Care for Yourself This Holiday Season by Asking: What Do I Really Need?

Now, more than ever—amid the ongoing pandemic, social unrest, and divisive political climate, the pleasure I seek from food goes a long way in soothing the raw edges of my emotions, connecting with family, and entertaining myself with a love for cooking. 

I teach what I need.

When I teach mindful eating, I often say mindful eating is a lifetime practice. That may feel daunting to hear, but my personal experience tells me that it’s true. 

Lately, my own mindful eating practice has needed some extra care and attention as I find myself struggling with more internal distress. The ways that I typically seek pleasure and entertainment are just different these days, and in turn have brought up feelings of loss—and that increases my vulnerability to soothe with eating and cooking.     

Mindful eating is the practice of returning to the experience of tasting, savoring, breathing, and resting, over and over. Practicing mindful eating helps me to focus on what my body and spirit really need. It helps me to differentiate when it is supportive to eat, and when food is not what my spirit is in need of. 

Food can provide pleasure and nourishment, but it cannot meet our needs for connection, contentment, or emotional expression. What mindful eating can do is help us balance pleasure with our health and emotional well-being.

And the holidays are coming!

The holiday season is very likely to be different from our traditional holiday celebrations as we contend with the restrictions of the enduring pandemic and an election outcome that may be different than what you voted for. If, like me, you are already feeling a bit edgy, it’s imperative to lean on your mindfulness practice more than ever. I have been a long-time mindful and intuitive eater, and at times like this, I need a little extra support to eat in a way that honors my body, my health, and my happiness.

Mindful, intuitive eaters don’t eat mindfully all of the time.

My “mindless eater” is more likely to show up craving between-meal-snacks, especially in the evening. When I am aware of urges for mindless snacking, I place a sticky note on the food package or storage container with the inquiry, “How much of this food does your body want?” This gentle inquiry is a cue to turn inward and contemplate: 1.) Is food what I am in need of? and 2.) If I choose to eat, how much is supportive for my body at the moment?

Another support I implement is placing my BASICS of Mindful Eating table tent back on the table to be reminded at meal times to breathe and check in with the food and my body while eating. The BASICS, created by Lynn Rossy, are a set of mindful eating guidelines and a core teaching component in our mindful eating classes. 

Awareness and compassion, not punishment

After eating an amount, or in a way, that is not congruent with my desire to eat mindfully, I practice self-compassion. When I notice my head feeling a bit foggy from too many sweets, or my body a bit fluffy from a bit too much sodium, I note how it feels in my body, and I inquire as to what may have led to mindless eating. Knowing from plenty of past experience that self-criticism fuels more mindless eating, approaching this contemplation with kindness and compassion are key.

Connecting with the present-moment experience

Let’s face it: This holiday season will be very different, and the stress it brings, combined with the abundance of seasonal food, creates understandable challenges for eating in a way that honors our health and well-being. There are so many distractions—external and internal—that pull us away from the experience of just tasting and enjoying our food. But we can train our attention back to our immediate bodily experience and make empowered choices in the moment.

Rather than mindlessly making your way through the holiday season and waking up after the first of the year to start another diet, consider bringing some mindful eating practices to your holiday gatherings.  

Join me for the Mindful Eating for the Holidays online workshop on Saturday, November 14, and Sunday, December 6. This workshop is appropriate for any beginner and will be good practice and additional support for those who have experience in mindfulness or mindful eating. This interactive, experiential workshop will include mindful eating, mindful movement, and self-compassion practices. Participants will receive a holiday mindful eating tip sheet, your own visual reminder of the BASICS, and guided meditation recordings to support you into the new year and beyond. Or look ahead to the 5-week Mindful & Intuitive Eating class beginning January 26.

May you care for yourself with JOY this holiday season,


Lori Schermers is a Registered Dietitian who helps people eat well, eat mindfully, and be healthy at any size.

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