Avoiding the Holiday Overindulgence Trap

With Halloween safely behind us – and more candy than any of us knows what to do with on top of our fridges, we’ve officially entered the holiday season. With Thanksgiving just around the corner I’m excited about the chance to gather in gratitude and share a warm and hearty meal. Oh the food! The pie and cookies, the stuffing, and my favorite: green bean casserole with fried onions on top.

With the food and treat onslaught upon us it can be easy to overindulge and find ourselves trying to make amends come January. But this overindulgence doesn’t just affect our waistlines, it also affects our ability to savor the food and family that comes with the festivities. Here are some tips to help your body and your family get more enjoyment out of the abundance of the season.

Kid and Adult Friendly Hunger Scale

One tip that seems to be on every “how to” holiday eating guide is moderation. The problem with this great tip is that moderation for you can be different than moderation for me. A little moving inward (and trying to avoid all the externalinformation our environment inundates us with about food) can help restore a personal sense of what moderation really means.

A hunger scale is a straightforward one to ten. One is very hungry and ten is very full. For me, at one I feel lightheaded, cranky, and my stomach growls painfully. At a ten, I’m so uncomfortable head to toe, I feel like I can’t move without being rolled. At five, I’m neither feeling starving or full, I have energy and my body feels at ease.  For young children the concept can be introduced as “hungry like a lion” for really hungry and  “hungry like an ant” for full instead of numbers.

Experiment with your kids throughout the day. How hungry/full do you feel at different points before, during and after a meal? What are the different body sensations? It can be fun, and a great way to turn the food discussion into an internal process. Maybe two pieces of pie after the Thanksgiving meal will land you in an uncomfortably full place. Perhaps restricting food to try to “save room” for turkey and mashed potatoes will only lead you to rush the meal and overeat. Listening to your body and its needs with a hunger scale is moderation at your own body’s pace.

Mindful Eating

The Center for Mindful Eating is a great resource, chock full of tips for tuning into the internal and slowing down the process of eating, bite by bite. From their website (www.tcme.com), mindful eating is:

  • learning to make choices in beginning or ending a meal based on awareness of hunger and satiety cues;
  • learning to identify personal triggers for mindless eating, such as emotions, social pressures, or certain foods;
  • valuing quality over quantity of what you’re eating;
  • appreciating the sensual, as well as the nourishing, capacity of food;
  • feeling deep gratitude that may come from appreciating and experiencing food

Doesn’t that make eating food sound like a really fun and indulgent process? Add that to the joy of the holidays and it’s a great set up for amazing experiences.

To try mindful eating at home, choose an array of items and slowly, simply, eat with your five senses. Hold the carrot, or apple, or ? in your hand. How does it feel – cool, soft? Look – shiny, bright, orange? Smell – sweet, spicy? Next take a bite and hold it in your mouth for a few moments before chewing. Now how does it feel, taste, sound? How are the sensations different once you start chewing and swallowing? You may notice that eating in this way has quite a few benefits – feeling more in touch with your body’s cues about when and how much to eat in addition to a more enjoyable meal.

This holiday season I hope you enjoy all it has to offer, the family togetherness, the cool evenings spent snuggled up in gratitude and love, and the food!

For some additional resources for eating to enjoy this holiday season (and all year round):

Sharing Food: Nourishment and Connection by Melissa Johnson, Ph.D., Institute for Girls’ Development

Mindful Holiday Eating, WholeLiving.com

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Please note: Nothing in what you find here should be construed as medical advice pertinent to any individual. As is true with all written materials, and especially information found on the internet, you must be the judge of what appears valid and useful for yourself. Please take up any questions you might have regarding the content of this website with your psychotherapist or physician.