Here are ways to enjoy, not be ruled by, your favorite holiday foods.

Share story

On Nutrition

Do the holidays feel like a minefield of less-than-healthful foods? The holiday food environment can be daunting, especially if you are a chronic dieter or struggle with emotional or stress eating. For many people, holiday foods can trigger a pendulum swing from restricting to overindulging.

While it’s important to still fuel your body with healthful foods during the holidays, denying yourself access to favorite foods may leave you feeling deprived. And deprivation can lead to reactionary overeating — often with a side of guilt. Mindful eating offers an alternate way to achieve nutritional and caloric balance during the holiday season while helping you maximize enjoyment of favorite holiday foods.

When you eat mindfully, you use all your senses to choose food that is both satisfying and nourishing. You pay attention — objectively, judgmentally — to whether you like, dislike or feel neutral about a food. You also pay attention to physical hunger and fullness cues to help guide your decisions about when to start and stop eating.

Mindful eating can make it easier to choose foods you truly want and leave the rest, ultimately increasing satisfaction. Giving yourself permission to mindfully eat holiday favorites takes the power back from food. For example, when you give yourself permission to have — and enjoy — the pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, you may be more likely to say “no, thank you” to the store-bought, nothing-special sugar cookies in the break room.

Here’s some more (mindful) food for thought:

Honor hunger. Part of food satisfaction comes from being hungry — because it makes food taste better — but not too hungry. If you are ravenously hungry when you walk into a holiday party or sit down for a holiday meal, you may eat too fast to fully enjoy the food, and you are likely to overeat. This means that dieting tactics, like trying to compensate for an indulgent meal by skipping lunch, will only backfire.

Stay nourished. The holiday season is supposed to be joyful, but it can also be stressful, with overloaded schedules and numerous social obligations. It also may be loaded with emotional triggers for overeating. Chaotic days often lead to chaotic eating, which may mean overeating, undereating or mindless eating. Make a point to stay nourished by scheduling regular meals and snacks.

Practice self-care. Now’s a good time to take stock of your emotional coping mechanisms, because food shouldn’t be the focus of how you’re going to make it through the holidays. What do you need to do for yourself to stay sane? For many people, physical activity, sleep and some quiet time are critical to feeling well and keeping stress levels manageable.

Rehearse. If you traditionally walk away from holiday events feeling overfull, stage a mental dress rehearsal. Imagine yourself choosing the foods that taste good and feel good to your body. Imagine yourself mindfully savoring them and walking away feeling satisfied, not stuffed. This sort of rehearsal is also helpful for dealing with food pushers, another holiday trouble zone. Imagine yourself politely but firmly declining food you don’t want, no matter how well-intentioned the offer.

Reduce mindless triggers. Mindless eating, the antithesis of mindful eating, is often triggered by visual food cues, prompting overeating or food choices that aren’t the most satisfying.

• At parties or other holiday gatherings, sit or stand where extra food isn’t constantly in view.

• At home, serve food from the kitchen or a sideboard, not the dining table.

• At home and work, don’t leave bowls of candy or plates of cookies in sight.