Seasonal celebrations are in full swing, and while family gatherings and office parties are supposed to be fun and relaxing, the full feasts and stocked bars that accompany them can be intimidating . We chatted with wellness coach and Busy Happy Healthy blogger Amina AlTai to better understand what mindful eating is and how it can be practiced during the holidays.
What is mindful eating?
Eating mindfully is about being present and aware while you’re eating. Slowing down, acknowledging the food you’re about to eat, being conscious of its taste, texture, smell, and understanding its role in your life.
How does holiday stress trigger mindless eating?
The holidays can be hard and triggering for a lot of us and it spills over onto our plates. Whether it's being around family or being exposed to the buffets full of sugar and fried foods, eating well and mindfully can be such a challenge this time of year.
The emotional triggers are the biggie. Oftentimes, we eat to stifle a feeling we don’t want to feel. If we’re angry, sad, depressed etc. we often reach for a pint of the nearest ice cream or biggest bar of chocolate rather than sitting with that feeling.
This time of year we are exposed to a lot of our emotional triggers (often by way of family) and we can find ourselves surrounded by less-than-healthy options. So, rather than recognizing an old feeling or habit and hitting the meditation cushion, we often turn to the gingerbread house instead.
Is there more of an all or nothing approach to eating around the holidays?
Life and eating are both about balance. I highly recommend a loving and aware approach to holiday eating. First, it’s important to know what your triggers are. If you’re usually a healthy eater but the minute you’re around family you’re in a state of panic eating whatever you can find that’s laced in sugar, it’s a sign that family gatherings trigger you. If you’re not emotionally triggered by family, but lose your mind at the first sight of the buffet, it’s important to be aware of that too. I highly recommend a free-writing exercise around your triggers so you can see what comes to the surface. Where do you feel most out of control around food and why? What’s our family history around food? Are they emotional eaters and why? There might be a story of anxiety or lack hiding in there that’s important to get to the surface.
Not all of us turn to disordered eating during the holidays and there isn’t an all or nothing approach to it. We all have slip-ups from time to time. If you catch yourself elbow deep in a platter of Christmas cookies, that's no biggie. It's actually a big win that you caught yourself! But it's extremely important not to punish yourself or dwell on that less-than-stellar behavior because that’s our ego speaking. And our ego is often what keeps us stuck and perpetuating the all or nothing behavior. Be kind to yourself and simply try again. The best way to change a behavior is to be aware of it and practice the change.
How does technology affect our ability to eat mindfully?
Absolutely! We live in a multi-screen world and often eat our meals at the computer or hunched over a phone. Eating mindfully is about saying no to those distractions so you can fully embrace what’s on your plate and what you want it to do for your body.
How can you practice mindfulness while still celebrating? Are the two mutually exclusive?
Of course you can! True food freedom is the ability to have a bit of your absolute favorite food, recognize the value it brings to your life and then leave the rest for others to enjoy. If you love chocolate, have a square of dark chocolate. If pizza is your thing, have a slice. The real concerns lie around our inability to find balance. So, if you know you can’t just have one bite, or one square of chocolate, that’s a sign that you might have some form of an emotional relationship with this particular food. You need to iron it out before you can experience emotional freedom with it and indulge every now and again.
Is there such a thing as being too mindful during meals? Can eating mindfully lead to obsession?
If you’re obsessing over food or a feeling around food, you’re not being mindful. You’ve lost yourself to the emotion and that’s when you need to unpack what’s behind it.
What are some simple tips for practicing mindfulness at meal times?
Here are a few of my go-tos for clients who want to eat more mindfully:
- Be present: Turn off all distractions and just be present. That means no phones, tvs, iPads or computers. Then take a moment to breathe and come into your body.
- Say a prayer: And I don’t mean this in a religious sense, I mean it in a spiritual one. Acknowledge where your food came from, how it was prepared and how it arrived on your plate and send a note of thanks out into the universe.
- Think about the role of food for you: Primarily, food if meant to nourish our cells and also provide a bit of joy. When you stop to think about that, it changes the game. If you’re looking at food as a vehicle to help you live better, you no longer want to overindulge on the foods that are going to make you feel less than your best.
- Forgive and reboot: If you eat something that doesn’t serve your highest self, don’t spiral into self-loathing and hatred—remember that’s what keeps us stuck. Simply forgive yourself and promise to do better next time.
Be sure to follow Amina for more mindful eating tips to jumpstart your 2017 goals.