What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Thanksgiving (besides family and being grateful, of course!)? If you’re like me, then you are thinking of food! Yes, platters piled high with fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy, saucy green bean casserole, warm bread rolls with gobs of butter, and let’s not forget a classic pumpkin pie. These scrumptious treats, however tantalizing they may be, make Thanksgiving a notorious holiday for overeating. We all know that, three days from now, at least one family member is going to come to dinner equipped with super-stretchy sweat pants to allow for maximum eating capacity. Some of us may even fall into a food-induced coma from stuffing our stomachs like the Thanksgiving turkey we just ate. While the food might be delicious, however, the feeling after eating your weight in cranberry sauce may not be.
That is why this year I propose a different approach to dining on Thanksgiving: mindful eating! Mindfulness has been practiced for thousands of years, originating in the East by religious institutions such as Buddhism and Hinduism before working its way into the Western world (History of Mindfulness, 2017). The practice includes bringing awareness to experiences as they occur and to the different cues of the body, taking into account drowsiness, stress, hunger, and other factors contributing to one’s mental and physical state.
The benefits of increasing awareness range from improving overall concentration, promoting innovation and creativity (Mindfulness in the Age, 2014), reducing stress, and boosting memory (Davis & Hayes, 2012). Most importantly, mindfulness can be used for its strong influence on the way we eat. One study in the journal of Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that mindfulness-based interventions lead to an increase in cognitive restraint when eating as well as a decrease in weight and perceived stress (Begay et al., 2010).
Jean Kristeller, co-founder for the Center of Mindful Eating, describes eating mindfully as
- Chewing food slowly and taking short breaks between bites
- Eating away from the television or computer
- Eating when hungry and not as a result of boredom, stress, or sadness
- Becoming aware when the stomach is full and stopping accordingly (Mathieu, 2009).
By taking into account what is actually on our plate, i.e. the smells, the appearance, the texture and the taste, we can slow down our dining experience, savor the food in front of us, and also save our stomach from ingesting too much at once. As a result, we become more aware of the experience we are having in the presence of family and friends and learn to be grateful for what we have in the moment.
After all, isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about?
Figure 1. Thanksgiving Table (Andreassen, 2016)
Andreassen, L. (2016). Where to eat on Thanksgiving: Asheville dine-out and pickup meal options. Retrieved from https://mountainx.com/food/where-to-eat-on-thanksgiving-asheville-dine-out-and-pickup-meal-options/.
Begay, D., Dalen, J., Leahigh, L., Shelley, B., Sloan, A., Smith, B. (2010). Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL): Weight, eating behavior, and psychological outcomes associated with a mindfulness-based intervention for people with obesity. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 18(6), 260-264.
Davis, D., Hayes, J. (2012). What are the benefits of mindfulness. American Psychological Association, 43(7), 64.
History of Mindfulness: From Eat to West and From Religion to Science. (2017). Positive Psychology Program. Retrieved from https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/history-of-mindfulness/.
Mathieu, Jennifer. (2009). What Should You Know about Mindful and Intuitive Eating? Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(12), 1982-1987.
Mindfulness in the Age of Complexity. (2014). Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/03/mindfulness-in-the-age-of-complexity.