We are on the countdown to the beginning of the holiday season—Thanksgiving is upon us!!! We will soon be faced with tables of food—things like turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, potatoes and gravy, the obligatory green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin cheesecake (my favorite!!) and many more. I’m salivating just thinking about it. Oh the joy of Thanksgiving!
Of course, then there is that sinking feeling about the holidays approaching. You know the ones. The thoughts of days packed with even more events and activities than normal, the family gatherings with family you’re not that crazy about, the demands to be at parties and participate in things we might not be so happy about, (or conversely) NOT having invitations to be at parties or have family to gather with, spending too much money, and eating and drinking too much because food is EVERYWHERE.
What’s a girl (or guy) to do?
I suggest remembering and practicing the first of my BASICS of mindful eating. Breathe and Belly Check! This little activity can come in handy before you eat AND before you over-react at the Thanksgiving table about the same things that have bugged you for years about Aunt Sally (fill in your less-than-favorite relative here).
First of all, before you eat, take a few deep breaths and begin to check in with your belly for signs of hunger like gnawing and growling sensations. How hungry are you? What are you hungry for? If you are faced with the Thanksgiving buffet, ask yourself what food you’d like to have and what you would rather not eat? You don’t have to eat everything (even if your mother is giving you the evil eye).
As general rules:
Eat when you’re hungry, don’t eat when you’re not hungry.
Eat what you can savor, and don’t eat what you don’t like.
Stop eating when you’re satisfied (not STUFFED)—you can always go back for more later.
Breathing and checking your belly before you eat is an opportunity to kick in the parasympathetic nervous system and you feel relaxed. When you’re relaxed, your digestion is turned on. When you’re stressed, your digestion is turned off. This physiological reality is one of the reasons stress and obesity are linked.
It also makes sense to breathe and belly check whenever you’re feeling stressed during the holidays. Picture yourself at the Thanksgiving table. One of your more interesting family members makes the same irritating type of comment he makes every year. You feel the fight-or-flight response being triggered – heart rate increases, flushing of your face, feeling like someone kicked you in the gut, sweating palms, tightening of the chest. Even though the body is prepared to fight or flee, now is not the time for having a family fight or to go running madly down the street.
Breathing deeply and cracking a slight smile can turn on your body’s wisdom and signal the part of the brain associated with better decision making and problem solving. That smile on your face will send a signal to your brain that you are happy and you might notice a little relief of tension. As Thich Nhat Hanh would say “A tiny bud of a smile on your lips can bring happiness to you and to those around you.”
That’s the first of tips for getting through the holidays mindfully.