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Mindful Eating – Your Weapon in the Battle of Holidays vs. Healthy Eating

Anyone who has struggled with their weight is probably all too familiar with the challenges unique to the holiday season. There is so. much. food. There are company and client hosted lunches and dinners and parties. There are family get-togethers. There are cocktail hours and cookie exchanges and Starbucks gift cards and edible gifts and boozy brunches and baking projects.

If you have found a strategy that works for you in the face of such temptation, take what you have learned, and use it to its fullest.

But if you are like most people, past strategies have come up short. This year, let’s try mindful eating.

Mindful eating is basically utilizing the skill and approach of mindfulness in the experience of eating. It allows you to slow down and create space for your experience of the here and now. It gives you the opportunity to enjoy your food to the fullest extent.

So what does this look like? Let’s try it out. Find a food item. No, really – right now. Grab a cracker, a cookie, a piece of chocolate, a piece of fruit, an almond – whatever you have close by. If you are reading this on the train or bus, see if you have a mint or piece of gum in your belongings.

In this practice, you are basically going to engage all of your senses in experiencing this food item.

  1. Sight. What does this food look like? Really examine it. Does it have hard edges or soft curves? What texture does its surface have? What color hues can you detect? Does anything stand out to you about the way this item that is interesting or unexpected upon such close examination?
  2. Touch. What does this food feel like? Is it heavy or light? Does it feel smooth, rough, grainy, crumbly, or melty? What happens when you put pressure on it? Does it depress when you apply some pressure? Does it crumble or break?
  3. Sound. Does your food item make any sounds? What does it sound like if you break it a little bit? If your food item is a fruit that you have to peel, what does that sound like?
  4. Smell. What does your food item smell like? Is it sweet? Bitter? See how many descriptive words you can think of to describe your food item’s smell.
  5. Taste. Put the item in your mouth, but DON’T chew it yet! Can you taste anything when it is just sitting on your tongue? Can you taste it more if it touches different parts of your tongue?
  6. Put it all together. Now you can SLOWLY bite into the food. Notice everything. Notice the taste, notice how the feeling of the food changes as you bite into it. Notice what it feels like to slowly chew and transform this piece of food. Then notice what it feels like to swallow the chewed food. Try to follow with your mind’s eye as the food travels down your esophagus down to your stomach.

Now reflect. What did you notice about this food that you maybe had never given any thought to before? Were you surprised at any point to learn what you did about this food item? How was this experience different than how you might have experienced this food all the other times you have had it?

The next step in developing this skill is to apply it more frequently. Remember, mindfulness is hard! It takes more than desire and will to really sustain our attention the way we want to. Practice is essential. Try this exercise, at least for a few minutes, at your next meal. Notice how the experience of eating a meal feels different when approached with a state of mindfulness.

The more you practice this, the more you give your brain a chance to use it when you really need it.   Imagine that you are in the face of your greatest culinary temptation. Imagine how good it will feel to allow yourself to truly enjoy the experience of that favorite food – to control your experience in an enjoyable, peaceful way, instead of feeling controlled by your craving. By utilizing a mindful approach, you give yourself permission to enjoy life’s culinary pleasures to the fullest, without feeling the impulse to overindulge. With the holidays approaching quickly, there is no better time to start than now.

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