Have you ever over-indulged over the festive season, and felt guilty and bloated afterwards? I think that probably applies to most of us!
Clients regularly talk to me about what they "should" or "shouldn't" be doing or having, and one of the first things I often work on with people is guilt, regret, or even shame. It's a pleasure and a privilege to be able to support clients as their stories unfold, and to notice how they light up when they experience hope, belief, and a real sense of purpose in a positive future.
We all experience the world through our memories, habits, beliefs, and triggers. We naturally have emotional connections with food, and at a time of year when loved ones gather together it can be challenging to achieve a healthy balance. It can also be difficult for people who don't have their friends and family around them, or have recently lost someone close to them.
Making more conscious and mindful choices in line with with long-term goals means we can allow ourselves the occasional indulgence. It doesn't mean you have to eat a salad for Christmas dinner, unless you want to of course! Being healthy is about having a long-term outcome in mind, with a sense of purpose behind it, and doing the things which help with this most of the time.
Mindful eating brings your attention to what, when, where, and how you are eating. Often 'why' as well! This is about noticing the healthy habits which work for you, as well as being aware of your triggers for unhealthy choices.
Here are 5 tips to help you enjoy a guilt-free festive season and a happier, healthier New Year:
1. Focus on what you want, rather than what you don’t want. What you focus on you get more of. If I say I'm going to "give up chocolate" or "drink less wine", guess what pops straight into my head?!
A friend recently shared an article about diet research and comprehensive studies by Charlotte Markey, which proved that strict dieting can result in craving and binging, and lead to less healthy habits over the long term. Worse still, evidence shows that people who are always on diets are more likely to re-gain weight. A sense of 'missing out' and an awareness of the lack of choice can't possibly help, in my experience.
2. Make more conscious choices, and plan ahead. Have plenty of healthy options available, and you can plan lighter meals to balance out the rich, stodgy feasts which are traditional at this time of year!
Be more conscious of what, when, where, and how you're eating, noticing the triggers for less healthy choices in-the-moment. It can help to pause and check against your long-term goals for your health, and whether you really want or need to eat in that moment.
Dehydration can fool us into thinking we are hungry, so drink plenty of water. Herbal teas can be a good option too. And did you know that the body takes up to 20 minutes to register that we're full? Try to eat more slowly, and don't be tempted to rush your food in social situations. Consider taking smaller portions - you can always eat more later when you're sure you're hungry.
3. Savour your food - with all the senses - and slow down. Enjoy the whole range of food and drink you choose. Notice the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures and feelings, one by one. Chewing slowly usually means you will eat less. At a recent workshop I guided the group through a 'sensory awareness' exercise, and they were much more drawn to the rainbow of healthy foods, with their bright, vivid colours, the crunchy, juicy textures and fresh smells and flavours than the unhealthy 'beige' alternatives. And that was while talking about the range of temptations over the festive season!
4. Sit down - in a recent talk on mindful eating by Susan Albers, she shared this as her first and biggest piece of advice. Sitting down to eat will help to avoid grazing and you will notice more what you're eating, and whether it's something you really want. Try not to be doing anything else at the same time (e.g. checking emails, Facebook, or watching TV).
5. It's all about balance. Be kind to yourself! If you have the occasional indulgence, you have many other choices available to you throughout the day/week. When you think about the bigger picture, one treat doesn't seem like such a sin! It’s as much about thoughts, emotions and behaviour as it is about what you eat. I like to think of it as 'setting a course' for your health and wellbeing, and getting back on track if you go off a little bit.
I wish you and your families a happy and healthy Christmas and New Year. And remember, a little bit of what you fancy does you good. Just keep it balanced, make it a conscious choice, and savour it!
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