• Healthy for the Holidays: Mayo recommends mindful eating year-round

a festive holiday dinner table with family and friends

MANKATO, Minn. – The holidays have come and gone once again, and many of us are starting to think about just how much we indulged this season.

"When it came to eating, how did this past holiday season treat you? Which healthy habits did you maintain and which ones did you neglect?" asks Lisa Hardesty, Ph.D., a clinical health psychologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. "It is easy to feel like a failure in relationship to maintaining our healthy focus, but consistency and allowing yourself grace are important concepts to remember over the holiday time."

Shame, guilt and disappointment are several feelings that can lead people to kick-start strict diets beginning Jan. 1. But drastic overnight changes to habits are rarely sustainable. That's why Hardesty recommends mindful eating throughout the year.

"With so much of our family and social time structured around food and the act of eating during the holidays, it's no wonder that we feel like we need a reset to our eating habits this time of year when the celebrations are over," says Hardesty. "But there are healthier, more sustainable ways to approach eating habits."

Here are Hardesty's recommendations to lessen your responsiveness to food triggers.

Identify your "why." Adopting a healthy eating mindset starts with identifying the reasons you want to eat healthier. What compelling reasons come up when you consider this question?

Plan ahead. Having a plan is one of the most important things you can do. Anticipate when you may have more difficulty making healthy choices and create a solid plan for those times.

Slow down. Instead of moving from dish to dish, first survey the options in front of you and decide which ones you want and how much you want before adding food to your plate. Then, when you sit down to eat, savor your food and focus mindfully to help you make better choices compared to eating without conscious thought.

Allow for indulgences. It's also important to allow yourself a few unhealthy food options but decide when and where you will make those choices. When you eat those lower quality foods, be aware of your negative emotions and don’t allow shame to perpetuate overindulgences.

Additional techniques to help modify your eating behavior include:

  • Bringing fruit and vegetables to holiday gatherings to create more options for yourself and others.
  • Eating a light snack before attending holiday events to lessen the likelihood of overeating.
  • Measuring and portioning your food over the holidays.
  • Increasing your level of activity and exercise.
  • Committing to making changes with someone close to you.
  • Banking your calories if you know you'll attend an event with more food options available.

"Don't despair if you temporarily lose control of your food choices," says Hardesty. "Remember, consistency is key – not perfection."

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About Mayo Clinic Health System

Mayo Clinic Health System has a physical presence in 44 communities and consists of 53 clinics, 16 hospitals and other facilities that serve the healthcare needs of people in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The community-based healthcare professionals, paired with the resources and expertise of Mayo Clinic, enable patients in the region to receive the highest-quality physical and virtual healthcare close to home.

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