Holidays are a time for celebration and gathering with friends and family. Celebration also means a lot of food, drinks, and indulgence. For those who are trying to improve their health, holidays can be a very stressful time. Navigating the holiday season without compromising health goals is a challenge, but practicing mindfulness can help keep those goals in check.
The easiest way to stay mindful during the holidays is to do what I call “Hunger Checks”. These should be done before, during, and after a meal. Before eating, assess how hungry you are. Using a scale from 1 to 10, 1 being absolutely starving, and 10 being totally stuffed, you want to start eating around a 3. So, if you are at a 3 before you even leave for a holiday event, have a small snack, like a piece of fruit with some nuts, or crackers with cheese. You never want to arrive at a party famished, because if you do, you will likely make really poor food decisions.
Midway through the meal or the party, check in with your hunger level. This mid-meal check-in serves two important functions: 1) it helps you assess how much more you think you can eat before feeling full, and 2) allows you to slow down and take a minute to breathe. If you are still hungry, continue to eat. If you are starting to feel full, around a 6-7, take a rest. Near the end of the meal, you should assess your hunger level one more time. When you get to about a 7-8 out of 10, or comfortably full, stop eating.
The holidays are also a time where a lot of “trigger foods” are present, those foods that you just can’t stop eating. Using mindfulness can help you enjoy these foods without overindulging. As you eat your trigger food, make sure every bite is as good as the first, and simultaneously check in with your satiety levels. If you stop to savor every bite, and notice the flavors and textures, you may notice that you enjoy the experience of eating that food rather than having negative feelings about eating it. And remember, if you give yourself permission to eat all foods, trigger foods will lose their novelty and appeal.
Mindfulness takes practice, but paying attention to your hunger levels can help you enjoy your favorite foods without sabotaging your health goals this holiday season.