For most people, dieting is difficult – regardless of the season. But the holidays pose unique challenges for people who are trying to maintain or lose weight. Food is frequently the centerpiece of celebrations. Temptation and unhealthy eating triggers are plentiful.
“In addition to being surrounded by big meals and high calorie treats, family dynamics and financial pressure can make the season stressful. People often turn to food for comfort,” says Cathy Garvey, a registered dietitian at Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California. “If you have negative eating behaviors, they can be exacerbated during the holidays – which can add to the potential for weight gain.”
In addition to emotional eating, many unhealthy eating habits can be attributed to mindless eating – the unconscious munching people do while at their desks, in the car or in front of the television.
“Basically, mindless eating occurs when people are preoccupied with other tasks – mentally or physically. It can sabotage efforts to lose weight,” Garvey explains.
For more healthful eating over the holidays and beyond, Garvey suggests using mindfulness. The mind-body technique involves bringing your complete attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way.
“When applied to diet, mindfulness is about enhancing awareness of food choices and eating behaviors. With regular practice, it can help people change the way they relate to food,” says Garvey. “By becoming more aware of their internal environment, they can break bad eating habits and develop healthier ones.”
To help you tune in so you don’t check out while eating, Garvey has the following tips:
Turn off the music and the television. Find an area that is free of distractions. If you find yourself in social settings, sit down with your food rather than walk around the room with a plate in one hand and a drink in the other.
Chew your food thoroughly. Really savor every bite. When you eat slowly, you can enjoy the flavor of food and its texture. Listen to your body cues. Before you feel so full you can’t eat another bite, stop.
Write down what you eat and when. It can help you increase awareness of your daily consumption. If you want to quit logging your food intake after a couple of days – don’t. Keeping a diet journal can be insightful, allowing you to identify which foods and situations lead to mindless or emotional eating. Once you find the triggers in your internal or external environment, you can work on reducing them.
Express gratitude for the nourishment being provided. Appreciate where your food comes from and acknowledge the energy that goes into its creation. From harvesting to preparation, there are likely many people who have helped to bring it to your table.
Be kind to yourself. Before you indulge, ask yourself if the food you are about to eat is really supportive of your health. If you do overindulge at a celebration, forgive yourself. Let the experience go. Release you thoughts about that meal. Don’t dwell in the past. Move forward and think of other ways to take care of yourself.
In addition to the mindfulness approaches above, Garvey stresses the importance of moving your body while watching your weight.
“There is no sustained weight loss success without exercise.” she says. “When time is in short supply, think small. Take a short walk. Do something to get your heart rate up and your limbs in motion. It’s a healthy habit that can help you lose weight and keep it off for good.”