I venture to guess many of you have looked for anything to help ensure you don’t gain the extra pounds around the holidays…from books, to quick pointers, to crash diets. So here’s the deal – that’s the worst thing in the world you can do. I will always stand by that. Don’t eliminate a food group or all of a sudden stop eating calories because “it’s a holiday.” It hasn’t worked for anyone yet, so don’t fall victim to it! I am going to challenge you to try something different, and with practice this actually works year round. But you have to promise to actually do it!
Ahhhh, what? Yes, mindful eating. It’s not a diet. It’s not a quick fix. It’s a lifestyle that can’t be manipulated to reach goals. It’s actually something that works. I do numerous lectures on this very topic every year, and every time, I will get a blank stare from someone completely under distress as to how to implement mindful eating. I want to share with you exactly how to be mindful with eating…again, these are steps and it’s a process; everything takes time. Heck, it took me a ton of time to master this and I still feel it’s a work in progress!!! And this way, you don’t have to give up eating things you love to eat, you don’t have to gain weight, and you can continue to be a confident and beautiful individual!
Step 1: PAY ATTENTION
In order to create a better relationship with food, and inevitably your body, start to pay attention. Mindful eating is a skill we all possess. You can simply become more mindful when you decrease your thinking and increase your awareness. Be aware of the emotions that come into your mind and rather than letting them take over, just know they are there. Don’t judge them; just notice them so they can eventually float away.
When a person mindfully eats, they are recreating the “first bite” feeling with every single bite of food. When a person is disengaged from eating – for example, eating too fast, eating on the run, eating diet foods – they are not satisfied and will seek out more food even when they are full. So this awareness is not about what you eat….it’s about HOW and WHY you eat. Have you ever thought about those things? It’s imperative though that the awareness of your eating experience is non-judgmental. So, SO important. This ultimately frees you of the oh so ever habitual ways of thinking, feeling, and acting (or more often reacting). You will feel more balanced, have more choices, wisdom, and acceptance of what is…and this awareness means you can finally taste your food, feel food textures, and allow you to savor each bite using all senses to explore food!
Step 2: LET GO
Let go of the diet claims and irrational belief that you aren’t okay as you are. Stop thinking and feeling like you can’t eat what others can. I challenge you to embrace yourself and your body for what it is. You are not accepted because of your body, but rather because of your internal self. So let it go. All of it. One more time – LET IT GO. Here is a key principle to mindful eating…focus on the present moment. Do not worry about the past, and do not worry about the future. Neither past or future exist, only the present does. Because you eat a dessert does not mean you will grow a third arm or gain 20lbs. There are no right or wrong ways to eat, or good or bad foods. It’s time to accept your eating experiences as unique to just you. Mindful eating in the present moment is not about judging your choices OR yourself, but focuses on the here and now. Taking the awareness of step 1 and letting go of the past and future means you can mentally, emotionally, and physically be present in each moment. Awareness combined with letting go can lead to so much lasting change because food becomes an enjoyment rather than a temptation or regret!
Step 3: FEEL
After you are able to give up on dieting habits and become more aware of your body, it’s time to recognize your hunger. Are you eating with your eyes or nose in that particular moment? Do you absolutely feel empty on the inside? These are questions to ask yourself when the urge to eat hits…especially around the holidays when emotions are very high. Here are the different types of hunger…when it’s Christmas Day, which hunger do you respond to? Or are you confusing your hunger type with your diet rules? So many people get caught up following diet rules versus mindful eating; being “self-disciplined” is not a positive trait when it comes to eating. Shouldn’t eating be entirely neutral and natural? Think about a toddler…they eat when they are hungry and stop when full – so when does this change for people? Eating year round, holiday season or not, really shouldn’t be a stressor.
Eye Hunger: This type causes us to eat even when our bodies are full.
Nose Hunger: This type is fueled by scents and flavors that entice us to eat.
Mouth Hunger: This type is when we do not pay attention; the mouth feels deprived so remains hungry.
Stomach Hunger: We all know this feeling. Hunger pangs!
Cellular Hunger: This type is a body craving to optimize a particular function.
Mind Hunger: This type is fueled by the latest “eat this, not that” trend.
Heart Hunger: This type of hunger is one that makes us feel really good in side.
So even if you decide to eat a dessert, don’t criticize yourself! By being mindful of what you actually need, and then being mindful of how eating affects that feeling inside, you can make great progress over time. Remember, mindful eating is not about judging ourselves or others. It is liberating for anyone. Paying attention to thoughts, emotions, and body sensations is so important to develop this skill and this awareness becomes the foundation for overcoming cravings, emotional/stress eating, and feeling like you can’t eat anything at all.
Just remember when you walk into any holiday party or eating experience…your food choices can be one of enjoyment and not centered around the health/weight outcome. Use your senses and really enjoy the food you are eating. You will eat less in this process and be able to “hear” the body cues that have become so suppressed because of diet rules.
Time to practice…
1. Find a small piece of food, such as a small cookie. You can use a food you love because eating mindfully is not about deprivation or rules.
2. Begin by exploring the food using as many senses as possible. Look at the food – notice its texture and color.
3. Explore the food with your sense of touch. What does this food feel like? Is it hard or soft? Grainy or sticky? Moist or dry? Notice that are you not being asked to think but just to notice different aspects of your experience; this is being mindful.
4. Before you eat, explore this food with your sense of smell. What do you notice?
5. Take your first bite…chew slowly noticing the experience of chewing and tasting. Notice the texture of the food; the way it feels in your mouth. Notice if the intensity of the flavor changes moment to moment.
6. Take 10 more seconds to finish the first bite of food. It isn’t necessary to eat slowly in order to eat with mindfulness but it’s helpful to slow down in order to be as mindful as possible.
7. Take your second bite. Chew slowly, paying attention to the sensory experience…
TRY IT!!! I promise mindful eating works and is not a diet. It is a lifestyle and yes, a process, but very achievable (and yes, weight loss typically does occur for people There are no good or bad foods in this world. Mindful eating does not limit your intake or food choices. You can be healthy and look beautiful eating holiday desserts or your favorite fried dish mindfully. Are you up for the challenge?
Blog author: Annie Weiss, MS RD; ultra-endurance athlete and dietitian living and training in Milwaukee, WI. She is a sponsored athlete/ambassador for AltraRunning, Swiftwick Socks, The OrangeMud, and Fluid Nutrition. Follow her training/racing on Twitter & Instagram: ani_weiss and Facebook: Ani Weiss.