Eating Mindfully

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Cocktails and Cheer?

How to survive the holiday party season

The holiday party. Whether it be an office party, cocktails at a friend's home, or celebrating the holiday with your family, many of us are invited to at least one holiday cocktail party this time of year. For those who stuggle with body image and eating issues, this invitation may be  another source of stress during this already stressful time of year. Some people cope by devising strict rules about how they are going to eat at a cocktail party (eg. “I’ll only allow myself 3 hors d’oeuvres”) only to find themselves eating out of control if they break that rule (“Now I’ve already eaten 4 hors d’oeuvres, I’ve blown it so I might as well eat 15″). Others become so overwhelmed by the sheer anticipation of the cocktail party that they choose to stay home instead. But these are not always the best solutions. Try these mindful tips to make wise food choices and have a fabulous time at your next holiday cocktail party.

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1. Get rid of preconceptions. Most of us have a long list of preconcieved ideas about food that we carry in our heads. “Cheesecake-yum, that’s my favorite!” “Potato chips- those are fattening, they are bad to eat” “broccoli-yuck, I don’t like that.” Many of these food scripts have existed in our minds since we were children and we accept them as fact. Challange them and you might find that they are not true! Maybe you didn’t like broccoli when you were a child but now your adult palate actually finds it delectable. The variety of food choices available at many cocktail parties provides a wonderful opportunity to experiment with foods that you are not usually exposed to.

2. Eat mindfully. When you arrive at the cocktail party, check in with yourself. Take a few centering breaths and assess: How hungry are you? What are you in the mood to eat? What foods look appetizing to you right now, in this current moment? Without preconceptions, approach each food choice anew, as if you had never seen this food before in your entire life. What does the food look like? What does it smell like? What does it feel like? Try to avoid making judgements such as “this food will make me gain weight” or “this is a good diet food.” Make a concious decision to either eat or not eat the food. If you chose to eat the food, take a small bite and focus on the taste of the food. Do you like it? Do you want more of it? Each bite should be a conscious decision.

3. Limit your alcohol consumption. It easy to over imbibe at cocktail parties. The booze is flowing and often free. If you are nervous in social situations, then it may seem like a great idea to down a few glasses of eggnog to loosen up a bit. Its usually not. Alcohol is a disinhibitor which will impair your decision making. It is nearly impossible to eat mindfully when you are intoxicated. Plus it lowers your blood sugar which may result in overeating later in the night.

4. Enjoy yourself. These are tips to play and experiment with. Notice how they feel to you. You do not need to spend the entire party in a corner mindfully eating a cheesepuff. Try to find some interesting people to talk to. Enjoy the music. Dance if you are so inclined.

For more information on mindful eating and my practice, please visit my website at www.drconason.com

Alexis Conason, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in practice in New York City and a researcher at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital.

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