Mindful Eating for the Holidays

Mindful Eating for the Holidays

By: Melissa Lee BSc. ND.

It’s that time of year again!  The Carolers, the Christmas Markets, Mistletoe’s and delicious almond milk hot chocolate… Personally, the holiday season gets more exciting as a real winter kicks in with giant snowflakes and a perfect crisp in the air.

Despite these special moments, the holiday season has generally become an overindulgent one.  We find ourselves consumed with buying the best gift, spending a lot of money on the best dinner and spirits, or eating as much as we want and whatever we want.  Particularly, food around the holidays can be quite stressful for some people physically and mentally.  From a health standpoint, overeating and eating processed/refined foods can aggravate the digestive system and cause systemic inflammation.  Depending on one’s body the result could be bloating, diarrhea, constipation, weight gain, skin rashes, and the stress of self deprecating thoughts. Often times we find ourselves in a variety of scenarios leading us to overeat:

Scenario 1:

The holiday season has already started and just around the corner is the start of the marathon: family and friend dinners, work potlucks, and company Christmas parties.  You love going to all these events, but do you really want to feel bloated, uncomfortable and constipated for the next couple of days?  Suddenly you find yourself with your second helping of a delicious shortbread cookie in one hand and your third glass of red wine in the other.  It’s the holidays! Might as well enjoy right?

Scenario 2:

The holiday season has already started and just around the corner is the mad stress of buying presents and the anticipation of “disagreeable” relatives. You have to buy presents for person A, B, C, D, E, F, G,…Z.  You have to cook this dish and clean this specific way.  Oh no! You’re going to have to see that mother in law! Suddenly you find yourself with your second helping of a delicious shortbread cookie in one hand and your third glass of red wine in the other.  It’s the holidays! You need a drink!

Scenario 3:

The holiday season has already started and just around the corner is the start of the marathon of family and friend dinners, work potlucks, and company Christmas parties.  You are worried because you have been eating really well, you have lost weight and you are making a conscious effort to NOT eat any processed foods and desserts. Food is a struggle for you. Suddenly you find yourself with your second helping of a delicious shortbread cookie in one hand and your third glass of red wine in the other.  It’s the holidays! You feel a social pressure to eat and you are afraid of gaining weight.

The various scenarios can continue on and whether food anxiety is because of a stress response, social pressure, or an unhealthy relationship with food, there is one of many things that can help you: Mindfulness.  Mindfulness is about building and focusing on awareness of the body through paying attention to your thoughts and feelings (without a judgment statement).  Incorporating mindfulness in your eating practices will have a dramatic effect on decreasing symptoms of stress and overall improve your holiday experience.

So How Do We Mindfully Eat During the Holidays?

Mindful eating is about paying attention to the experience of drinking and eating.

For example, imagine you are in a far off land where food is known to be fantastic – let’s say Italy.  You find yourself with a few friends or a loved one at a restaurant overlooking a bright blue sea.  You are so relaxed that your senses are heightened to your surroundings. As your plate of pasta arrives, you suddenly find yourself curious: What do you smell? Is your mouth starting to salivate? What are the colours of the food presented to you? As you lift your fork for your first bite of Authentic Pasta, you hear only joy and laughter in the background which reminds of you of your childhood holiday dinners. You smell your pasta and take the first bite. Curiosity provokes you: What are the textures that you feel in your mouth? What are the flavours that you taste? And suddenly you chew your food ever so slowly to savor every bite hoping to deconstruct the flavours.  After swallowing you pause in appreciation: How do you feel? How does your stomach feel?

This is an example of mindful eating.  In the holiday context, sometimes this can be difficult in a loud and boisterous environment, so here are 5 tips for you to eat mindfully during the holidays:

1.     Identify Hunger

Are we hungry or are we thirsty? On average males need to consume about 3 liters of water per day and females need to consume around 2.2 litres of water per day.  This amount can vary depending on our diet, our physical activity and our health, but ask yourself: are you consuming these amounts of water?   If you aren’t coming close to these amounts you may be dehydrated.  A sign of dehydration is hunger.  So if you are hungry drink some water or a hot tea and observe your body’s response.

2.     Chew your food

Our saliva contains digestive enzymes like linguinal lipase and salivary amylase.  When we chew these enzymes start to breakdown food. This breakdown does two things: (1) stimulates our stomach to release more hydrochloric acid in anticipation of the food coming its way and (2) it signals our brain to release hormones which gives us a sense of how full we are.  By chewing your food 15- 20 times per bite, your brain will be able to process the signals that your stomach receptors send to the brain.  This eating practice allows you to feel how full you are so that you can eat until you are 80% full.

3.      Sit down to Eat

You weren’t made to eat on the run so make an effort to sit down and eat!  In the midst of running errands, getting dinners ready, cleaning the house, or meeting deadlines at work, give yourself time and permission to sit and eat.  Sitting will help activate that parasympathetic nervous system: your rest and digest phase, which further improves the digestive process.  If this is hard to do at every meal, then pick one meal at a time to sit down at and gradually increase the amount of meals you sit and eat.

4.     No multitasking at meals

Eat in silence for the first 5 minutes of your meal as a family practice or self practice.  This will build your awareness to your surroundings rather than being distracted by a television, a book, or a computer.

5.     Stress management: Breathe!

Stress can be a big trigger for grabbing a piece of chocolate, cookies, or bag of chips. When you feel the stress response come, take a moment to breathe.  All you need is two minutes! Two minutes!  Focus on breathing into the lower belly to activate a calming response.  Here is an example of a breathing exercise you can do.

When you catch yourself in the stress response, pause and don’t reach for that snack.   Then:

i.     Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down.  Place one hand on your abdomen and the other hand on your chest.
ii.    Gently exhale the air in your lungs through your mouth.
iii.   Inhale slowly through your nose pushing out your abdomen slightly and concentrating on your breath (4 counts)
iv.   Hold for 4 counts
v.    Slowly exhale through the mouth and gently contract your abdominal muscles to completely release the remaining air in the lungs (8 counts).
vi.Repeat this until you feel the stress response calm down.

Eating doesn’t have to be stressful.  It can be fun and nourishing with a little bit of mindfulness. I wish you all the best during the Holiday Season! If you have any questions come visit me at the Waterdown Clinic of Naturopathic Medicine.

In Health,

Dr. Melissa Lee ND

Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

Insight Naturopathic Clinic – 550 Eglinton Ave E – Toronto, ON  – 416-322-9980

www.insightnaturopathic.com | www.santehealth.ca

We thank Dr. Lee for her article. We hope our readers find some great advice and decide to take it.  Enjoy your holiday season.

Warm Holiday thoughts

Karen Aquino
Go Cooking Coordinator

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