Eating Merrily & Mindfully During the Holidays 

by Jennifer Wohlwend, Nutritionist, M.S. Human Nutrition & Functional Medicine

What is eating mindfully? 

Eating mindfully means that you are fully present with your food in the moment and being non-judgmental towards yourself and your food choices. This includes taking the time to chew slowly and appreciate the food's aroma, textures, colors, and flavors. Mindful eating is not about depriving yourself of the pleasures of eating, it’s about fully enjoying the food we eat. You don’t want to miss out on the flavors of the holiday season, and it is okay to enjoy a piece of your favorite holiday dessert. The key is recognizing that you are making a conscious decision to eat it, while appreciating the taste without feeling super guilty about it.

An important part of eating mindfully is appreciating your favorite foods and recipes. It is crucial to have a healthy relationship with food and truly enjoy it. Try to let go of any food rules that you may have. Shift your mindset from labeling food ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’ to focusing on having a healthy relationship around food. Eating mindfully includes practicing moderation. This way you can eat the foods you enjoy without overeating. The goal in eating mindfully is not to deprive yourself of the foods you love, but instead it is about how to mindfully include these foods as part of a healthy and well-rounded diet. Eating is more than the delivery of nutrients-- food helps us to connect culturally and emotionally.

We all have cultural and emotional connections to the food we put in our body. The holidays are the perfect time for us to connect culturally to food and experience the heartwarming joy of our favorite holiday recipes. Eating these foods that bring us happiness not only help us to feel full, but also satisfied. The Holidays are a time of connection, and sharing a meal together with loved ones is important. Enjoy the nostalgia of your mother’s candied yams, or annually making tamales with your family. Maybe your family makes Christmas cookies together every year, or you make your grandmother’s matzah ball soup recipe to honor your family traditions. It is important and healthy to honor these cultural traditions and allow yourself to enjoy!

Helpful Holiday Tips

To keep you eating merrily & mindfully, while feeling your best!

1. Cut yourself some slack
First and foremost, I want to emphasize the importance of cutting yourself some slack – you don’t have to deprive yourself. It’s important to honor the valid fears you may have surrounding food and holiday indulgences— particularly if those things interfere with certain health goals you have. It’s okay to recognize your concerns! But I want to reassure you that there are many ways that you can celebrate the holiday season without deprivation, all while still honoring your wellness goals. 

The reality is we can’t always eat as mindfully and perfectly as we would like, but mindful eating can still be a helpful habit. Mindful eating can be looked at as a spectrum—it doesn’t have to be perfect. It is better to eat more mindfully when you can than to stress out about eating certain foods, especially during the holidays. For a lot of us, just worrying about getting through the holidays is enough, so remember it is okay to cut yourself some slack and enjoy the delicious food.

2. Don't skip meals
Often times I hear people say they want to skip their breakfast since they will be eating a lot later in the day at their holiday events. Skipping meals can lead to unstable blood sugar levels, which can be harmful for the body (especially if you have certain health conditions). This restriction can also set you up to feel deprived, leading you to choose unhealthy portion sizes later on. It is also important to eat protein with every meal to keep your body satisfied. Try a healthy breakfast with good amounts of fiber and protein, such as oatmeal topped with a splash of nut milk, ground flaxseeds, walnuts, and berries. This will help fuel your body and start your day off on the right foot!

3. Portion Sizes
Nothing has to be completely off limits, but everything in moderation. Be mindful of your portions, but it is okay to enjoy some special holiday foods!

Follow the plate method:

  • ½ plate non starchy veggies (salad, green beans, etc.)
  • ¼ protein (turkey, beans, etc.)
  • ¼ carbohydrate (potatoes, rice, etc.)    

4. Recipe Substitutions

  • Instead of sour cream, try fat free plain yogurt or dairy free yogurt.
  • Leave salt out when cooking potatoes, as you likely will be adding gravy or other toppings that have a lot of salt. Instead add herbs for extra flavor!
  • Try a mushroom gravy recipe!

5. Stay Hydrated
With all of our holiday meals and festive beverages, it is important to make sure we are staying hydrated throughout the day. Try alternating your other beverages with water. Maybe also try adding some electrolytes to your water to start off the day extra hydrated and ready to enjoy your holiday festivities!

Fun fact: by the time we feel thirsty, we are already dehydrated!

6. Eat Slowly & Savor Your Food!
Eating slowly is important for proper digestion – take time to slow down and thoroughly chew your food. I know it is tempting to jump right in and eat up all that delicious food, but, there is a downside to eating too quickly. It takes almost 20 minutes for our brains to recognize that we are full. This is why it is recommended to chew each bite very well as you focus on the flavors and textures in your mouth before swallowing. 

We tend to spend so much time prepping our special holiday meal and then sit down to eat it all so quickly. One of the most important things we can do to eat mindfully is to learn to slow down and to savor our food. Enjoy the taste of your holiday favorites! 

7. Movement
Get some movement in! Maybe go for a walk with your family after your meal and look at the Christmas lights! This helps jumpstart digestion by getting the blood pumping. Maybe also try parking further away from the store to get extra steps in!

8. Sleep
Being sleep deprived makes it harder for the body to regulate blood sugar. Try to make sure you are getting adequate restful sleep every night to help set yourself up for a healthy and happy holiday.

9. Stress Management
Manage stress by meditating, taking walks outside, enjoying a hot cup of herbal tea, or doing an activity with loved ones. Stress causes the adrenal glands to release cortisol—which increases appetite and can lead to cravings of foods high in fat and sugar.

10. Practice Gratitude
Holiday meals are a perfect time to stop and give thanks for everything in our lives. Take the time to be grateful for the meal you get to share with loved ones.