The holidays offer a time for fun and fulfillment, yet they can be stressful, tiring and overwhelming at the same time. Maintaining mindful awareness throughout the season will help you remain connected to yourself, remain healthy and well while keeping any stress or emotional eating manageable and at bay.
During times of increased stress you become more likely to be in a rush and tired, which leads to making choices that are often rushed and favor convenience. This may cause an experience of not being fully present which can cause eating to feel like just one more thing on your to-do list. Rushing, not being present with your food and not choosing nourishment can cause the internal experience of stress to only become worse.
Mindful eating is paying attention to what you are eating while deriving pleasure and nourishment from your food. When you are eating mindfully, you enhance the experience of eating while acknowledging the opportunity to nourish your body and your mind. Mindful eating is paying attention to the sensory experience of your food.
Just the sight of the food you are about to eat begins the process of digestion. Mindful eating begins by taking in the visual elements and aromas of your food, before you even take one single bite! This mindful process enhances the experience of eating and pleasure of tasting your food.
The holiday season can trigger emotional and stress eating simply because of the stressed and rushed nature of the season. Additionally, this time of year more “comfort foods” tend to be always available and just about everywhere which can trigger the desire to eat irrespective of hunger. Cravings can be caused by just seeing or smelling food AND because of stress and emotional distress.
The three following strategies are intended to help maintain mindful eating throughout the holiday season in order to manage emotional and stress based cravings effectively. When you use these strategies you create an opportunity to be present with your food, to be engaged with eating in a mindful, calm and relaxed manner. This creates an opportunity to derive true pleasure and nourishment from your food, while at the same time reducing stress and emotional tension in general.
1. Practice 1 minute of deep breathing before eating.
When you are breathing deeply and in a state of relaxation you are engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the rest and digest mode, which is the mode we want to live in—unless of course there is a true emergency. Often when we are rushed or stressed during the holidays, we eat more quickly to get to the next thing on the to-do list. Try slowing down, and breathing deeply for one minute before you eat in order to calm your nervous system. This will allow your body to assimilate the nutrients from you food more effectively while also creating a sense of inner calm as you release stress and tension with your breath.
2. Before you eat, set an intention to eat mindfully.
When you set any intention, you set in motion a powerful force that helps you focus. When you set your intention to eat mindfully before you take your first bite, you will be far more likely to do so. Setting an intention helps you create a sense of ritual and care for the process of eating and the nourishment and pleasure you will derive from your food. Try setting an intention to eat mindfully before you eat and notice how this simple practice can shift your awareness and sense of focus from your to-do list to the present moment.
3. Practice gratitude before you eat.
After a bit of deep breathing and setting your intention to eat mindfully, offer gratitude for the food you are about to eat. When you express gratitude for your food, you create a space for deriving pleasure from your food in a big way. This can be a powerful practice to reduce stress and emotional eating as gratitude helps to alleviate stress and anxiety. When practicing gratitude for your food before you take a bite, recognize the preparation and the life giving nutrients in your food—as well as the pleasure you will experience by eating it. Be grateful and notice the impact of gratitude on your physical body as well as your mood state.
Try these three mindful strategies to remain present, focused and engaged as you make choices about what you eat and how you eat it this holiday season. Taking time to slow down, breathe, set an intention to eat mindfully and practice gratitude will allow for health and fulfillment throughout the entire holiday season.