Overeating This Holiday Season? It’s in Your Mind, Not Your Belly

Overeating This Holiday Season? It’s in Your Mind, Not Your Belly

Give a person a fish, and you feed them for a day.  Tempt them with cheesecake, and you triple their caloric intake.  Teach them to eat mindfully, and you give them self-love for a lifetime.  

The holiday season is a narrow maze of culinary temptation. We don’t want to overindulge, but we often feel like we don’t have a choice.  The choice between eating a thick slice of turkey with a side of creamy mashed potatoes and not eating is no choice at all.

Every year around this time you can expect the arrival of health-related advice columns that are as numerous as Christmas tree ornaments.  Many of them offer sound advice – eat fruits and vegetables, drink lots of water, fill up on healthy food before you leave for that holiday potluck – but they don’t address the root causes of overeating.    

Culture is our friend. It provides a common space for us to relate to one another.  During the holidays, this means finding peace and joy through connection with those around us. But there are times when it does not serve our best interests.  A holiday culture that insists that we eat that latke or drink that eggnog, even when it goes against what we want for ourselves, is not an ally. We should never go along to get along. 

This is easier said than done for human beings who are wired for belonging and social conformity.  The solution doesn’t lie in a hardened opposition to our own appetites or to social pressures to eat foods that others put in front of us. Nor will punishing ourselves and obsessing about the negative consequences of our dietary choices make the situation any better.

Mindfulness lights the way to a kinder gentler approach and compassion towards ourselves is the first step.

In the best selling book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh and Harvard lecturer and nutritionist Dr. Lillian Cheung draw on Buddhist mindfulness teachings to reorient readers’ attitudes towards themselves and their eating habits:          

“Mindfulness allows us to acknowledge our habit energy every time it pops up: “Hello my habit energy. I know you are there.” If you just mindfully smile to your habit energy, it will lose much of its strength.” 

These are wise words for those of us who like to give ourselves several dozen lashes for every bonbon we pop in our mouths. They tell us, “be kind to yourself. These habits are not who you are. If you can slow down and watch yourself go through the motions, you’ll get a handle on it!”

Karen Pitt is a registered eating psychology and health coach at WellnessWrx. The scope of her expertise includes mindful eating and exploring the connections between brain, body, and behaviour as they relate to nutrition.  One client said of Karen that “(she) is a thoughtful, wise, reliable coach.  She offers the right balance of patience, insight, and accountability, which has enabled me to reach my goals.”  You can visit Karen’s Wrx profile here.

Slowing down is critical.  We are too often prone to leap from impulse to impulse, allowing ourselves to be pulled along by a tractor beam of endless distraction.  If it’s not the bonbon, it’s your next work deadline, or a text message from your cousin in Timbuktu. 

When we are in a distracted state, our decision to pop that bonbon is not conscious, it’s just a reflex.  If we slow down, take a few deep breaths, pause, and treasure every bite for all the glorious texture and flavour that it offers, we give ourselves space to make choices that are in line with our best selves, whether they involve bonbons or broccoli.    

According to an article on the Harvard Medical Blog, distracted eating can cause interruptions in digestion, weakening the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. The article also mentions an NIH-funded controlled study where, with the aid of mindful eating practices, subjects showed increased ability to enjoy their food and control what they ate.  Mindful eating is also reported to help cope with the sense of food-related guilt that many people suffer from.       

Being in a mindful place does not mean that we sit all day long in lotus position and eat kale. The true meaning of mindfulness is being in a space of love and joy to ourselves, nurturing our quirks, likes, and dislikes, and being non-judgmentally open to whatever arises.      

Bonbons, cheesecake, and other holiday delights are not the work of the devil. If we are going to partake, let us do so mindfully, as a conscious choice, loving ourselves while giving ourselves permission to cherish every moment of warmth, comradery, and delicious food that the holidays bring us.      

Seth Feldman, WellnessWrx Sage Copywriter and PR Strategist