The hangover from binge eating Halloween candy may still be lingering. The blessed holiday that is Thanksgiving is already a mere two and a half weeks away. After that, the holiday eats don’t usually cease until the New Year resolutions are enacted.
The holiday season has the potential to manipulate your diet with opportunities to overeat. Increased food intake that is not necessarily healthy (cc: apple pie, Christmas cookies, festive M&M candy bowls, champagne…) can take a toll on the gut, the rest of the body, and the mind. To avoid such uncomfortable consequences, one may consider adopting a habit of mindful eating.
Mindful eating is taking the time to focus on the meal or snack in front of you, using all senses to pay close attention to each bite, and noting how the process of eating makes you feel. It also extends to noticing how you feel before and after a meal.
According to Jennifer Wolkin, Ph. D., ‘the brain and gut are intimately connected.’ The gut can affect emotional function just as emotions can affect gut function. Poor gut health has shown to lead to depressive symptoms. In some cases, eating large amounts of sugar and refined carbohydrates are linked to a lower quality of metal health. Medical studies have also proved that mindful meditation has the ability to reduce symptoms of functional gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. Additionally, weight loss has shown to be a beneficial effect of mindful eating.
The core of establishing a mindful, healthy eating habit is eating slowly. Psychotherapist Char Wilkins suggests breathing in and out once before taking a new bite of food. Making time between bites creates the chance to observe and appreciate the food being consumed. Then, engage your senses by asking questions like the following: What are the colors of the food on my plate? What are the scents the food gives off, and do they evoke any memories? What sensations do I feel while focusing on the consistency of the food in my mouth? Am I starting to feel full as I concentrate on feeling the food travel from my mouth to my stomach? Being aware of the characteristics of food and steps taken to consume food create a mindful connection to the nourishment and satisfaction received from eating.
Clinical psychologists Elisha and Stefanie Goldstein challenge the mindful eater to take extra steps in becoming aware of food and eating. While biting into a forkful of stuffing or a taking a bite of turkey this Thanksgiving, think about each ingredient that was used to make the finished product. Where did such ingredients come from on the earth? Then, think of the effort the chef put into making the meal or dessert. Appreciate the time and caring that was put into making a dish for you and anyone else present at the meal. If you were the chef, remember your thoughtful preparation of the meal, and the positive intentions you had while creating the dish for a group of loved ones (including yourself).
“both physical and mental health go hand-in-hand.” — Dr. Jennifer Wolkin
Eating slow and savoring food through awareness is the simple part of mindful eating. But what do you do when you feel satisfied after a meal, and there are still so many goodies to be sampled at dessert? The Goldsteins’ answer is to surf the urge. When the craving for something sweet hits after finish a meal, wait about 20 minutes. During that time, notice how your mind and body feel. There is no need to judge the feeling, just recognize whatever it may be. Then, after the time has passed, make a mindful decision on what you would like to do next. There are no right or wrong answers when you make that plan to approach the homemade pumpkin pie.
Eating mindfully is a habit to ease into. There is still some time before holiday get-togethers, so consider practicing mindful eating during you next meal. Allot enough time so the meal is just you and your food, no distractions that will drag you attention away from the food you kindly prepared. Use all of your senses, be aware of the meal’s characteristics, and how you feel before you begin eating, while you’re eating, and after you eat. Continue to build this habit in the days leading up to the holiday season.
Happy mindful meditating!