The holiday period can feel a little like a minefield when it comes to food choices. The calendar fills with so many social engagements that are centered around food. So. Much. Food.

The stress around eating and food choices is often compounded by the emotional nature of the holidays themselves. And all of a sudden a time of year that should be filled with fun and connection ends up being something we dread.

But what if we could do things differently? What if we could reduce the stress around food choices without a restrictive diet or physically hiding in the closet for a few months?

That’s where mindful eating comes in. It’s just the tool we need to help navigate eating over the holiday season.

Becoming a mindful eater is a long term game but we can use the ample opportunities offered up over the festive season to get started. The goal is progress not perfection.

Focus on holiday foods

Maybe it’s Aunt Sue’s famous stuffing or Grandma’s once a year pecan pie. But think about the foods that you associate with holidays. Think about the foods you only get to enjoy at this time of year. These are the foods that strengthen your connection to the holidays and traditions.

Connection to food is an important part of our relationship with it. Food plays so many more roles than simply fueling, so it’s important to acknowledge and honor this.

Action step: Prioritize choosing foods that you only see at this time of year or foods that have a special connection to the holiday period.

Festive eating with awareness

Try to cue into your body and what you really feel like. When you turn up to a festive function peruse the foods on offer and try using this powerful opener:

“I can have anything I want; what do I really feel like? What would feel really satisfying in this moment?”

This is more about cueing into your body and less about using the rules. You’ll notice I didn’t say “What do I need?” or “What is the healthiest option?” Try to truly cue into what foods satisfy you and eat those foods. This can reduce a whole lot of ‘I shouldn’t eat that’ eating. You know what I mean right? You try to avoid eating one thing but end up eating three times more than you actually feel like in an attempt to feel satisfied.

Hitting your satisfaction point can help to reduce food cravings and “out of control” eating. This is because you aren’t depriving yourself of the foods that really hit the mark for you. You’re not eating the dip and vegetable crudite when you really feel like a fruit mince pie – you are listening to your body and eating what you need in that moment to feel fully satisfied.

When we go for satisfaction right out of the gate we can eat, enjoy and move on.

Action step: Instead of focusing on all the food rules cue into your body and what you feel like.

get rid of the food guilt over the holidays

Ditch the guilt

Feeling guilty about what we eat generally leads to one thing: overeating. Either you overeat straight away in a “I’ve blown it now” binge. Or you might dabble in a little restriction first to atone for your “sins” but when the next festive season function appears on your calendar you “fall off the wagon” in spectacular fashion. This is diet mindset thinking––all or nothing and no room for any shades of grey.

And all it does is set you up for feeling pretty crap about yourself.

Instead, try to approach eating as a guilt and judgement-free zone. After all, food didn’t steal anyone’s TV or cheat on your best friend. It doesn’t warrant a moral judgement. Surprisingly, when we ditch the moral labels around food it can be a whole lot easier to approach them in a mindful way.

Action step: When you notice unhelpful thoughts pop up around food imagine them like a fluffy cloud floating across the sky and simply let them float by. No need to hold onto them or buy into the story they are selling.

Don’t forget the self-care

With all the stress involved around the holidays and a busier than normal social schedule it can be easy to end up tired and frazzled. If you find yourself using food as a way to manage emotions this can be even more noticeable.

Before the holiday season gets in full swing make sure you’ve got a full toolbox of self-care strategies and a plan.

Maybe this is saying no to a few events or scheduling in some down time. Perhaps it’s adding in some stress reducing movement, a meditation or another form of mindfulness.

What do you need to keep your stress levels manageable?

Action step: Schedule self-care into the holiday calendar.

Mindful eating is not about perfection, it’s about practice, awareness and compassion. The holidays are a great time to get started on mindful eating or to strengthen your skills if you’ve already begun. There’s no need to write off the whole festive season or wait until the first of January to prioritize you and your relationship to food.

The holiday season is the perfect time to eat, drink and be mindful.

How to eat mindfully over the holidays without counting calories or having a toxic mindset