The true testament to the power of food goes beyond any sensory gratification to the feelings of love and togetherness it evokes. Yet, it seems so easy to overlook the deeper pleasures of the table amid the hectic holiday swirl.
"The body's logic is to respond to any stressor by focusing on taking as much food as possible and storing it," says Martha Beck, life coach and author of The Four Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace. "But you're not enjoying it. So if you're stressed—and most people are during the holidays—you will overeat and won't enjoy the time."
By encouraging you to let go of stressors and enjoy the food you're eating, mindfulness can help you make the most of your food choices, paving the way for truly appreciating and savoring them.
1. Inhale and exhale.
"I used to get so sick of people telling me to breathe in and out, but now I realize there is deep, neurological stuff going on," Beck says. "This is why every meditation tradition focuses so obsessively on the breath: Slow, deep, even breathing tells the brain stem to put the entire brain into a state of calm." Take five deep in-and-out breaths after you sit down at the table and before you lift your fork.
2. Give thanks.
"The parts of your brain that are associated with gratitude and appreciation cannot operate when there is stress," Beck says. But the good news is the reverse is also true: "If you're focused on gratitude, the stress can't take over. Gratitude stops addictive patterns in the brain." After your five deep breaths, allow yourself a moment of gratitude, silent reflection, or prayer for the food you are about to eat.
3. All food is good.
Remove "good" and "bad" from your food vocabulary. You can't completely enjoy a piece of cake if you're telling yourself it is bad for you. "There is no such thing as a bad or wrong food," Beck says. "If you get rid of the judgmental language around food, it becomes less stressful." When making food decisions, try replacing "I should" or "I shouldn't" with "I choose to."
4. Replay frustrating situations.
When you do find yourself mindlessly eating or reacting to stress by reaching for something sweet or salty (it does happen to everyone), forgive yourself and move on. "Because we tend to remember what we did wrong, it helps to replay it in your mind with a different outcome," Beck says. "It's a way of rehearsing that behavior so it replicates more easily." Instead of mentally putting yourself through the ringer, replay the situation in your head again. You went overboard with the cheese board or the cocktail bar, and you're unhappy. Replay the scenario, only this time you're taking a bite or sip, enjoying it slowly, and truly savoring every flavor.
5. Enjoy what's on your plate.
"Never eat anything you don't enjoy, and truly enjoy everything you eat," says Beck. Take the first four bites of your meals slowly and with full attention on the food: Savor the flavors and textures so that you can begin to understand what mindful eating feels like.