Holidays call up images and thoughts of celebrations with family and friends, shopping for the perfect gifts, twinkling lights, snow, and of course…FOOD. The holidays bring with them an abundance of delicious smells and tastes; smells and tastes that we don’t get to experience during other times of the year.
Celebrations with loved ones often involve communal eating, and neighbors and friends are frequently dropping freshly baked goods at our doorsteps.
You may also find yourself elbow deep in flour as you bake homemade goodies for your family, friends or neighbors. This experience with food is an intimate part of the holiday season and serves to bring joy and delight as well as express care, gratitude, and love between family and friends. Food is an important part of the memories and celebrations to be had this holiday season.
For those striving to overcome an eating disorder, this part of the holiday season can feel overwhelming. Other blog posts address strategies to manage anxiety associated with food. In this post, I will focus on one strategy in particular: mindful eating.
Mindful eating is a skill that can both reduce anxiety associated with food, but also enhance the experience and pleasure of eating. The foods present during the holidays remind us that eating can and should be joyful and delightful. We can also eat with gratitude for the abundance we have, for the love with which the food was made, and for the company we keep during the meal. This leads to a primary step with mindful eating:
Set your intention.
Before sitting down to eat, consider what you want your intention to be with this meal. With this single bite? Do you want to focus on simply being present with your food? Other options for intentions can include but aren’t limited to:
- Focusing on the incredible things your body does for you to transform food into nourishment and fuel your body needs and craves. A recognition that food is medicine that brings your body healing.
- You may focus on where the food came from, starting from where it began growing, and think about all the processes and people involved in bringing that food to your table.
- Sharing a meal together is more than about fuelling our bodies.
It includes communing together to celebrate life’s joys, our shared love, and the value of our relationships.
- Being present with your body. If focusing on the food, itself, overwhelms you, your body is simply one breath away to ground you. Between bites you may spend a few seconds simply focusing on your breath. Focusing on the breath during a meal, reconnects us to our bodies and helps us get in touch with our hunger and fullness cues.
Dish your meal.
After you have set your intention, dish your meal onto a plate. If you eat at any fancy restaurant, you know that presentation is part of the experience. However, your food looking pretty isn’t necessarily a requirement for mindful eating. But placing food on a plate does help engage your eyes in more pleasing ways than if you eat straight out of a container. Further, this compartmentalizes the meal and you can view your meal in it’s wholeness, before you eat it. Whereas, eating out of containers or without dishing servings onto a plate, makes the meal more ambiguous and this can increase distress and mindlessness.
Sit down and minimize distractions.
Sitting down allows you to give your food and this experience, your full attention. Put away cell phones, turn off TVs, and avoid using anything that will take your attention away from this experience, this opportunity. Eat at your table. Remember, you are providing yourself a different experience with your food and body and eating at a table with no distractions, optimizes the setting for this experience.
Take one mindful bite.
This is an essential step of the mindful eating process and bridges the way between meal preparation and consumption. To eat a mindful bite:
- Take a moderate (not too small and not too big) forkful or spoonful of your meal.
- Before putting it in your mouth, take several seconds to look at the food from different angles. Notice the textures of the food. If you trying to mindfully eat something small like a treat, this would also include feeling the different textures of that food with your fingers.
- After taking in the bite of food with your eyes, turn your attention to your olfactory. Take a sniff (or two) of the food you are about to put in your mouth. Notice reactions you have to the smell of the food. Does your mouth start to water? Do you notice associated emotions arise? Excitement? Pleasure? Positive memories when you have smelled this and eaten this before?
- Now simply press the food to your lips but do not put it inside your mouth. Briefly notice how the food feels on your lips. This is another way to experience texture, as well as the temperature of our food. Our lips are one of the most sensitive organs in our body (why kissing feels so good) but very rarely do we stop to notice the ways our lips experience our food.
- Put the bite of food into your mouth, on the center of your tongue. Refrain for a few seconds from chewing the food. Simply notice the flavors and sensation of the food inside your mouth. Notice your impulse to want to chew and recognize that this is an instinct within your body, similar to breathing, that is mostly outside our conscious awareness. This is your body already engaging in the process of transferring food into the nourishment you need.
- Now slowly move the bite around your mouth and chew a few times. Notice how chewing leads to an explosion of more intense flavors and it is often in this moment that we experience the peak of joy and satisfaction with our food.
- Continue to chew and eventually, swallow.
Savor your meal.
The mindful bite will be at a slower pace than which you will consume the rest of your meal. After completing the first mindful bite, proceed with eating. Savor your meal. Savoring includes:
- Continuing to use all your senses with each bite. Focus on smell, flavor, texture as well as sounds associated with eating, such as the sounds of forks hitting plates, or the crunchiness of food as you bite into it.
- Assess pace. Taking too long to eat or eating very quickly can throw off your ability to notice your hunger/fullness cues as the meal progresses. Eat at a comfortable pace, neither too fast, nor too slow.
- Notice bite size. Eating bites that are either too small or too large detract from our ability to enjoy our food and feel satisfied. The bites of food you put into your mouth should feel pleasurable and comfortable.
- Diversify. In a meal there are several flavors and typically several types of food to eat. Pay attention to your experience as you eat the different foods available to you. This attention should include attending to both your physical senses as well as emotions that arise with the different foods.
- Pause. Return to your breath periodically and assess your level of hunger and fullness. Does the food still taste good and you yearn for more? Or has the pleasure point decreased and you find yourself feeling full? Respect this communication from your body and this will help you refrain from under or overeating.
- Embrace this opportunity for celebration. You will never have this bite, this meal, this moment, ever again.