As Thanksgiving approaches there can be a lot of information flying around about mindful eating, and how to survive the holiday season without needing a new pair of jeans. Many of us have fond memories of leaning back from the Thanksgiving table, a little too stuffed, laughing and catching up with family and friends. These are moments to cherish and they don’t have to be tarnished by guilt or worry about having eaten too much. Below you will find our favorite pillars of mindful eating, which support you in having an enjoyable holiday season and leaving your body feeling nourished, loved, and energized.
Your Hunger Cues
A great touchstone of mindful eating is recognizing your own unique hunger cues. What is the very first sign that you’re hungry? Is it a sensation in your stomach, a lightheaded feeling? Sometimes hunger shows up in ways we wouldn’t necessarily expect, such as irritability or fatigue. Hunger cues are different for everyone, and sometimes we have fallen out of touch with them–but remember the body will always let us know what it needs if we listen.
As you practice recognizing the alert signals that your body needs energy or hydration, pause and assess how intense they are on a scale of 1-10. If you have been working at your desk for several hours and only just realized your hunger level is at a 10, step away from what you were doing and give yourself the nourishment you need. If you tune in to your body and notice you have a slight hunger ache, but could easily wait another hour, have a cup of water or tea and check back in again later. The more you practice the more intuitive this process becomes.
Once you decide to eat, take a moment to clear as many distractions as possible from both your physical and mental space. Often times we may find ourselves eating on the go or in the office out of necessity, but do your best to eliminate distractions like phones, computers, emotional conversations, and loud or stressful noises. This will increase your attention on the food in front of you, and fully alert your brain to the fact that you’re having a meal. Have you ever inhaled a sandwich and chips in 5 minutes flat, while looking at your computer screen the whole time? Do you recall feeling satisfied or was it as if you hadn’t eaten at all? With too many distractions, our brains and stomachs will not register that we had a meal. We may end up mindlessly snacking later in an attempt to get mentally and physically satisfied.
Engaging the Senses
When we eat with minimal distractions, we have an opportunity to really engage all of our senses as we enjoy our food. Take in the variety of colors with your eyes, and smell the delicious fragrance before you take a bite. Chew slowly and really savor the mixture of flavors and textures you’re experiencing. Do you like the taste? Is there something you wish were different? Is there a flavor or texture that you want to add or subtract in order to be fully satisfied? As much as possible, engage your senses so that you truly learn how you feel about this food and give yourself the most complete and satisfying experience possible. When we enjoy our food, not only do we digest and assimilate it more easily, but we have gained an emotional benefit from giving our attention to a truly satisfying experience.
Your Satiety Cues
Throughout your meals and especially towards the end, check in with your physical state and begin to learn your satiety cues. What’s the very first sign that you’re getting full? Do you tend to plow through to the end of the meal and only then realize you’re stuffed? Do you check in with your stomach along the way? Many of us learned in childhood not to leave food on our plates, but in reality this can be a great practice. Saving food for later or sharing it with someone else can be excellent ways to respect our body’s boundaries and not overburden our digestive systems.
You can check in with your body throughout the meal by asking yourself, am I still enjoying the taste of this food? If I walked away from the table now, would I be eager to come back? Am I filled to the top of my stomach, my rib cage, my chest?
It’s also important to note that there can be strong emotional components to satiety and hunger– maybe you truly can’t stand the thought of not finishing a slice of your mom’s famous pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, even though you’re full. If you realize that you have eaten past the point of satiety, gently take a mental note of how much you ate and how it feels in your body. Then, relax. The body can handle fluctuations, and there is nothing to worry about.
Non-Judgment and Gratitude
The last pillar of mindful eating is non-judgment and gratitude. When we pause to acknowledge just how much work on so many levels went into the food before us– whether it was something you grew in your own garden, or something that was grown or prepared a world away– so many miraculous factors had to converge for that meal to become a reality. Taking a moment for gratitude both before and after a meal can greatly enhance our experience.
When we focus on positive thoughts and feelings as we eat, our parasympathetic nervous systems take over and allow our digestion and assimilation mechanisms to operate at their best. Likewise, allowing yourself a supportive and non-judgmental inner dialogue is key to mindful eating. Regardless of the choices you make around food, treating yourself to positive thoughts and words will contribute to your health in a magnitude of ways.
Give these pillars of mindful eating a try over the next few weeks and let us know how it goes! We wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving.
Written by Featured Writer Madeline Winchester