5 Tips to Manage Your Eating Around the Holidays

The holidays can be a time of stress and turmoil, especially when it comes to our eating. Some people cope by battening down the hatches on their diet plan while others give themselves permission to go off course. Neither of these strategies are particularly effective and they can even contribute to patterns of disordered eating. In the sea of holiday food chaos, let mindful eating be your guide to a balanced and nurturing relationship with food and your body. Here are 5 of my favorite tips to help you get through the holiday season unscathed.

1. Don’t deprive yourself. Some people prepare for a big meal like Thanksgiving by counting calories or cutting out certain foods in the days leading up to the big event. There is a belief that if you are “good” now, it is okay to be “bad” later. This way of thinking is a ticket onto the merry-go-round of restriction and binge eating that is hard to get off. For example, overeating at a holiday party may be followed by a juice cleanse the following day which may be followed by out-of-control eating come dinner time…and around and around you go. Avoid getting on this hellish ride by just saying no to dieting and deprivation. Listen to your body and eat what you want when you want.

2. Take time to notice the flavors of your food. Gingerbread and eggnog and candy canes, oh my! During the holidays we are presented with a plethora of foods, many of which are unique to this time of year (although remember that you can eat holiday foods anytime of the year! For more on this, read my post “Surviving Thanksgiving: Eat Stuffing Everyday”). When eating, take a moment with each bite, to notice the flavor, texture, and sensations associated with the food. This can be an interesting experiment to try with new foods or foods that are not part of your usual routine. You may notice aspects of certain foods that you enjoy and this can enhance your eating experience. Alternatively, you may notice that there are some holiday foods you don’t enjoy (even foods that you have mindlessly eaten every year) and this can help you make decisions about food that more closely match what your body wants.

3. Recognize bodily sensations. The holidays bring along holiday parties and gatherings that revolve around food—not to mention the treats that magically appear in your office communal spaces each day in December. Mindfulness can help guide you through these potentially difficult situations. Before selecting an item to eat, take a moment to survey your body; are you having any sensations of hunger? Any sensations of fullness? Is your body calling for any particular food? Slowing down the eating process by paying greater attention to your body can help you make attuned food choices.

4. Acceptance. Be kind, compassionate, and accepting with yourself and your eating behaviors. This is especially important if you feel as though you are out of control with your eating or have gotten “off track.” Try to challenge your internal “critical voice” and consider what you may say to a friend or child who is having similar thoughts. Most of us would never say the things that we say to ourselves to our worst enemies, let alone someone we love! Try practicing loving kindness by extending warm wishes to other people in your life as well as yourself.

5. Meditate. The holidays are busy! Engaging in mindfulness meditation practice throughout the day will help you remain in balance. It is ironic that when life gets busy, meditation often goes out the window. The time that we need meditation the most is the time when we feel as if we have no time to do it. Dedicating even 5 minutes to daily meditation can help you increase awareness of your bodily sensations, feelings, and thoughts which will aid your ability to eat mindfully and feel more in control of your eating during the holiday season and beyond.

Read more of Dr. Conason’s posts in her blog Eating Mindfully for Psychology Today.