Mindfulness encompasses the ability to give attention to what is happening while it is happening. The holidays are a time for us to take a break and focus on other aspects of our lives, such as friends, family, and other activities outside of our military lives.

Many people struggle with their relationships with food over the holidays, which creates additional stress related to social gatherings. Food concerns can be due to health-related issues, the need to remain within weight standards, or food allergies and special dietary needs.

Using tools that enhance nutrition mindfulness can help you enjoy food without feeling guilty or pressure during holiday social engagements. Food should not be associated with punishment, nor should it be labeled as good or bad. Once food is labeled as good or bad, it creates shame and leads to over-restriction. Over-restriction causes us to feel like we are in a constant state of failure when making food choices; this can lead to disordered eating, weight, and performance issues throughout the year.

It is important to view food on equal grounds in order to prevent psychological damage. Mindful eating is not about denying the food; it is just the opposite.It is all about enjoying whatever we eat.

1. Slow down and enjoy your food. Sit down and look at the food in front of you, enjoy the flavors before swallowing or taking a bite of food. The idea is to recognize a conscious choice to eat pie or a cookie and enjoy it without guilt. Guilt usually leads to forgoing self-control and then binge eating.

2. Prepare for social distractions. Social interactions lead to distractions and take away focus from what is being consumed. Research has shown that people eat and drink more around others; alternate drinking with water and sit-down while eating. Engage in physical activity before the event but do not use physical activity to punish yourself for choices made. Exercise is good for the brain and the body; using it as punishment only leads to resentment and reduces motivation to participate in physical activity.

3. Do not skip meals. Skipping meals increases the risk of binge eating, leading to the least healthy, higher sugar content food choices. If you feel you need to regulate your intake, use food logs or calorie trackers, which can be found on myplate.gov or myfitnesspal; there are a variety of free calorie trackers available to include printable paper journals.

Implementing basic mindfulness tools to improve your nutrition quality over the holidays can help you avoid psychological pitfalls. Research has shown that mindfulness eating is associated with higher-quality diets, such as choosing fruits instead of sweets as a snack or opting for smaller serving size of calorie-dense foods. The bottom line is to eat in moderation and continue engaging in physical activity during the holidays to offset the negative emotional and physical impact of distracted eating behaviors associated with anxiety, overeating, and weight gain.

Contact your local Health Promotions to learn more about mindfulness nutrition.