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12/1/19: Mindfulness and Eating at the Holidays

12/1/19: Mindfulness and Eating at the Holidays

Michelle May is a physician turned coach whose mission is to help people take charge of their lives and end chronic dieting and overeating without feeling deprivation and guilt. Her authenticity and passion for mindful eating stems from her own personal struggle with food and body image. After years of ineffective yo-yo dieting, she developed a mindful, non-diet approach to food, movement, and self-care.

Dr. May founded Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training in 1999 to share this compassionate, constructive, and life-changing approach through health and wellness professionals, corporate wellness programs, and community-based programs. Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs are available through hundreds of licensed Am I Hungry? facilitators, coaches, therapists, and instructors worldwide. Michelle is the award-winning author of the book series, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat that teaches mindful eating for various audiences and situations.

Dr. May asked some of her blog readers what their triggers for overeating at this time of year and summarized them as follows:

·       The sheer presence, abundance, and variety of food everywhere

·       Special holiday foods, compounded by feelings of scarcity

·       Nostalgia, memories, and associations (both positive and negative)

·       Food “pushers” (your word, not mine; more on that below.)

·       Stress, fatigue, self-imposed expectations, and perfectionism

·       Stressful family dynamics

What makes these triggers even more challenging is that they interact with one another, magnifying their effect. 

In one of her books, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, Dr. May shared three helpful options involving reprograming your mind, for dealing with your triggers: reduce them, rethink them, and recreate them. Here’s a quick overview of these three strategies.

Reduce Them

One way to handle certain triggers is to reduce your exposure to that person, place, event, or other trigger. In this way, you prevent the thoughts from coming up in the first place. For example, if people bring a lot of holiday foods to the office, you could decide, I’ll wait until I’m hungry to go to the break room. However, it is impossible—and undesirable—to permanently eliminate every conceivable trigger, especially during the holidays. If you tried, your life would become very small! That brings us to our next option.

Rethink Them

Fortunately, it is possible to reprogram your mind so you don’t have to live in fear of encountering a trigger. When you recognize one of your triggers and watch the automatic thoughts that follow, you’ll discover that you have many options. Replacing automatic thoughts with new, more effective thoughts disrupts the old pattern. For example, if you notice scarcity thoughts like, I love Grandma’s cookies! I’ll get my fill now since I won’t have them again until next year! Cultivate abundance thinking instead: These holiday cookies will be back before I know it! or I can make turkey and mashed potatoes anytime I want.

Recreate Them

In this strategy, you turn a trigger for overeating into a trigger for self-care. This creates an entirely new pattern for yourself. For example, if you notice yourself thinking, I’ll have a little bit more; it’s a special occasion! you could think, If this occasion is so special, why would I want to ruin it by eating until I feel uncomfortable?

You can read more about these strategies, which are so different from the usual ones you hear, here. Dr. May’s approach is so different than the usual common advice about using your will power, etc., to avoid overeating.  Hope it is helpful to you as well.