*My boss, Dr. Conason, wrote mindful eating posts for Halloween and Thanksgiving and I’ve adapted them for Chanukah with her permission. You can read the original posts here and here.*
Chanukah is almost here and personally, it’s always been my favorite holiday. Unfortunately, diet culture can put a damper on holiday spirit – by making us feel guilt and shame for eating doughnuts and latkes or having us worry about the calories and how it’ll impact our weight. It can feel especially frustrating when you want to be present and enjoy the time with people you love but food anxiety can overshadow everything! I know that for those of you that struggle with disordered eating or eating disorders, holiday time can be particularly challenging.
But I do think it’s possible to enjoy Chanukah, even in our crazy diet-obsessed world. Here are three tips to having a mindful and fun Chanukah:
1. Have regular and sufficient meals throughout the day, even on days when you know you’re having a party. What happens when we restrict our food throughout the day because we worry that we’ll be having more calories at an event? We get there starving and a lot less likely to be able to eat mindfully because we’re so hungry! Many of us are in the habit of “saving” all of our calories for the big Chanukah party. But when we wait all day to eat, we prime ourselves for a binge. Instead, take a more moderate approach. Eat yummy, balanced, satisfying meals throughout the day and when you get to the Chanukah party, you will likely be much more able to consciously choose and enjoy the foods there.
2. Eat what you want. Sounds simple, right? We spend so much of our lives immersed in diet-culture, obsessing over what we should and shouldn’t eat that sometimes we forget to consider what we actually want. See what foods look appealing to you. Eat those. Taste them. Notice what you enjoy the most and go back for seconds if you want more.
And don’t forget to take home leftovers! Holiday time pulls for a “now or never” mentality, in which we think we need to eat as much as we can tonight because we’ll never have these foods again (at least not until next year). In reality, these foods are available to us whenever we want them. Who says we can’t enjoy a doughnut in July or latkes in February? Taking leftovers home with you reinforces the idea that you don’t have to eat it all now—there will be more tomorrow.
3. Keep it a judgement-free zone. We are our own worst critics. We often say things to ourselves that we wouldn’t dream of saying even to our worst enemies, especially around our eating and our body. This noise makes it very difficult to actually hear the signals that our body is sending us. This Chanukah, let’s take a break from the relentless self-flagellation and practice the novel idea of being kind to ourselves.
When you notice critical, harsh, or judgmental thoughts creeping in, simply observe this, label the thoughts as “criticism,” “judgment,” or even just “thinking,” and shift your awareness out of your head and into the present moment, focusing your full attention for a moment on your breathing. As we try to quiet our inner bullies, try to also carry an intention of self-care and compassion for the day. How can you nourish yourself today? What do you need to have an enjoyable holiday?
And remember, overeating is absolutely a part of normal eating. It happens! But your body will digest the food, the discomfort will fade, and you will get hungry again. And when you get hungry again? Please have compassion for yourself and honor your hunger. Because restricting to compensate for eating more than you would’ve liked will just perpetuate a disordered cycle. Hunger is NOT a bad thing and it’s not something to fear!
Personally, I like to remind myself that I might go to a Chanukah party (or any holiday meal) and eat past the point of fullness. If I were to be focused on calories, fear of eating foods I’ve deemed forbidden or bad, and trying to ignore and supress my hunger, I would lose out on fully enjoying the moment. But I’ve realized that my true values are about creating memories with my friends and family while being able to be fully present and engaged in those moments that I will never get back again. And yes, all while enjoying delicious food!
If you’re interested in learning more about intuitive eating, I shared my favorite podcasts and books here.