Mindful Eating for a Successful Holiday Season

By: Other | December 2, 2016

Written by Kelly Anderson, Ph.D.

Winter has finally made its way to San Diego! Along with the cooler weather and shorter nights, many Americans are finding themselves in the middle of the holiday season. Whether or not this time of year holds significance for celebrating holidays, winter is a time that begs for comfort food and makes it difficult to find a healthy balance between savoring the season and healthy habits.

With every store promoting sweet treats and savory dishes to accompany the various celebrations that occur from November into the New Year, many find this time of year to be one of stress and overindulgence. With family gatherings, Friendsgivings, work pot lucks, and endless holiday parties it’s no wonder that one of the most popular New Year resolutions centers around physical fitness.

Mindful eating is a strategy that has been well researched and can aid individuals with eating disorders, over eating, losing weight, and eating more healthfully. Mindful eating has also been associated with aiding in better controlling of chronic health conditions1. The goal behind mindful eating is not restriction and does not need to focus on losing or not gaining weight. Eating mindfully allows you to both enjoy the foods you want to eat and eat in a healthy, present way. A way to think about mindful eating is to keep in mind the quote by philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Moderation in all things, especially moderation.”

It takes time for our body to recognize that we are full and send a signal of satiety to our minds – about 20 minutes. This is why you go from a feeling of hunger to needing to unbutton your pants with little in between! Slowing down, staying present focused and eating mindfully can help you adhere to healthy eating goals as well as support your body’s system in regulating hunger and satiety cues. Eating all the foods you enjoy, in moderation, can keep you from feeling deprived while also keeping health goals in mind.

Try any or all of the tips below to see if they are useful for you this holiday season.

Set the stage

  • When beginning any meal, think about how hungry you actually are and try to plan to eat to satisfy that current feeling of hunger
    • Plan to eat more if you’re very hungry and less if you’re eating to enjoy the taste of a favorite food or snack
  • Use a smaller plate
    • Research has shown that using smaller plates correlates to a smaller amount of calories consumed2
    • Having a smaller plate that is full still leaves the consumer feeling satiated, suggesting that a smaller plate that appears fuller can have a powerful effect
  • Use discretion when making choices by starting with the foods that you want most so you can eat those first
    • This may potentially prevent over eating by later going back for the most desired foods you skipped out on to begin with
  • Plan to sit down when eating to slow the process of the meal

Eat mindfully

  • Before even taking your first bite, take a few moments to visually scan your food and describe what the food looks like to you– the colors, the visual texture, the shape and size of the foods
    • This slows down the habitual way we eat (mindless eating) and really lets you begin to enjoy this experience
    • You can use the same strategy with scent
  • Take one small bite at a time
    • Chew each bite and describe the flavors as you chew
    • Savor the food you’re eating!
  • Take time between each bite before taking the next
    • Allow your body the time to send you signals of being full or hungry
    • Put your fork down between each bite; take 2-3 breaths before your next one

Check-in before getting seconds (or dessert!)

  • Reassess how hungry or full you are now, before going back for seconds or moving on to dessert
    • If you are inclined to get something more to eat, plan once again for how hungry you feel in that moment and take a size appropriate portion for that level of hunger
  • Try to allow a minimum of 20 minutes between the first bites of your meal and deciding to get seconds
  • Remind yourself that you can go back for more to eat later if you get hungry again, you do not have to get more to eat right now

This certainly is not the only time of year that using mindfulness during a meal may be beneficial. These skills can be used throughout the year to aid in healthy eating habits. Being focused on your meal and enjoying it can also bring an additional sense of satisfaction to eating and appreciation for the work that goes into a meal.


  • Mindful Eating — Studies Show This Concept Can Help Clients Lose Weight and Better Manage Chronic Disease
    By Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD Today’s Dietitian 15 No. 3 P. 42
  • Holden, Stephen S., Natalina Zlatevska, and Chris Dubelaar (2016). Whether smaller plates reduce consumption depends on who’s serving and who’s looking: a meta-analysis. The Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 1.


Image: Britt Selvitelle on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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