On Nutrition

Holiday eating can be pleasurable, stressful or both at the same time. Whether your approach to food is mindless, obsessive or somewhere in between, bringing some mindfulness to Thanksgiving can help you dial up the joy while turning down the volume on stressful or judgmental thoughts about your eating. Let’s take a look at what mindful eating is, what it isn’t, and how you can put it into practice right away.

Mindful eating is not careful eating

If you try to be “mindful” of your portion sizes, you’re stamping some sort of external rule onto how much you’re eating. You’re not being mindful, you’re being careful. While careful eaters are not officially on a diet, they tend to be vigilant about what they eat, spending a lot of mental time and energy worrying about what foods and how much food to eat.

Whereas careful eating is rigid, mindful eating is flexible and adaptive. Practicing mindful eating helps you become aware of your many thoughts, feelings and physical sensations related to eating. When you eat mindfully, you use all your senses to choose food that is both satisfying and nourishing. You pay attention — objectively and nonjudgmentally — to whether you like, dislike or feel neutral about a food. You also pay attention to hunger, fullness and satisfaction 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 can also take the power back from food. For example, when you give yourself full permission to have — and enjoy — a slice of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, you’re less likely to eat three slices later or rummage in the pantry for something else sweet to eat.

Mindful eating is not just eating slowly

Yes, slowing down our eating can make it easier to eat mindfully. However, it’s possible to eat slowly yet remain unaware of the experience of eating. You can eat slowly while you’re distracted, you can eat slowly while you’re lost in thought. If your mind is full, you probably aren’t being mindful.

Try this: When you sit down at the holiday table, don’t immediately pick up your fork. Take a moment to look at the food, the table settings, the decorations. What aromas do you notice? What sounds do you hear? We “eat” with our eyes and all our senses, and those senses can be fed by more than just food.


Take a moment to verbally or silently express gratitude for the food on your plate, the people you get to share it with, and the people (known and unknown) who made it possible for you to enjoy that meal — the farmers, processors, drivers, grocery store stockers and cashiers. This can bring more meaning and mindfulness to your meal.

Then, before you pick up your fork, set your intention for the meal. This might be to satisfy hunger, enjoy your favorite holiday foods, and step away from the table feeling pleasantly full rather than uncomfortably full and in need of a nap.

When you take your first bite, notice the temperature, texture and initial flavors in your mouth. As you chew, notice how the texture changes, and be curious about whether the flavors change — this may not be the case if you just took a bite of turkey, but you may detect different flavors as you chew a bite of stuffing or a festive fall salad. Keep chewing until there’s no discernible texture left, then swallow, noticing the food descend toward your stomach.

Setting down your fork between bites has the benefit of slowing down your eating pace. This makes it easier to notice when you are becoming full and satisfied and allows you to renew your intention each time you pick up your fork. Your intention might be to continue to work toward satisfying your hunger, or it might be to savor the bite of sweet potato casserole you just scooped up. Whatever the reason, know why you are continuing to pick up your fork.

Here are a few more tips for a more mindful — and more pleasant — Thanksgiving:

  • Continue to be intentional. Staying well nourished by eating regular meals and snacks will keep you from sitting down to dinner — on holidays and every day — ravenous. When you are about to reach for food, ask yourself “Am I hungry?” and “Is this what I really want to be eating right now?” If the answer to either one is “No,” take a pause and ask yourself what it is you really need, or what it is you would prefer to eat, if other options are available, or will be soon. This gives you the opportunity to make a conscious decision, rather than acting on autopilot.
  • Take stock of your resources. The holidays can be loaded with emotional eating triggers. Now is a good time to take stock of your emotional coping tools, so food doesn’t need to be the focus of how you’re going to make it through Thanksgiving — or the rest of the season. If getting a decent night’s sleep, going for a walk, or grabbing some alone time on the holiday help you stay balanced and feel like yourself — establish some personal boundaries to protect that you-time. Self-care isn’t selfish.
  • Set food boundaries. Imagine yourself politely but firmly declining food you don’t want, no matter how well-intentioned the offer. If you suspect a simple “No, thank you” won’t cut it, rehearse simple statements that start with a compliment and finish with a deflection, such as “Mmmm … that looks delicious. I’m not hungry right now, but I’ll have some later” or “The food was all too wonderful … I literally could not eat another bite.” Mindful eating means satisfying your own needs, not someone else’s needs.