Holidays are full of delicious indulgences. While it can often feel like a busy series of over-eating Olympics going from event to event, holidays are a great opportunity to practice being present, mindful and healthy. Though it may not top your to-do list, your future self will be thankful for those mindful choices well into the new year!
Practice Mindful Eating. I recommend that everyone practice some form of mindfulness in their daily lives, whether this is meditation, prayer, breathing, watching your emotional responses, etc. Oftentimes the holiday frenzy can trick people into skipping their daily mindfulness practices. If that is the case for you, how can you put that practice into action by transforming the frenzy into your daily mindfulness practice? Here are some tips for mindful holiday eating:
- Pay attention to what you are eating. Notice how it is served. Notice the exact color and texture and weight. Notice where it came from. Think about who made this. Think about the people that have made this dish possible: the farmers, the transporters, the chefs, the cooks. Then when you are ready to take your first bite, really pay attention. What is the texture? The aroma? The taste? Allow your body to engage in the process of eating regardless of what is going on around you. This process only takes a moment and can change the way you eat. Make it a point each time you try something new to really taste it.
- Offer gratitude. Whether you are offering a prayer of thanksgiving or you are simply taking a moment to express gratitude for your daily life, gratitude can help people eat well, eat less, and eat better. Gratitude can help decrease the need for emotional and over-eating by helping balance stress hormones and stimulating positive emotions. People who regularly practice gratitude demonstrate increased blood flow to the hippocamus in the brain, which regulates sleep, satiety, and stress; gratitude practice can also help to increase dopamine release which encourages greater satisfaction. How can you offer gratitude before eating?
- Turn off the electronics. This is a must for mindful eating. Put away the phones, turn off the TV, pay attention to what you are eating and who you are with. A study from the Netherlands found that people who were mentally distracted were less satisfied by sweet, salty and sour flavors. This means they consumed more of the foods and flavors when they were mentally distracted.
Make smart choices. Repeatedly.
- Avoid all-or-nothing eating. Personally, I aim for a 90/10 balance in my food choices. 90% of the time I eat a very clean diet; 10% of the time I offer myself permission to eat guilt-free indulgences like chips and dark chocolate. During holidays this can often be more like a 85/15 balance. Remember that each time you put something into your mouth you are making a choice. There is no “well I ate that whole piece of pie, so it’s all downhill from here.” Enjoy the pie! Then decide to go for a walk and not to eat the whole tray of cookies.
- Choose smaller plates and bigger forks. Seriously. A study found that diners in a restaurant ate less when their forks were 20% larger than the average fork.
- Eat Slowly. Give your body time to recognize that you are full. On average, take a minimum of 20 minutes from start to finish of a small to medium size meal before going back for more. Bonus: there will be more leftovers to enjoy later.
- Eat before you are ravenous, especially if you are going to a party or to a friend’s house for a meal.
- If you like to track calories, there are a lot of great apps available. Calorific has a feature that shows you what your calories look like (i.e. how much of a serving of pie equals 200kcal). Let’s just say that a 200kcal serving of pie should be slowly savored.
- Walk after meals. A study reviewing type-2 diabetics found that 20 minutes of self-paced walking after a meal decreased the glycemic impact of the meal when compared to no or pre-meal exercise. So get moving!
Tools to aid digestion and metabolism.
- Bitters – Bitters refer to a preparation of aromatic herbs that have a bitter property to them. Bitters can stimulate gastrointestinal secretions of digestive fluids to help the digestive process. Add bitters to water or take as directed on the bottle. Personally, I like Angostura Bitters in water with lime or Urban Moonshine Digestive Bitters.
- Apple cider vinegar (ACV) has been touted in folk medicine as a “cure” for nearly everything. Regarding digestion, there are some studies that look at drinking ACV as a way to mitigate elevated blood glucose, especially after a particularly starchy meal or for people with insulin-resistance as a contributing factor. Another study found that women who drank ACV with their morning meal, tended to consume fewer calories throughout the day. Make sure to dilute the vinegar in water to protect the enamel of your teeth.
- Digestive Enzymes – There are lots of great, gentle digestive enzymes that may help ease the feelings following over-indulgence or after eating something that doesn’t agree with you. In fact, I often pass them out to my family members at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Ask any Peoples Wellness Specialist about a digestive enzyme that may be right for you.
Watch out for hidden food sensitivities! Do you wake up with joint pain after eating holiday meals or desserts? Do you get headaches after eating berries and drinking red wine? What are these ingredients hiding at parties and in holiday treats that make you feel sick? It is not uncommon for people to report various symptoms after eating a food to which they may be sensitive. If you think that you may have food sensitivities, please visit a Peoples practitioner to discuss strategies to support your health such as food sensitivity screening, elimination diets or personalized nutritional strategies.
by Julia Strickler, ND*, a naturopathic doctor* at Peoples. You can visit Dr. Strickler* at Peoples South on Tuesdays, Peoples Westlake on Wednesdays and Peoples Central on Thursdays. To learn more about scheduling an appointment, visit drjuliastrickler.com or call 512-219-8600.
*Naturopathic doctors are not currently licensed in the state of Texas.
- Sansone, R, MD and Sansone, L, MD (2010) Psychiatry. Gratitude and Well Being: The benefits of Appreciation: Retrieved from:http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010965/
- Sojcher R, Gould Fogerite S, Perlman A.The Journal of Science and Healing. Evidence and potential mechanisms for mindfulness practices and energy psychology for obesity and binge-eating disorder. http://www.explorejournal.com/article/S1550-8307(12)00128-0/abstract
- The Grateful Brain. The neuroscience of giving thanks. Published on November 20, 2012 by Alex Korb, Ph.D. in PreFrontal Nudity Retrieved from: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201211/the-grateful-brain
- Ekern, Baxter. The Many Benefits of Practicing Gratitude. November 8, 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/positive-gratitude-can-change-your-mind
- “Leaving a Flat Taste in Your Mouth: Task Load Reduces Taste Perception.” Psychological Science July 2013 24: 1277-1284, first published on May 30, 2013. Retrieved from: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/24/7/1277
- Arul Mishra, Himanshu Mishra, Tamara M. Masters. “The Influence of Bite Size on Quantity of Food Consumed: A Field Study.” Journal of Consumer Research, (-Not available-), p. 000. Published by: The University of Chicago Press. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/660838
- “Postprandial walking is better for lowering the glycemic effect of dinner than pre-dinner exercise in type 2 diabetic individuals.” J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2009 Jul;10(6):394-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jamda.2009.03.015. Epub 2009 May 21. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19560716
- Carol S. Johnston, PhD, RD and Cindy A. Gaas, BS. “Vinegar: Medicinal Uses and Antiglycemic Effect” MedGenMed. 2006; 8(2): 61. Published online May 30, 2006. PMCID: PMC1785201