My husband Dave cooked a scrumptious Asian themed Thanksgiving dinner.

I ate as mindfully as one can at a dinner table with seven other people.  I took small second portions of my two favorites dishes:  the red miso glazed carrots and sweet potato with five spice marshmallows.  At the end of the meal I felt satisfied and full, but not too full.

But I forgot to save room for dessert: his mom’s famous pear pie.

After the pie and coffee, I was too full.  My belly’s discomfort reminded me that eating too much is not a loving way to treat my body.  And, if I repeat this on a regular basis, my excellent fat cells will do a fabulous job collecting the unused energy and storing it as fat to get me through the next famine.  That’s what fat cells do!  And mine are well trained at their job.

Avoid Holiday Weight Gain with Mindful Eating

The best studies indicate that the average person gains one or two pounds during the holidays. One or two pounds doesn’t sound like a lot, but most people don’t ever lose that extra weight.  Researchers suggest that this accounts for the one to two pound per year midlife weight gain that is typical for all adults, even those without emotionally driven relationships with food.

Mindful eating is a proven way to prevent holiday weight gain.  Eat slowly and savor each bite.  It takes up to twenty minutes for your stomach to communicate “satisfied” to your mind.   And, if you’re like me, your mouth takes about two days, making it a very unreliable monitor of food intake!  Wait at least twenty minutes and then check in with your body before you go back for seconds.

It isn’t easy to stay attentive to your body when your mouth–and perhaps your heart—are craving just one more bacon wrapped scallop appetizer or a piece of pear pie!

But if you don’t stop and pay attention, you’re going to regret it sooner or later.  It may be an immediate sense of discomfort after sampling a bit too much of everything at a potluck.  Or it may be the slow, gradual weight gain that results from snacking on holiday cookies or sipping eggnog lattes.

Deprivation Driven Eating

Holiday overeating is driven by a deprivation mentality that tells us to try everything in sight because it’s only available once a year.  “Besides, it’s just one cookie.”

By the end of the month one cookie turns into dozens of cookies.  And mindless consumption of seasonal lattes end up doing far more good for the success of Starbuck’s marketing department than for either your bank account or your body.

Not that there’s anything wrong with eating a cookie or drinking a latte.  But, a few too many cookies or lattes over the next month, plus random snacking on goodies at work and holiday parties all add up to a lot of extra energy that your very wise and well trained fat cells will store as extra weight.

Did I hear someone say, “Famine please!

Saving Room for Savoring the Sweetness

Last night I saved room for a piece of leftover pear pie, but then choose not to have it.  My sensory pleasure seeking self listened to my body rather than my mouth.  My body definitely didn’t need any more calories.  I  chose the lasting pleasure of a satisfied but not strained digestive system rather than the immediate gratification of a piece of pie.

Saving room for dessert is a good principle for holiday eating and scheduling. It’s tempting to pack too much onto our calendars and end up missing the sweetness of the holy days of December.  A flurry of activity, engagement and consumption lulls us into a false sense of satisfaction that leaves little space for cultivating qualities of love, joy, peace, and compassion that are the essence of the holy days we celebrate this month.

The holy moments of life—where time stands still and we feel inexpressible gratitude, wonder, awe—cannot be programmed.  They are marked by a savoring of the sweetness of life that comes to us in both expected and unexpected encounters. Sometimes at planned events like weddings or holiday gatherings, but more often in the unscripted places of sunsets, bedrooms, and hospitals.  Intensity of emotional presence, coupled with a sense of being held by a power and love greater than ourselves, meets us in these moments.  When it passes we are left with a deeper sense of our own aliveness and our connection to others.

When my stomach is stuffed full from dinner or my calendar is packed with commitments, I don’t have room to savor the sweetness that may or may not be on the menu.  But, at least I won’t be too full to enjoy it if it is. And, rather than feeling uncomfortably full from too much living, I’ll be able to truly savor the sweetness of the season.

May we treat ourselves kindly this holiday season by mindfully eating and scheduling our lives so that there’s room to savor the sweets that may be on the menu!