Mindful Eating During the Holidays and Always | Mindfulness Rewrites

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Mindful Eating During the Holidays and Always

     by Dr. Linda Miles 
Mindful Eating During the Holidays and Always
Do you have a habit of overeating during the holidays?

Do you fill your plate, disconnect as you eat, stuff yourself, and then feel regret?
The holidays offer unique opportunities to become aware of eating habits and begin to practice mindful eating. Since food is such a huge part of the holidays, you have many chances to observe and begin to change destructive eating habits.

Over the years in my practice, I have heard from many of my clients how they zone out and eat large quantities of food without tasting or enjoying the experience. The description goes something like this: The first couple of cookies (chips, crackers, etc.) were pretty good and after that I kept eating until the bag was empty and my stomach felt bloated. What happened here?

Neuroscience is finding some answers from studying the pleasure chemical Dopamine. Scientists like Robert Sapolsky of Stanford report that the brain secretes this pleasure chemical before eating, in anticipation of a food reward. When the food reward is given less often, the dopamine levels go significantly higher. Another way of thinking about this is that just the IDEA that there may be a food reward motivates people to move toward that anticipated pleasure. The problem occurs because we often become numb and disconnected during the actual experience of eating.

Mindful Rewrites

So what is mindful eating?

Mindful eating is paying attention to the food we are eating in the present moment by using our senses. It asks us to take the time to experience smell, taste, texture. It is conscious consumption. Mindfulness- based interventions target unconscious eating patterns by increasing awareness of bodily and emotional signals. Mindfulness helps you stay awake and aware of what you are eating.

All of the pictures, associations, and expectations of a Holiday feast flood the brain with dopamine in the anticipation of pleasure. The disconnect happens because when we begin to stuff ourselves unconsciously, we do not notice the lack of pleasure. At the end of the day, disappointment creates the feeling that maybe if we try some other treat we will get the pleasure we expect. The cycle happens again: Anticipation-Dopamine-Maybe this time I will love this food-uncertainty of the rew ard-more Dopamine-eating frenzy-disconnect-disappointment-discomfort, and then the cycle begins again.


Over-eating patterns are written in the brain. The challenge is to REWRITE in a way that replaces these patterns of behavior with increased awareness of cues that trigger dopamine and anticipatory pleasure.

How do mindfulness-based interventions come into play?

  • Set aside a few minutes a day to practice mindful eating -- even if you can do this for one part of a holiday meal, it is a beginning. Focus your awareness on the sensations of hunger, taste, texture, fullness. Go slow and stay conscious of what you are doing.

  • Notice if you actually WANT or LIKE what you are eating. It may have sounded good in anticipation and yet is not satisfying in reality,

  • Begin a food journal with observations of patterns. Write about your actual experiences without judgment. Self-condemnation only leads to more loss of control.

  • Take note of your thoughts and feelings. You may notice that you are disappointed by the taste of a piece of pie that looked so appealing. You may notice that you feel better when you eat something healthy.

  • Tune into your body. Ask yourself what you really want. You may find that you would rather walk with your cousin than sit and eat dessert.

  • Take a few sips of coffee or tea with mindful awareness.

  • Ask yourself, Does my body need this? Why am I eating this? Am I hungry?

  • Slow down. Eating fast leads to unconscious eating and old worn-out pat terns that no longer nourish.

Mindful eating is not about deprivation. It is about finding more pleasure and joy in the present moment. As you become mindful when you zone out and overeat, you become aware that you have choices about what is most fulfilling to you.

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