Can You Enjoy the Holidays without “Without?” Yes – with Mindfulness and Skillful Means…

  • happy holidaysAh, the holidays! Time to eat, drink, and feel guilty…or to turn away virtuously, talking about your diet, and then feel haunted by the hors d’oeuvres not tasted, the nogg not sipped, the desserts not nibbled, and dare I mention the chocolate ---!!!

    You know, it’s a funny thing: as I was drafting this post I created a placeholder on the importance of being mindful with out eating during the holidays. I looked and looked again – was it just a silly typo, or was it a Freudian slip?

    So often without is exactly the default we embrace in our approach to the holidays and their culinary delights: eating without anything deliciously sinful. We should (we think) be eating salads without dressing, proteins and veges without sauces or carbs, and of course dinner without appetizers or dessert. Like Puritans engaging in sex only for procreation, and heaven forbid they enjoy it!

    So am I urging you to go wild - mindfully - at the table, the bar, the buffet? Of course not!

    How, you might ask?

    Through another aspect of mindfulness: a Buddhist value called skillful means. That is, creative thinking to achieve enlightenment, with harm to none and compassion to all. On/off, black/white, yes/no, zero tolerance thinking, have no part in skillful means.

    So for this year I’d like to offer tips that provide skillful means toward eating healthily, taking pleasure in your meals, without overeating, gaining unwanted weight, or feeling guilty. And after the holidays, you’ll be charged with a feeling of accomplishment and the energy to continue the new habits you’ve achieved.

    Here they are…

    1. Set your eating intentions for the holiday. Are you eating to maintain your current weight or to release weight...or perhaps to treat a food allergy or system imbalance? Does this affect your feelings about food? How can you work around those feelings, if necessary? Stating your intent, recognizing your feelings and potential obstacles, setting a goal and creating a clear plan of action will help you to stick to your food choices.
    2. Before you begin to eat or drink, drink a tall glass of water (8-16 oz). This will help you to begin your meal feeling full.
    3. Rather than avoiding holiday goodies entirely and feeling deprived, Neghar Fonooni advises choosing your indulgences wisely through this series of questions:
      • Is this (food, drink, etc) in line with my intentions?
      • If it isn't in line with my intentions, will it really make a huge difference (physically) in the long run if I consume it?
      • If I consume it, will I feel guilty? (If not, commit to guiltless consumption.)
      • If I don't consume it, will it detract from my experience in any way?

      And then proceed accordingly…

    4. If you are going to someone's house bring a delicious/nutritious dish to share with others. Make it with your own dietary needs and goals in mind – this way, no matter what you may choose not to eat, you always have a fallback.
    5. At the party, pause and take a breath before fixing your plate. This keeps you in the present moment. Notice the beauty of the table, the variety and abundance of dishes, the creativity and care they represent. Make a point of sharing your appreciation with others. Celebrate the moment!
    6. Take small servings; you can always come back for seconds. By slowing down the process of eating and making it more conscious, you are allowing your sense of satisfaction to be based on the entire sensory experience rather than just the food.
    7. Before you begin to eat, pause again and think of how each dish was made (the seed, the water and sun that helped the seed to grow, the farmer, the person who made the dish, etc). Take a moment to say “thank you” or a blessing.
    8. Involve all your senses when eating:
      • Smell the aromas of the foods. See if you can identify seasonings they contain
      • Observe all the different colors
      • Feel the texture of foods in your hands or on your tongue
      • Listen to how the foods sound as you chew them
      • Savor the flavors in every bite. Allow your taste buds to dance!
    9. Put down your eating utensils between bites and chew your food thoroughly, until it is liquefied. Research shows that eating slowly can help you to eat less. Chewing your food also breaks it down and helps with digestion, which aids in absorbing more of the nutrients.
    10. Eat until you are satisfied. If you have already eaten a healthy portion and you are still wanting more, check in with your higher wisdom: are you looking for something other than food? What is it that you really need, and how can that need be answered? So often we use food to replace other deeply felt needs.
    11. If food or other issues are causing you stress over the holidays, don’t try to go it alone. Reach out to a, therapist, nutritionist or wellness coach; very often, just having this support can make all the difference.

    Most of all, focus on being fully present with yourself and your loved ones while you enjoy the festivities!


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