When the holidays roll around, even those of us who normally eat healthfully can overindulge. Special foods abound—cooked by loved ones—and it’s hard to resist the combination of home-made dishes and a festive holiday gathering.
If the thought of all those holiday feasts already has you feeling guilty and stressed, the practice of mindful eating can help—and it’s easy to do. “Mindful eating is simply eating with awareness and intention and without judgment,” says Adam Perlman, M.D., meQ chief medical officer.
Mindful eating does not equal deprivation, he says. In fact, quite the opposite: It means savoring every bite. You aim for balance, not perfection. To help you gain that balance, Perlman offers these five tips on how to practice mindful eating this holiday season.
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If you want dessert, claim it. “What I’ll say to my patients is don’t just grab dessert because dessert is there,” says Perlman. “Be intentional. Know that, ‘Right now, I’m going to sit down and enjoy dessert.’”
Some people set an 80/20 rule, meaning they eat healthfully 80 percent of the time and indulge the other 20 percent. Perlman’s own personal mantra is to eat healthfully 90 percent of the time, and then 10 percent of the time he splurges.
Prepare ahead of time.
Setting an intention ahead of a party or big feast can help keep you from mindlessly overeating in the moment. “Maybe it’s, ‘Tonight I’m going to make sure I don’t eat too much during the meal, because I know my grandma makes the best apple pie. And I’m going to want a big piece of that,’” says Perlman. “Or maybe it’s ‘I’m going to three holiday parties in a row, so I’ll only have dessert at one of them.’”
You also can plan further in advance. Maybe a week or two before a holiday party, you skip desserts and carb-heavy meals so that you can enjoy whatever you want at the gathering. Regardless of the focus, having an intention can help you navigate temptation when it arises.
Let yourself indulge.
During the holidays, we encounter all sorts of foods we love to eat—and many of them aren’t on menus any other time of the year. How do we control portions?
Perlman’s advice: “You don’t need to. I’d say, ‘My aunt makes the best stuffing—I’ll probably take seconds.’ The only thing not to do is eat so much you feel sick.” (And don’t eat the stuffing if you have celiac disease, he points out.)
Maybe you go into it with the knowledge that you might gain a few pounds over the holidays. But, knowing this, you also might choose to do a cleanse after the holidays or step up your exercise routine and eat a more balanced diet.
In the behavioral health world, a popular concept is adding friction to deter bad habits. For example, if you don’t want to hit the snooze button on your alarm anymore, move the alarm clock across the room so you have to get up to turn it off.
Perlman suggests a few strategies that may motivate you to eat or drink in a more mindful manner. “Use smaller plates. Drink a glass of water in between glasses of wine,” he says. Another idea: If you typically bring leftover containers to a family meal, leave them at home.
If the issue is that you feel deprived of certain special foods until the holidays, try eating them throughout the year. Make them once a month, for example. Then you may not feel the need to overindulge during the holidays.