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Mindful Eating During the Holiday Season

Let’s be honest. No one looks forward to the holidays because of the diet-friendly foods available. A majority of the population assumes dieting during the holidays to be unrealistic or, at the very least, challenging. Admittedly, this time does create additional barriers for many people while hoping to remain diet-compliant. Travel, hefty credit card bills, an increase in the presence of tempting foods, and social pressures are just a few examples of obstacles people face.

As a coach, I always advocate for my clients to understand the likely setback from eating off plan and to at least TRY sticking with it. However, I am also a human and can 100% empathize with the struggle.

Mindfulness is vital when entering the holiday season and sustaining weight loss long-term. Implementing mindfulness techniques is part of what helps transform your relationship with food while helping you maintain good eating habits.

First, let’s break down the meaning of the word mindful. When practicing mindfulness, there is no black-and-white or definitive outcome. It’s about intentionally bringing awareness to the present, responding to situations more deliberately, and accepting imperfections in these situations. If you see yourself potentially struggling to stay utterly compliant with the plan or any diet, this blog is for you! Here are a few tips to help you practice mindful eating techniques while entering the holiday season.

1. Recognize Hunger Cues vs. Habit

Various studies suggest that even a short mindfulness exercise can improve the perception of hunger signals substantially. The first step is to distinguish between the different feelings of hunger.

  • Physical Hunger – Physical hunger is easy to prevent, which makes it easier to manage. Aim to eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day (more on this later). Listen to your body’s interoceptive cues. This will help you recognize biological hunger once you feel it. Some bodily sensations you typically associate with need consist of a grumbling stomach, headache, inability to focus, or lack of energy. I recommend keeping a journal and logging any physical feelings before and after meals. This will help identify what hunger actually feels like.
  • Emotional Hunger – If you rule out that you are not feeling physical hunger, start to question your current emotional state. You may feel a way that triggers an emotional release that may have been satisfied with food in the past. Try identifying this at the moment and work to find alternative coping mechanisms such as exercise, meditation, or talking to a friend.
  • Hedonic Hunger – Mindfulness is a huge part of identifying this type of hunger. Start bringing more awareness to your sensory response to food and eating. Eat without outside distractions and pay attention to the taste, texture, and smell of your food. Determining what senses your cravings stem from is helpful in finding healthy alternatives that possess the same senses.
  • Habitual Hunger – Try bringing more awareness to situations or environments that you find often lead to habitual hunger. Knowing this can help me mentally prepare in order to plan ahead. Planning exactly what your meals and snacks will be helps to avoid the impulsive nature of habitual eating.

2. Try Thinking Less in Terms of All or Nothing

If you slip up and have something “off plan,” understand that there is a big difference between having one thing off and moving on and having one thing off and then binging. This reasoning is detrimental to our way of thinking about food and often leads to persistent weight gain.

I see this all the time: people telling themselves their food choices for the remainder of the day don’t matter because they already “cheated,” so they may as well go big or go home. Just because you slip up does not mean you will not still see results. Even if you do not see results on the scale, each time you make the decision to avoid this pattern of thinking, it’s one more decision that leads you closer to subconsciously leaving this mindset in the past. If you have a sweet treat, cut back on carbs elsewhere throughout your meal.

Try prioritizing the foods that are special to that holiday. If you eat anything off plan, you would probably feel better knowing it was something you can’t have any time you want. Most people don’t have stuffing on their weekly grocery lists. Potatoes? You can have those anytime.

3. Continue to Eat Small and Frequent Meals

If you’re currently an Awaken180° client, you most likely know how important this is! Try keeping these small and frequent meals packed with protein even prior to your holiday feast. This will keep your blood sugar steady and make you feel more satiated. This way, when you get to the main meal, you are less likely to overeat and more likely to make healthier choices.

If you do not eat throughout the day in an attempt to save calories and anticipate over-consumption, you are setting yourself up (both mentally and physically) for failure. It is not rocket science; if you do not eat, you’ll inevitably feel ravenous and purge on instantly gratifying foods – typically carb/sugar heavy.

4. Manage Your Stress

This is something many may want to work on in anticipation of having the whole family together in one place. Stress management is so important for our physical, mental, and emotional health. When we feel under stress, this leads to an excess production of a stress hormone called cortisol. This then stimulates ghrelin, often referred to as our hunger hormone since it increases our appetite.

Try meditating, practicing breathwork, going for a walk, making tea, journaling, etc. Try branching out and exploring new ways to manage stress if you do not already have a good system in place.

5. Limit Your Alcohol Intake

When entering the holidays, it’s always nice to magnify the holiday spirit by socializing with loved ones while enjoying some drinks. However, most understand through experience that alcohol can lead to poor food choices.

Studies find that alcohol consumption before or after meals can increase food intake by up to 30%. Alcohol consumption can cause dehydration and lower our blood sugar, which also means we’re more likely to desire calorie and sugar-dense food. Alcohol can also lower our inhibitions, which means we’re more likely to make worse food choices in general.

6. Load Up Your Plate with Healthy Food Choices

Start with eating your veggies, protein, and healthy fats before anything else. The fiber in veggies and calories coming from healthy fat with your protein will help take the edge off your appetite. By the time you finish, you may notice that you are satiated before moving on to something you felt initially tempted by.

Always remember that our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs. It takes about 20 minutes for your body to feel full, so try and wait before determining you need something else to satiate you. Also, try to eat slowly! The slower you eat, the less time your body has to play catch up, so you will feel fuller sooner.  If you do still have the desired treat, keep the portion size small.

7. Learn to Say No

There is a lot of discomfort that stems from using this word. Especially when coming from a place of wanting to please others. The cultural history surrounding this belief leads to present-day assumptions that passing up food as a guest is disrespectful and insulting. Of course, you can accept what is being offered and try only taking a bite or two. OR you can politely decline and let them know you do not want ____ to interfere with your goals. If you feel uncomfortable with them knowing you are on a diet, you can change the narrative slightly with a reason hard to counter.

For example, you can let them know, “I find that having _____ (gluten, dairy, alcohol, etc.) has been causing stomach issues. I am trying to avoid eating this to see if I start feeling better”. You can go in many different directions with this without having to directly say what you are doing.

8. Get Right Back On Track

Lastly, if you slip up, please give yourself some grace. Acknowledge you are human and have slip-ups. The most important thing is getting back on track as soon as you can. The biggest mistake anyone can make when losing weight is allowing one mistake to lead to self-doubt. When we self-doubt, we start to question our goals and discredit any progress we’ve made. Then we start to justify any preceding poor food choices, which a lot of times rolls into the next day, the whole week, the whole month, etc. Your body does not care what your intentions are, and stalling getting back on track is only going to make it that much more difficult.

At Awaken180°, clients come in weekly to sit down and meet with one of our coaches. A vital part of these meetings is planning for the upcoming week. During the holidays, we typically preface this question by asking our clients what their goals (or at least intentions) are during this time. When you come in for your discovery consultation or weekly appointment, please know the more honest you are, the better we can serve you. I promise we’re not here to shame or judge! Understanding our client’s goals helps us tailor our coaching to be more realistic and, in turn, best support each client’s individual needs.

Finally, keep in mind the holidays are about more than just the food. This is a time when we embrace and reconnect with the people we love. Be fully present and less focused on the food itself. Hopefully, these tips will help you confidently navigate the holiday season while still tackling your weight loss goals.