Enjoy every bite this Thanksgiving: Mindful eating and body kindness portions

Woman about to take bite of pasta with her eyes closed showing eating mindfully. The woman is eating a table with a coffee cup on it, a vine of leaves going across it and cranberries scattered on it.

*Editor’s Note: The “Views from NAU” blog series highlights the thoughts of different people affiliated with NAU, including faculty members sharing opinions or research in their areas of expertise. The views expressed reflect the authors’ own personal perspectives.

Photo of Madi Elsner, UCAN Manager, against brick wallBy Madi Elsner

UCAN Manager, NAU

Savoring your sweet (potatoes) this holiday season

The holidays are among us! Bring on the delicious meals with your loved ones.

Practicing mindful eating can help you truly enjoy and appreciate a good meal. Mindful eating means that you use your physical and emotional senses to fully appreciate the nourishment and pleasure of the meal. Mindfulness improves the overall eating experience.

Here are a few tips to help you get started on eating mindfully:

  1. Tune in. Food is meant to be enjoyed! The next time you sit down to eat a meal, try tuning into your senses. Think about how the food tastes, what flavors you are experiencing and what the texture is like. Notice how the food you are eating makes you feel. Some foods may bring feelings of joy or even bring back happy memories. Thinking about these things can help you really enjoy each bite of your meal.
  2. Notice your body’s hunger and fullness cues. These cues help guide you to eat the right amount of food that your body needs at that moment. Aim to start eating when gently hungry but not “hangry,” and consider finding a comfortably satisfied but not uncomfortably full stopping point. It takes some experimenting, so scoop up a side of self-compassion to go with those mashed potatoes. You also do not need to finish everything on your plate. This can be difficult, especially if you have that “clean your plate” mentality from childhood. If you’re worried about wasting food, you can always pack it away for later!
  3. Ditch the food rules. Food has no moral value. This means that there is no such thing as a “good” food or a “bad” food. You do not need to deprive yourself of the food you love, and you definitely do not need to feel guilty for eating the foods you crave. The holidays can include some of your favorite foods or favorite family recipes. You don’t want to miss out on those. And you don’t need to sacrifice taste by adjusting the recipe in the name of health. No one wants to eat your cauliflower mashed potatoes. While it is perfectly fine to aim for a balanced and nutritious diet, it is important not to let calorie counting get in the way of you enjoying a good meal with your loved ones. Try giving yourself full permission to eat the foods you love—guilt-free!

And remind yourself that you can enjoy these foods the very next day in the form of leftovers and year-round, really, if that’s your jam. It’s the fear of food scarcity that triggers overeating. If you believe you shouldn’t be eating something or won’t be “allowed” to eat that food in the near future, of course, you’re going to overeat. But if you remind yourself that you can enjoy that food again soon, that food loses its power over you.

Cultivate body kindness this holiday season

Holiday meals can be stressful for those struggling with body confidence. When you practice body kindness, you can improve the way you see yourself. Body kindness is a mindset. It is about treating your body with respect and compassion and creating the life that you want to live.

All bodies are beautiful and come in all different shapes and sizes, and numbers do not define your worth!

Here are a few ways to begin your journey toward being kinder to your body during the holiday season (and year-round):

  1. Say goodbye to diet culture. Having a good relationship with food and being kind to your body can be difficult. Diet culture is all around us, telling us what to eat and what to look like, creating unrealistic expectations. It’s time to toss the scale and tell diets to get lost. Body kindness challenges diet culture. When you practice body kindness, you do not have food rules controlling your life. Instead of counting calories, restricting how much you eat and depriving yourself of your favorite foods, try to listen to your body cues, honor your cravings and practice mindful eating. Go ahead, enjoy your favorite holiday foods and delicious family recipes, no strings attached! Food choice is a small piece of the health puzzle. Consider all of your self-care patterns, like sleep, hydration, friendships, relaxation, physical movement and stress management. Body kindness involves zooming out and seeing the bigger picture.
  2. Replace negative self-talk. Negative body image thoughts may pop up around the holidays when you’re comparing yourself to others or maybe even hearing judgmental comments about your body from others. Reframe your negative body image thoughts or the statements you are hearing to be neutral or positive. When you find a negative body image thought popping into your head, change it! You can do this by thinking of the direct opposite thought, thinking about what your body does for you, thinking about a positive quality that isn’t related to your appearance or focusing on what you do like about yourself. Remember that these negative thoughts do not determine your worth, and they are not true!
  3. Develop self-compassion. Accept yourself as you are. Be kind to yourself even when you are feeling down. You can practice self-compassion in several different ways. One way is to treat yourself the way you would treat a close friend. When you experience trials, reframe the negative thoughts to a positive growth mindset. Find meaning and learning opportunities in the challenges you face and stay curious.

Lastly, practice gratitude, appreciating the gifts and learning lessons life gives you, and celebrate the wonderful things your body does for you.

NAU Communications