The holidays are perhaps the most tempting time to break our usual healthy eating habits. Some of your favorite foods are being served, so putting on the holiday pounds can become a harsh reality if we’re not careful during all of the festivities. But, fear not, because we’ve got you covered! Adopt our five tricks during your next holiday feast and you can remain mindful through the temptation and steer clear of overindulgence.
1. Go for the smaller size. Portion control is widely known, but it could leave you still feeling hungry afterwards from knowing that you ate just a small amount. A trick for eating mindfully, while feeling satisfied, is controlling the size of your plate. Imagine that you’re standing in line waiting to serve yourself a plate of food at a holiday gathering. You see before you a whole table lined with your favorite foods, and you just can’t wait to sample all of it. At this moment, it’s instinctive to reach for a big plate and start loading it with all the foods you want. BUT, instead of reaching for that big plate for the delicious offerings, try grabbing for a smaller plate and putting the food there. Yes, it’s straightforward, but we often grab a full-sized plate for every meal when we really don’t need that much food. Grabbing the smaller plate limits our portions and overall meal size, and leads us to lower intake. Our brains psychologically feel more satisfied eating a small plate of food that is full, rather than the same amount of food placed on a larger plate; this makes it appear as if it’s less food when it’s not. Turns out you didn’t need the huge plate after all!
2. Landscape your plate. With all of the options you might have during holiday mealtime, it’s important to keep good ratios among your food groups. It’s an easy mistake to load half of your plate with simple carbohydrates that bloat your gut. A best practice for landscaping your plate is like this: fill half of your plate with vegetables, add a fist-size of a source of protein, a handful of complex carbs like whole grains and starches (try sweet potatoes, corn, pumpkins or beans). Get a smaller portion of a simple carb like bread or pasta and the smallest helping of desserts.
3. Chew each bite 30 times. Chewing, like walking and breathing, is so second nature that most of us don’t really chew our food properly. The eating process is usually far too rushed since it’s done out of habit, so that causes us to chew food too quickly and swallow too soon. The result is larger chunks of food that are harder to digest and can clog up your intestine. Those larger, unchewed chunks of improperly digested food can also lead to leaky gut—an uncomfortable digestive ailment that leaks toxins from the gut back into the body. A way to practice mindful food consumption is by chewing your food at least 30 times every time you put a new bite into your mouth. Each chew will continue to break the food down, and you might even taste different layers of flavor in the food you are eating. Chewing your food 30 times also prepares the food in your mouth for easier digestion once it goes down to your GI tract.
4. Slow your pace and put down your utensils. It’s something that doesn’t cross the mind too often, but this is a powerful small change that will keep you mindful and attentive while eating your meal. Our habit is usually to keep our forks in our hands and just keep going bite after bite before our stomachs can catch up with us and we suddenly realize that we’ve been full since 20 bites ago! Beyond being a bad habit that leads to unhealthiness, it’s just another way to take us away from being mindful and present with each bite. Try this instead: After each bite, put your utensils down. When we hold our fork constantly in our hands, we fall into the trained habit of loading out mouth with another bite as soon as we’ve swallowed the previous one. Putting your silverware down after each bite will set a break period and time to focus on the food that you’re currently chewing, rather than going through the motions mindlessly.
5. Limit your water while eating. Most people, out of habit, wash down their meal with a huge glass of water or drink. It’s easy to be guilty of this since eating makes us thirsty, and the drink usually helps us get it down faster and satiate our thirst. Well, the real reason we’re thirsty after eating is because our foods contain much more sodium than our body needs so our bodies crave water to compensate that. And did you know that using water to aid in chewing is actually bad for digestion? When we drink a lot during a meal, it lubricates the food and leads us to improper chewing, which in turn makes the food more difficult to break down, taking longer to digest. Consuming large amounts of water while eating fills up our stomach way faster, taking up more space and causing gastric reflux. While some may recommend not drinking water during a meal at all, we’d say that’s not entirely necessary. You can drink in moderation as needed—just don’t intake too much or you’ll disrupt your digestive process.
Put these methods into practice so that you can both enjoy the holiday festivities and avoid mindless consumption when the meal is served. If you often find yourself feeling overstuffed or unsettled after every meal, you can adopt these tips outside of the holidays, too. As long as you remain mindful and do everything with intention, you can find a balance between healthy enjoyment and indulgence—it just takes a little bit of your care and attention.