Healthy Holiday Eating
by Janene Grodesky, Ph.D.
Roast turkey with cornbread dressing. Mom’s marshmallow smothered candied sweet potatoes. Creamy green bean casserole with fried onion topping. Decadent pecan pie. it’s here – the holiday season. but how does one navigate through the season and make healthy choices? Try “mindful” eating instead of “mindless” eating. Have you ever wondered why – or how – you ate that third serving of garlic-mashed potatoes? it’s because you weren’t paying attention!
“It starts with awareness,” said Hilary Shaw, a registered dietitian and licensed professional counselor in Baton Rouge. “When you pay attention to what you’re eating, you can make small changes that make a big difference. Not paying attention to the ‘what, where, why and how’ we eat can be an issue with some of my clients. You cannot eat compulsively and mindfully at the same time.”
Mindless eating is eating just because it’s there, eating for emotional comfort, or eating while you’re busy doing something else (driving, watching TV, or working on the computer). These tips can help guide you toward a more mindful approach to eating:
Plan. Prepare healthy snacks on Sunday for the week ahead. If you know you are going to a big holiday party one evening, plan that day around healthy snacks and have a strategy for mindful eating while at the party. You don’t have to plan your food down to each bite, and it’s important to be flexible especially at special occasions, but be aware you might be changing your eating habits during the holiday season. When you plan ahead, you are also more likely to eat the amount your body needs.
Eat when you are hungry. Don’t eat just because it’s your usual lunchtime. “Listen to your body’s cues,” said Shaw. “If you’re not hungry, wait until you are, but don’t wait until you’re famished because you might overeat.”
Portion control. During the holidays, you know you will have more opportunities to eat festive snacks and desserts. You don’t have to deprive yourself, but eat smaller portions and less often. One trick is to use a smaller plate when you get in the buffet line.
Pay attention. Do nothing else but eat. Not while watching TV, checking Facebook or shopping online. When you’re distracted, you’re more likely to lose track of how much you’ve eaten.
Slooooowwww down. Savor and enjoy each bite and put your fork down while chewing. Take this time for prayerful reflection of each and every nourishing bite. Try taking a drink of water after each bite. This gives your body enough time to trigger your brain that you are satisfied. Again, listen to your body’s cues.
Use technology. As we continue to become increasingly distracted by modern technology, our focus on health can fall to the back burner. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The American Red Cross suggests using our smart phones and other devices to help us. There are now apps that manage food records, count calories, help track what you’ve eaten, and even provide guidance on healthy food choices at the grocery store and restaurants.
Keep a food diary. Whether electronic or old-fashioned paper and pen, note everything you eat, look at it, then identify why you ate it – was it hunger, stress or boredom? Then look for areas where you can make adjustments and incorporate healthy changes. “Keeping a food diary is a fantastic tool for awareness,” Shaw said. “People can be surprised at the amount they’ve consumed when they review their diaries, as well as what they’ve eaten – and why.”
Know the origins of your food versus thinking of food as an end product. Take time to thank and consider all the people involved in the holiday meal you are about to eat – from those who took the time to prepare it, to those who packaged it, stocked the shelves at the grocery store, to those who harvested it, to those who supported them. When you do, you will feel connected and truly grateful. Reflect and send thanks for the traditions that brought you your food, recipes shared with friends and family, or handed down through generations.
The holidays do not have to be overwhelming or difficult to manage when it comes to food. With just a little more mindfulness this season, you may begin to make wiser choices about the food you eat, why you eat it, and where it comes from.
Dr. Grodesky has a Ph.D. in Kinesiology from LSU. She is currently the program director at the AC Lewis YMCA and Healthy Lifestyles/Hospital Partnership director for the YMCA of the Capital Area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.