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Surviving the Holiday Feasts: A Yogi’s Guide to Mindful Eating
Had Ben Franklin lived today, he would likely have added a third item to his list of life’s inescapable certainties: January’s barrage of weight loss articles and dieting advice surely is as certain as death and taxes. Just as certain is that we then will savor these with vigor, prodded by tight clothing that reminds us of December’s excesses.
This year, why not stay ahead of the curves—so to speak? You can avoid putting on those extra pounds and still enjoy the holidays. Start before the pressure is on to drop excess pounds, and simply have fun and explore new ways of eating. In the process, you might learn some valuable things about yourself and your body. To help you keep weight in check in the weeks ahead, try these five tips for mindful eating.
1. Make a New Friend. Many of us end up pudgy or overweight because over time, we lose touch with the body’s natural signals of satiety. This season, try to pay attention to your body and watch its reactions. Be mindful of the experience of eating and the effects you feel afterwards. Observe how the body tells you what it needs—and what it doesn’t need. Also notice how and when your mind overrules the body.
Pay attention to how other factors affect your relationship to food: How much sleep you get, your stress level, your mood, and lack of exercise also affect your eating habits, making you more liable to overeat.
Don’t judge yourself and don’t try to force change. As you establish greater awareness of your digestive processes and the body’s signals, you will gradually strengthen its self-regulating mechanisms. Over the long term, this will help you keep your weight in balance more than anything else.
2. Play with Your Food. Yes, we know what Mama told you, but we’re not talking about turning mashed potatoes into mountains. Finding ways to play with your food can help you develop greater awareness of your food and restructure mindless eating habits. For starters, try these exercises:
Divide Fractions. To avoid overeating at holiday meals, experiment with taking smaller and smaller bites of what’s on your plate. Sink your teeth into the first couple of bites, and then take increasingly smaller pieces. Give each morsel your full attention; explore ways to savor each bite as much as you would a full mouthful.
Have Your Cake and Eat It Too. If you really crave it, don’t deny yourself that extra serving of pie. Instead, take half as much as you normally would, and focus on enjoying it twice as much. Relish the taste; savor the ecstasy of the flavors unfolding in your mouth.
Wheeler-Dealer. Make trade-offs. If you eat too much at one meal, eat less at the next or cut out something else you would normally consume.
3. Try Tricks for Treats. There are many reasons why we eat more than we need. For many of us, overeating is linked to our emotions—affording a way to cheer us up or dull the pain of unresolved issues.
If cravings are an issue for you, explore constructive ways to channel them. Eat healthy, low-calorie snacks: an apple, a handful of raw carrots with raisins, or a couple of graham crackers are delicious snacks that won’t make you put on weight. A cup of warm, delicious chai at the end of a meal can help curb the craving for a second helping.
Try not to eat between meals, it disturbs your digestion and messes up the body’s appetite-regulating mechanisms. But if you have to, indulge in healthy, easy-to-digest snacks like the ones listed above.
4. Stay Close to Earth. If we eat food that isn’t very nourishing, our body will continue to signal that it needs food, no matter how much we eat. To reduce cravings and overeating, make sure you get the nutrition you need.
The closer your food is to the earth, the more nutritious, energizing, and nourishing it is. Favor whole, unprocessed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods are the most beneficial not only for regulating weight, but for enhancing your overall health and wellness as well.
There are a great variety of whole foods. Educate yourself about what is available, and experiment with adding more and more whole foods to your diet.
5. Bring Lots of Band-Aids. Approach your journey into changing your eating habits with an attitude of curiosity and adventure. And bring lots of Band-Aids for the trip! Inevitably you will fall; but each time, simply get right back at it.
Lasting change grows from the inside out, gradually, over time. Avoid setting yourself up for the impossible; set realistic and sustainable goals. Attempts at change made with awareness, self-compassion, and patience will yield results over time.
Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D. is the founder and President of YogaUOnline. She is a lead trainer in YogaUOnline’s Yoga Wellness Educator program, an RYT-300 Yoga Alliance approved training that focuses on giving teachers the skills they need to offer wellness courses and work with older beginners.