Mindful eating for the holidays

It might seem that eating mindfully around the holidays is an impossible feat, when there is generally an overabundance of food at every turn, and a lot of treat food at that. In the webinar “Here Come the Holidays: 5 Steps to Mindfully Enjoying the Holidays with out Weight Worries,” (sponsored by The Center for Mindful Eating), registered dietitian Marsha Hudnall, president and co-owner of GreenMountain at Fox Run in Vermont, said that mindful eating can make it possible to eat the foods you love and still feel good about yourself.

Hudnall started by pointing out that the holidays can be hectic and stressful for anyone, but when you are struggling around the issue of food, it adds another layer of stress to the whole season
The typical scenario (for those of us who are fortunate enough to have an abundance of food) is to make resolutions to be “good” during the holidays and not really take part in the wonderful food, which is difficult if not impossible to stick to, Hudnall said. If we aren’t successful in sticking to our resolutions, or if we just go into the holiday season with the attitude that we don’t care and are going to eat whatever we want, we often eat without regard to how we feel, plus we tend forget to provide ourselves with other (non-food) forms of self-care. 
Odds are you’ve seen at least one headline/news story/blog post about average holiday weight gain (unless you have blinders on). Hudnall said that individuals with higher body weights tend to gain more weight over the holidays than the average. This is not due to weighing more, per se, but instead is largely due to the fact that many people in larger bodies struggle with food and have a history of chronic dieting. The real problem is the “diet mentality” regarding what foods are “allowed” or “not allowed,” “legal” or “not legal,” “good” or “bad.” 
Diet rules have become a widely accepted notion of how we should eat, but those rules don’t always match the reality of the moment, Hudnall said. This can lead to a cycle of binging, negative self-talk, self-loathing, more binging, and so on. She presented this typical scenario: 

You arrive at the holiday party ready to have fun. You knew there would be lots of great food so you saved as many calories as you could during the day. You skipped breakfast and ate a big salad with lots of veggies, tuna and fat-free dressing for lunch then drinking black coffee whenever you get hungry. After all, you knew you’d be up late tonight. You don’t feel that hungry when you get to the party but after a drink, you take a few bites of that delicious artichoke dip. Then you have a bit more, and a bit more, and then the dinner buffet starts. Since you ate all that dip anyway, you just go for broke, filling your plate, eating it all, then going back for more. 

Hudnall points out that the thinking that leads to the behaviors in this scenario are problematic on a few levels. 
  • First, it’s unlikely that the calories saved during the day made up for the eventual overeating at the party (which is why you shouldn’t starve yourself during the day). 
  • Second, it’s also likely that you didn’t enjoy dinner as much as you could have because of the angst. You may have also tuned out the other enjoyable aspects of the meal, such as conversation, because you were thinking mostly about the food and how much you were eating. 

Mindful eating is the opposite of dieting, she said, because it helps you eat what you want in a way that feels good in the moment and long after. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll talk about Hudnall’s 5-Point Plan for Holiday Eating.