By Claire Yanta-O’Mahoney
Tis the season! The holidays are officially in full swing.
This busy time of year is full of parties of all varieties: office parties, neighborhood parties, friend get-togethers, family gatherings and then Christmas itself! It’s a blast but it can also be stressful, especially when you know that tasty treats are around every corner.
Instead of feeling overwhelmed by all the temptations, switch your mindset and put yourself in a position of power. Food is just that – food. It can’t compel you to do things! This year, give yourself the gift of healthy choices that will result in you feeling empowered, feeling healthy, happy, and satisfied.
Here are some ways to give yourself the best gift you can ever give, good health:
Instead of showing up to that holiday event starving and ready to inhale the whole bowl of chips, have a snack and a few glasses of water before you go. This might seem counter-intuitive especially if you know there will be food at the event, but if you go in mildly sated, you’ll be able to make better choices about what to eat. Everyone knows what happens when you’re dying of hunger – you go for the first thing you see, which is usually the less healthy option! Another benefit of showing up with a little fuel in your stomach means that you can focus on the socializing and connecting with others, instead of feeling like you can’t tear yourself away from the food table. Win win!
Be a Food Snob
Yes, you read that right. So you’re at the party, you had your snack and water, and you’re feeling good, and you’re surveying the food table. Be picky about what you eat when there’s an ample amount of overly indulgent dishes. Pass up foods that won’t bring you pleasure and don’t eat something just because it’s sitting in front of you.
Another salient point about being a food snob is that there is no point in eating something mediocre. Why eat the treat if it’s not tasty and worthwhile? If there’s a cookie at a party that’s ho-hum and isn’t your favorite flavor, just skip it. But if it’s a freshly baked cookie from your dear grandmother’s recipe book that you baked with your cousins, then perhaps it’s worth a few bites. It’s more than worth it to save up for the good stuff when you really want it and you know it’s delicious!
It’s about reversing the control. The doughnuts your well-intended coworker brought in to surprise the office are not in control of you; they’re just doughnuts. Instead, YOU are in control of the doughnuts, and you don’t have to eat them. The mere opportunity to eat food that you truly don’t want or need doesn’t mean that you have to be compelled to eat it. Think about it; that’s a powerful thought to keep in mind!
Ok, so you’re feeling good from the snack and water, you’ve surveyed the food options, and you’ve decided to give a few a try. Before you take that first bite, listen to your body and check in with how hungry you are. Think about connecting with your body and find that satisfaction sweet spot. Pause throughout your bites and gauge where you are. Stop eating when you’re satisfied, not stuffed. Most of us don’t consider we’re full until we’re filled to the brim. Not comfortable! Also, if the food doesn’t taste that exciting anymore, that’s another sign that it might be time to be done. If there are leftovers – that’s what Tupperware is for! Hooray for leftovers!
If you think about your hunger as a scale from 1 to 10 with one being overly full and ten being absolutely famished, aim to feel about a six when you’re finished eating so that you’re satisfied, but not stuffed. It’s all about connecting with your body and finding that satisfaction sweet spot.
Think back through your day so far: were all your meals eaten on the go, maybe in the car or on the subway? Were you watching TV, looking at your phone, or maybe eating at your desk while looking at the computer? I am often guilty of the very same mindless eating in hopes of accomplishing more by multitasking. No one is perfect, and these days more than ever, most of us feel rushed with so much to do!
However, there is a lot of evidence that backs up how this “mindless” eating we often engage in, is really not as efficient as we’d like to think. Instead, we should transition towards a more focused and “mindful” way of eating. Mindful eaters consume fewer calories throughout the day because they savor their food and they feel satisfied sooner than people who eat when they’re distracted, says Susan Albers, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and the author of Eating Mindfully.
Mindful eaters are actually less stressed about food in general and have a lower BMI than those who don’t practice the technique, according to a study published in the Journal Appetite. They also are more adept at recognizing their body’s hunger cues to distinguish between true hunger and emotional hunger, which can often be bored eating (um… also guilty. I just put away the Kashi cereal and made a cup of tea!). Since mindful eaters are more connected to their true hunger quotient, their system signals when they need to eat, and they eat what they need to, when they need to. This way of eating keeps you more energized, so you’re not ravenous by dinnertime.
Eat with Balance
Oh my favorite word, balance! At every meal, aim to get some protein, fiber, and fat which will not only result in a nutritionally balanced meal but a satisfying one as well. These three ingredients take the longest to break down causing a slower release of energy, thus keeping you fuller for longer. You can get protein from many sources like nuts, meat, fish, beans, tofu, and poultry. Opt for fibers like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seeds, and nuts. Do not be afraid of fats! Look for healthy fats like avocado, nuts, nut butter, seeds, and olive oils.
If you tend to eat your breakfast on the go, try to plan just a few extra minutes into your morning to allow yourself sit down to eat, with silverware, and without the TV or your phone. Try to actually taste it, chew it, and enjoy it. If eating a whole meal this way is a bit too daunting, aim for just three minutes of mindful eating. Some experts claim this is enough time for your brain to register pleasure and the beginning of satiety.
At the end of the day, mindful eating is a set of skills that with practice, will improve. Just like any skill, mindful eating will get easier. It’s all about being in tune with your body, listening to it, giving it what it needs, and living in a balanced way. A quote I came across the other day that stuck with me is, “Your body is not a garbage can.” So treat it right because you deserve it!
What are some of your favorite practices when it comes to eating?
Author: A proud veteran spouse originally from St. Louis, Founder and Trainer Claire Yanta-O’Mahoney started Fleur de Lis Fitness as a way to help clients seize the day and transform themselves into the healthier person they deserve to be. She offers fitness and healthy nutrition coaching to clients both in the Charlottesville, VA area as well as across the globe LIVE online. Claire tailors her programs to clients’ individual goals and needs so that it fits their lifestyle. Claire is an American Council on Exercise (ACE) Certified Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor and earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Masters of Science in Developmental Psychology from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Other than sharing her passion for fitness and nutrition with clients, Claire loves spending time with her husband, family, friends, traveling, reading, and cooking (or “health-ifying” recipes).