Mindful eating during the holidays

Tis’ the season of sugar, sweets, cookies, pies and cakes. Or maybe it’s large helpings of turkey, dressing and gravy that suits your seasonal food desires. Whatever tempts your taste buds this season, overindulgence seems to be the common theme of the holidays. As a result, many Americans can gain one to five pounds each year during this season.

Instead of telling you to switch from butter to applesauce in your baked goods, or modifying grandma’s sacred holiday recipes, let’s focus on the underlying issue at hand: mindless eating. In other words, not listening to our body’s cues of hunger and fullness.

There are many reasons we overeat during the holidays, and emotions or distractions are likely the biggest culprits. The following tips are some of my favorites from books or articles I’ve read that can help remind us to eat mindfully this holiday season.

1. Eat what you like, but slow down and savor it. We know that it takes 15-20 minutes for our brain to get the signal of fullness, so take advantage of it. Chew slowly, and notice flavors, temperature, texture and other qualities the foods offer. With practice, you’ll learn to appreciate what you are eating instead of devouring it.

2. Look for the “eating pause.” Believe it or not, most of us actually put our fork down during the meal, signaling fullness. Often times we see that there still is a lot of food to eat, so we just keep going. Pay attention to this cue and stop eating. You always can save the rest for later.

3. Don’t overeat just because you think it’s healthy. Sugar-free desserts may have the same amount of calories (or more) as the original desserts in many cases. Take pound cake, for example, at 200 calories per 2-ounce slice. Sugar-free versions typically have the same amount of calories and carbohydrates as the regular.

4. Be aware of your emotions. The holidays are full of emotions from joy and excitement to depression, stress and sadness. If you find that you are eating more because of the emotions surrounding the holidays, then keep a food diary. Nothing makes emotional eating clearer than writing your intake down and noting what emotion you are feeling. It makes you think twice about your food decisions and why you are eating. If you are lonely, call a friend. If you eat because of boredom, find a hobby or activity you may enjoy.

5. Eat healthy before parties or gatherings. Going in with a plan instead of raging hunger will help you make better decisions about what you eat. To better manage your appetite, avoid skipping meals before the event.

6. Let’s be honest, you will be distracted at parties, which sets the stage for mindless eating. Set yourself up for success by filling at least half of your plate with fruits and/or vegetables, and avoiding too much alcohol or other calorie-containing beverages. Use a napkin instead of a plate for high-calorie appetizers.

Heather Pierce is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator for the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center.

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