your plate with vegetables
The holidays are a time of excess, and often that means foods made with overly processed carbohydrates (think white flour) and lots of fat and sugar. But you don’t have to eat that way. First load your plate with vegetables. Even those considered high in carbohydrates, such as winter squashes and sweet potatoes, provide good-for-you vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
3. Stop negative talk in its tracks
When faced with stressful days and seemingly endless food decisions, it can be easy to speak negatively to yourself, like, “You know you’ll overeat; you have no willpower!” But Chandler asks her clients: “Would you say that to your best friend?” If you wouldn’t tell your friend, “You can’t do this,” then it’s certainly not okay to say that to yourself, she notes. Treat yourself as you would somebody you hold dear and be supportive instead, and remember to use resilience tools like Trap it, Map it, Zap it to gain control over negative thinking.
4. Practice Gratitude
Take the time to focus on what is positive and wonderful about your meal. “Gratitude could take a lot of different paths,” Chandler says. “It could be looking at what’s on the table and thinking of all the hands that went into getting those seeds into the ground, who harvested it, loaded it, packed it, and then placed it on the grocery store shelf. Focusing on your gratitude also takes the pressure off of, ‘Is this healthy for me?’”
This is something you can engage in with other family members as well, says Chandler. Sharing a moment to acknowledge all that went into making a meal―or even just one particular dish―can be really powerful.