Most of us tend to put on a few kilograms during the Christmas holidays which we must then try to lose in January. We are home more often during the holidays so we cook large, involved meals, some of us go away for the holidays and eat a lot of takeaways. Whilst some go to many parties and eat plenty of party food, or visit family who spoil us with treats. Whatever your circumstances, this is the time of the year when it is the most difficult to keep off that extra weight because there is so much more unhealthy food placed within our eyesight and reach.
Mindful Eating to the Rescue
Mindful eating is the practice of being aware of what you eat and the reasons why you eat it. It is the habit of listening to your body's feedback after every bite. It is the ability to answer questions like:
- "How many flavours are there in this dish?"
- "How does the taste alter between biting and swallowing?"
- "Can I feel it in my oesophagus or is it in my stomach already?", and
- "Does my body genuinely want or need more of this?"
It is the tendency to appreciate the food for the nourishment and pleasure it gives, and the ability to stop eating when it is no longer nourishing or pleasurable. It is the skill of being aware of the reasons why you eat and the ability to stop when you are eating for reasons other than hunger or pleasure. In short, it is the practice of following your internal cues, instead of the outside world, for appetite and satiety.
Dish Up Mindfully
Most of the food that makes you gain weight is food that you eat without hunger or enjoyment. We dish up massive portions because plates are large enough to hold them, because we are too tired to get up and fetch more, because we do not want to interrupt the conversation or television programme to fetch more, because other people are eating a similar amount, because it looks good, because we haven't eaten that specific dish for ages, and so forth. None of these reasons relate to hunger or enjoyment at all.
Instead of filling up your plate, take small portions at a time and fetch more if you want more. After all, you cannot possibly know how you will feel and whether you will still derive pleasure from it too far in advance, and it does take 20 minutes for your brain to register the stomach is full so it is wise to give it time to feel full from a smaller portion at first.
After each small portion, ask yourself sincerely whether you are still hungry and whether it still tastes as good as at the start. You will find that only the first few bites of a rich, sweet treat taste good. After that, your taste buds adapt and it starts tasting bland. Further, you may notice your body sending subtle nausea signals because it wants to notify you that it neither wants nor needs this unhealthy substance with so little nutritional value. Other than the dessert and stuffing, the typical Christmas lunch with its roasted turkey, roasted potatoes, and vegetables is actually relatively healthy in small portions.
Eat Your Treats
If you deprive yourself of the foods you enjoy, you will crave them and overeat when you encounter them at a party or a Christmas lunch. If you crave mince pies this December, buy some and eat them over several days. By the time Christmas lunch arrives and a relative shows up with mince pies, you will no longer crave them and will eat substantially fewer of them.
The same holds for roasts. As mentioned above, the occasional small roast is reasonably healthy. If you eat your treats when you genuinely crave them, your mind will gradually remove them from the category of special treats, and you will no longer feel tempted to binge when you encounter them. In this way, you can reduce the number of foods on which you are inclined to binge.
Pick Ingredients Mindfully
If the point of eating is to nourish and delight yourself, pick healthier ingredients and continue to cook the dishes you love. This serves two purposes: you will eat food that makes you feel energetic and healthy, and you will avoid depriving yourself of your favourite foods. For example, if you love pasta, make it with gluten-free, whole grain pasta. If you like chocolate mousse, then cacao nibs, cacao powder, coconut milk, and a healthy sweetener like honey, date paste, maple syrup, or stevia will go a long way to satisfying you. The internet is replete with recipes for healthy dishes. Use them.
Eat Only When you are Hungry
The need to say this illustrates how dysfunctional our eating habits have become. Most people eat because they are at a party where eating is expected, because other people buy or bring them food, because they do not want to appear rude, and so on. Hunger is very low on the list of reasons why people eat. All the other reasons aren't terrible reasons for eating, but they signify an inappropriate relationship with food or, for that matter, with other people.
If you are going to visit relatives during the holidays, make it clear from the start that you want to choose when to eat. You can reassure them that the food they provide is great and you can continue to eat it to prove that you are honest, but eating only when you are hungry will ensure that you eat a healthy amount of it. Carefully distinguish between real and perceived hunger. Real hunger is internal signals like a rumbling tummy, perceived hunger is external signals like the smell or appearance of food.
Eat Only for as Long as It Feels right
Most of us know when we are overeating, not just because we start to feel sick, but because we start to feel guilty. Mindful eating emphasises that an appropriate relationship with food is a guilt free relationship. If you eat only when you are hungry and for as long as the food tastes great, you have no reason to feel guilty because your body is telling you that it wants or needs the food. If you eat beyond the point where the taste has diminished and the satiety signals have been sent, you are setting yourself up to feel guilty, as you are eating things your body neither wants nor needs.
In other words, pay attention to both physical and emotional signals. Satiety, nausea, blunted taste, and guilt are all signs that you have to stop and you may have entered into the world of emotional eating, which can cause a long term problem with overeating.
Eat Slowly and Without Distractions
Eat slowly so that your body has the time to send the satiety signal. This is one way in which Christmas lunch is great. Further, refrain from eating in front of the television or during a fascinating conversation so that you can concentrate on your body's signals. Do most of your talking before and after your Christmas lunch or frequently tune out of the conversation at parties to assess how you are feeling. As mentioned in a previous article, you can always talk about the food while you are eating it. Your host will feel like the food is noticed and appreciated and it will allow you to stay focused on it.
Mindful Eating Is Not a Diet But Can Help You Prevent Weight Gain
Mindful eating is not a diet or weight loss method. Thinking of it in this way will diminish its effectiveness, because you will become fixated on an aim, instead of merely on the enjoyment and nourishment that food brings. But an increasing number of academic studies, such as this one, show that people who eat mindfully have fewer food addictions, binge eating sessions, and unhealthy weight problems than people who eat without this type of awareness.