Eating Mindfully

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Overcoming Holiday Overeating

Tips for managing emotional eating this holiday season

The holidays are upon us. Santas are ringing their bells on street corners, decorations are up in store windows, and holiday tunes seem to play from every speaker in town.

If these images bring more anxiety than feelings of joy and merryment, then you are not alone. The American Psychological Association reports that over three-fourths of all Americans experience higher than healthy levels of stress, and these statistics skyrocket even higher during the holiday season.December brings with it social obligations, visiting family, disruptions from your regular routine—and how to afford all of those gifts?

It is easy to cope with these stresses by turning to food, which happens to be overly abundant this time of year. Try these tips from mindful eating to help manage emotional eating this holiday season:

1. Check in with yourself before you eat. Are you hungry? If not, what are you experiencing? If you notice that you have the desire to eat because of an emotion (i.e., sadness, anger, boredom, loneliness, etc.), try to identify what you are feeling and do something that more directly addresses the feeling. For example, if you have the desire to eat because you feel sad, try calling a comforting friend or listening to your favorite music rather than eating a pint of ice cream. Eating the ice cream may result in temporary relief of sadness while it's going down, but you’ll usually only feel worse after you eat it. You’ll end up with two problems instead of one: the original sadness plus the feelings from having overeaten.

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2.  If you decide that you are going to eat, do so mindfully. Turn off the television, put away your magazine, sit down, and focus on your food. Use all of your senses to observe the appearance, texture, smells, sounds, and tastes of the food. Try to stop eating when you feel satisfied, not when you feel stuffed.    

3. Know your triggers. Try to observe what types of events trigger episodes of emotional overeating. Some people find it useful to keep a journal to monitor this. At the end of each day, jot down if you had an episode of emotional eating and what was happening before this episode. Patterns often emerge. If you start to see that everytime you go shopping with your critical sister you come home and eat a bag of potato chips, you can prepare yourself. Next time you plan a shopping trip with Ms. "Are you sure you don't need a bigger size?" plan an enjoyable activity afterward, maybe a movie or a phone call with that supportive friend we mentioned earlier.

These are tips to help you manage emotional eating. They will be easier for some and more challanging for others. Some people may need professional guidance from a psychologist or nutritionist in their journey to manage emotional eating. Seek out help when you need it. Practice acceptance. Make small goals. Reducing your emotional eating by even one episode per week is something to be proud of. You’re on your way to making healthy changes.

For more information on mindful eating and Dr. Conason's practice, please visit 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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