Mindful Eating at the Holidays

Hands exchanging a greeting card that says "thankful."
Image by Freepik.

When thinking about eating during the holiday season, mindfulness might not be the first thing that comes to mind! That’s okay…and expected, really. The holidays themselves and the various food scenarios that come with it mean different things to different people. One person’s traditional multi-day preparation for an elaborate Feast of 7 Fishes sounds like someone else’s recipe for multi-day anxiety, for example. But beyond that, this time of year often comes linked with busy-ness, stress, and worries. 

Frankly, remembering to be mindful of your food intake might seem like a luxury right now. It might feel like something of little import given the global health and safety situation these days. What I’m suggesting here is not meant to add yet another item to your “to do” list. Instead, I’m offering ideas that incorporate mindful eating strategies as a way to help you find a little peace and satisfaction in some of the simple moments of the season. See if any of these ideas sound like something that might work for you this season…

Savor the simple.

This is the first year in many that I won’t be hosting a huge holiday party in my home. Days of food prep, decorating, and cleaning (okay, not that much cleaning)—all for the purpose of providing my friends (and me) with a few hours of holiday merriment. It just isn’t going to happen this year. Yes, I’m sad about that (and I’ve heard from friends that they are, too!). However, after some thought, I’ve decided to look at this situation as a gift. In many ways, being “forced” to pare back on parties and social time this season means that what we end up keeping in our lives becomes elevated.

I’m looking at this “cocooning” time as a chance to tune in to myself and my immediate family, and what makes us happy right now. Those things aren’t fancy dinners or big parties (although those are fun sometimes). In reality, most of the specialness of the holidays comes from our more intimate times with each other, right? Food, of course, is usually a part of that! What does this look like? You get to decide.

For us, it will mean making (and baking) simple holiday favorite foods that I just haven’t had enough time for in the last few years. It will also mean having some very relaxed, snack-dinners (probably crackers, cheese, nuts, and fruit) by the fire. Some night it may even mean pancakes (or French toast) for supper. Whatever it is, I’m going to keep it simple and skip the stress (and the stress-eating). Holiday food doesn’t have to be complicated or extravagant to be special and memorable. 

Slow down. 

One of the main pillars of mindful eating is to slow it all down. Holidays don’t usually feel like slowing down to me. This year, however, I’m looking forward to taking everything down a notch and just allowing myself to enjoy what is, and what is happening in the moment. As far as food and eating, giving ourselves ample time to eat a meal (20 minutes at least) is crucial for enjoyment. We can barely taste our food, let alone register fullness or satisfaction, when we eat quickly. Eating fast just isn’t conducive to eating mindfully.

Have a dedicated “eating space.” Turn off the TV. Put away the phone. Ditch the reading materials. These acts all make tuning in to the tastes, textures, and temperature contrasts of your meals much easier. When you focus on all the good that’s in your food, you often find you don’t eat as much. What you’ve eaten is more satisfying in a variety of ways.

Focus on nourishment.

This tip is less about enjoying the treats of the season and more about getting back to the basics. I realize that this type of eating message might not resonate with you right now, but hear me out. In a season that is packed with special foods, rich dishes, and sweets of all kinds, the body still needs actual nourishment. And by that I mean, fiber, vitamins and minerals, protein—the things that wholesome, basic foods provide. Your everyday foods should be the same as always. Eat lean proteins, plenty of produce, a good amount of water, whole grains, and low-fat dairy (or comparable alternative).

Shopping for these foods needn’t be stressful, either. If shopping this season is stressing you out, keep an eye on the stars. Guiding Stars can help you get in and out of the store faster because you can quickly and easily find those items that give you the most nutrition for your dollar. Aim to select mostly 2- and 3-star foods and you’ll be assured of a nutritious cart of food. Keeping yourself well-fed with nutritious, regular meals means that those special treats will seem more special. You’ll likely appreciate those special foods even more. After all, even the tastiest cookies lose their appeal if eaten on a daily basis. 

Incorporate mindful treats.

Impose a food restriction on a human and you’ll automatically induce a desire or craving. At no time is this more evident than at the holidays, when tasty goodies are more plentiful than usual. Even if you’re trying to keep a lid on your consumption of sweet treats, consider letting yourself have a small portion of your absolute favorite holiday food. Not only is a strict “no morsel shall pass my lips” strategy a set-up for frustration (and usually, failure), it’s a big downer! It’s the holidays, and food is linked to the holidays. Period. Humans celebrate with food, and you should be able to do that, too.

The mindful aspect of enjoying treats is this: think about what you truly want first. Then thoroughly enjoy one portion of it slowly, noticing all its delicious aspects. In fact, if you realize you want something in particular, you can even put it off a little while until later (say, after dinner) and see if you still want it. If so, go ahead and eat it mindfully. On the other hand, if you don’t think about what you really want, that thing that you know will bring you utmost gustatory enjoyment, you risk ending up having eaten your way through all manner of foods that you didn’t really enjoy because you were searching for that most treasured treat.