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New World Library Unshelved

New World Library Unshelved

Positive news and inspiring views from the New World Library community

Sunday, November 20, 2011
"Mindful Holiday Eating" by guest blogger Donald Altman

The idea of eating with mindful awareness on Thanksgiving Day may seem like a bit of an oxymoron. In fact, the word holiday is more synonymous with such things as indulgence and overconsumption than anything else. In fact, it’s been said that the average caloric intake on Thanksgiving Day runs about 4,500 calories per adult. That’s a whole lot of turkey with all the trimmings, mashed potatoes and gravy, and pumpkin pie with ice cream! Perhaps you have tried to eat moderately. Any well-intentioned plan to eat moderately and healthfully during the holiday season can be hijacked by events, persons, or food cravings that seem out of your control. If so, you may have unknowingly encountered “food static” — which I define as any food-related message that triggers unbalanced and compulsive eating, negative feelings, overwhelming emotions, and stress. Fortunately, I have three tips for eating moderately during the holidays using one-minute mindfulness, and I’d like to share them with you. One-minute mindfulness means that in any given sixty seconds you have the power to change your direction by turning on your full awareness.
    The first tip is to become aware of the food static that you will face during each day. A typical recipe for holiday food static begins with those tempting “taste-testings” that occur in grocery and specialty stores. It continues with a barrage of TV advertisements pitching weight loss for the New Year, not to mention all those ads and articles about food that add spice to our holiday angst. Don’t forget all the cooking shows and the confusing array of diets. Then, too, there are the holiday parties and the overabundance of food and goodies in the workplace. And what about the family holiday meals during which you are held emotional hostage to all those homemade food “gifts”? Finally, top it off with memories of how food and weight may have caused emotional pain in the past. It’s all enough to cause someone to want to give up and plead, “Please pass me another helping of cheesecake.”
    While it may seem difficult, if not impossible, to completely avoid food static, you really can overcome its influence — even during stressful holidays. So how does one-minute mindfulness work with holiday food static? Suppose, for example, that just before lunch you encounter a batch of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies that you find irresistible. Suppose, too, that you are really, really hungry. What would you do? How would you react to this food static? You might respond by force of habit and eat more than you want. Or, if you practice one-minute mindfulness in the very next minute, you could use your awareness to lead you in a very different direction.
    With one-minute mindfulness, you become fully aware of the sensations in your body by first observing how your mouth is watering and how strongly you desire this cookie. You might also place your attention on the strength of your body’s hunger. Next you might pay close attention to what your body is really hungry for — perhaps noticing that several cookies are not what would satisfy your body’s hunger at this time. And you might not necessarily react to the watering of your mouth and your thoughts because you are watching and observing all of it as you would watch a good movie. Most important, you have the skill to consciously decide the next scene — because after all, you are the writer, actor, and director of this next minute! This means that you can make a new choice right here and now.
    The second tip that can help is to take a one-minute mindfulness breath when you feel that you are eating too quickly during a meal. Breathe between bites. Pause to put down your utensil. Take a breather to join in the conversation. Take a couple more breaths, and then take another bite. One-minute mindfulness can help you be aware of how fast you’re eating and help you slow down — a process that will help you eat less.
    The third one-minute mindfulness tip is to pay attention and observe your eating in a neutral and accepting way — without adding layers of opinion, blame, or judgment. This is a gentle and compassionate way of putting yourself in charge so you can act rather than react to food static and other difficult situations in your life. With greater one-minute mindful awareness comes greater freedom of choice. So however many cookies you decide to eat, you can do so without blame and guilt.
    I like to say that food is not the problem but the solution. So this holiday season, why not serve yourself up a gracious helping of one-minute mindfulness? Pay attention to your surroundings. Notice the difference between true physical hunger and emotional hunger. Get ready for those times that you will face food static, by embracing the mindful attitude of just watching and observing but not reacting. And if you forget to do this from time to time, that’s okay too. Just begin again, starting with kind hospitality toward yourself. One minute at a time.

Donald Altman, MA, LPC, is the author of One-Minute Mindfulness, The Mindfulness Code, and Meal-by-Meal. Known as America’s Mindfulness Coach, he is a practicing psychotherapist who conducts mindful living and mindful eating workshops and retreats through colleges, community centers, and health care organizations.
Based on the book One-Minute Mindfulness © 2011 by Donald Altman. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.


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