It’s coming up to that time of year again. For some, this means enjoying good food and good company, but for others it can be wrought with anxiety and fear about how to come out the other end feeling like you haven’t totally spun out of control. So how can we enjoy the Christmas and New Year period more mindfully? These 5 tips will help you stay on track.
1. Savour your food
Take the time to really enjoy your food. A difficult task at this time of the year as we are often too busy socialising to even taste our food before swallowing. This Christmas, when you eat, eat with intention – take a minute to enjoy the textures and tastes. I encourage people to chew every mouthful at least 15 times, and whilst this seems like a simple exercise, you will be amazed at how well it works. This allows you time to taste your food, and feel the texture in your mouth. In doing so, you may find you don’t need to eat as much before you begin to feel satisfied. Once we are satiated, meaning we are no longer hungry, we stop enjoying food as much. And why continue to eat when we’re not enjoying it anymore, right?
2. Tune in to your body’s hunger and fullness
Your body has the ability to tell you when it’s hungry and when it’s full – this is an inbuilt physiological response. Young children eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’ve had enough. That’s because they haven’t learnt any other way to eat – they eat according to their hunger. Unfortunately, most people begin to ignore their natural hunger response as they grow older, becoming more influenced by external factors, i.e. our parents telling us to finish everything on our plate, or diets which tells us to only eat at certain times of the day. The good news is that you still have that natural hunger/fullness mechanism, you just have to tune into your body to find it.
3. Don’t let yourself get too hungry
Once you become more familiar with your hunger and fullness cues, it’s important not to let yourself get too hungry. Have a big Christmas dinner planned? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking “I won’t eat as much today so I can enjoy my meal tonight”. We’ve all been there. You’re starving, so you eat so much food so quickly that you are suddenly hit with that uncomfortable feeling of indigestion and bloating. If you allow yourself to become too hungry, you are more likely to eat to excess. That particularly appetising snack/meal becomes even more appealing and all of a sudden you have not only eaten it, but eaten a much larger quantity than you normally would. So, tune into your body. Remember to eat mindfully and snack if needed.
4. Enjoy all foods
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the general pattern of dieting. You restrict foods deemed ‘forbidden’ and ‘bad’, but there inevitably comes a time when you ‘slip up’ and allow yourself to indulge. Next comes the moment you tell yourself “I’ll start again tomorrow”. And so the dieting cycle continues. However, you can jump off this merry-go-round and choose to stop dieting. Eating mindfully is all about choice. Feel that weight lift off your shoulders when you begin to realise you CAN eat that food if you genuinely feel like it. Restricting foods only makes us want to eat them more. So try not to restrict “forbidden” foods over the Christmas period. When it comes to the Christmas buffet take the time to tune into your body and think about what it is you truly feel like, and then enjoy it, guilt-free!
5. Eat for your body
Your body is a marvellous thing. It has an amazing ability to self-regulate itself without any effort or thinking on your part. It removes wastes from the blood, regulates temperature and blood pressure, balances body fluids to avoid dehydration, defends against viruses, helps to fight infections, and for women it even nurtures babies for 9 months. We breathe without thinking about it, and our heart continues to beat. So treat your body like the miraculous thing that it is! Feed your body to nourish it and nurture it. Think about how eating particular foods will affect you. Will it help energize you? Will it improve your mood? Or will it leave you feeling bloated and sluggish? Try and make food choices that make you feel good!
*Bonus tip – Stay hydrated
With water that is! Your body can not tell the difference between hunger and thirst – it will give you the same signal. Keeping hydrated means you can trust your body when it signals it’s hungry. I encourage my clients to have a glass of water whenever hunger strikes and then wait to see whether the feeling passes. If it does, it’s likely they were just thirsty, not hungry.
Take home message
There is usually an abundance of food at Christmas time and many of us view this time of year as “special” or “not the way I would usually eat”. Yes, it is a special time, and yes it probably isn’t how you would normally eat, but remember, it doesn’t mean you are obliged to indulge to excess. Christmas can be a really good opportunity to think about what foods you really love to eat. Focus on those foods this Christmas – savour and enjoy them. It’s OK to pass on those foods you know you won’t get as much enjoyment or satisfaction from.
Lastly, remember to be kind to yourself over the Christmas period. If you over-indulge, it’s OK. It’s what you do consistently that makes the biggest difference to your health, and eating mindfully is most definitely something you can do long-term. So approach this Christmas with mindfulness, and enjoy your time with loved ones.