Mindful Eating at Simchos

With the three weeks behind us and our social schedules back to full capacity, many of us may be finding the thought of all that delicious and tempting food overwhelming and difficult to manage when trying to live a healthy lifestyle. However, dieting or restraining food intake is not an effective way to manage the abundance of food. People who are restrained eaters or dieting are more conflicted about their food desires (especially those about unhealthy food), and more frequently failed in their self-control than non-restrained eaters. This essentially means that if you’re on a diet when “unhealthy” food is served, you will eat more than if you’re not on a diet! So, what are you to do when it comes to simchah season?

Below are some tips:

Don’t come to the simchah hungry.

Though this may be common dieting advice, I’m not suggesting it so you don’t eat the food served, but rather to allow yourself to be more mindful of what and how much you’re eating. There’s often so much variety — plus food takes so long to be served — that when you have a chance to eat, you may end up eating much more than you are hungry for. Eating prior to the simchah allows you to be more mindful of what you’re eating and more in tune with your fullness levels. You don’t need to come feeling full (as that will leave you uncomfortably full when you leave); a small snack prior to the party should be enough to take the edge off your hunger and put you back in control of what you’re eating.

Be a snob about what you choose.

Look over all the food options before eating, and then choose the food that tempts you the most. When there is so much variety, don’t settle for mediocrity, as it won’t be fully satisfying. There’s no reason to feel deprived, because you can choose whatever and however many tempting foods you like. Make sure to find the food that is special to the occasion, and/or looks the most tempting to you. The first few bites are for flavor, the rest are fuel, so make those flavorful bites be pleasurable bites, and really savor them! Admire their appearance, the smell, taste and texture when eating, to feed all your senses and be even more satisfied. Eat the delicious, tempting food, and enjoy it! And if it doesn’t meet your expectations of deliciousness, ditch it and move on.

Skip the virtue.

Many simchos will have salads, fruits or vegetables set out for the “healthy” or “dieting” folk. If you want them, go right ahead and enjoy. But don’t feel the need to eat them to make yourself feel virtuous; if you don’t particularly want to eat them, don’t! Eating healthy food along with unhealthy food does not cancel out the unhealthy, plus it often leads to overeating, as you may feel the calories of each are nullified. If these are not the foods you want to eat, don’t force yourself to eat them, and feel good about honoring your taste’s and body’s current needs.

Eat with a plate and sitting down.

Though kiddushes, vorts and smorgasbords typically promote eating while mingling, when we try to concentrate on two things simultaneously (socializing and eating), we usually end up only focusing on one thing (socializing) and mindlessly completing the other (eating). By sitting down (at a table, though those are often hard-to-come-by commodities), you can eat without distraction, and focus exclusively on how your food is affecting your body. Instead of preparing your next bite as you chew, put down your utensils as you eat to give you time to chew and swallow, and contemplate whether you still want to eat. Don’t feel the need to finish what’s on your plate. Sitting with your food and emotions allows you to consider whether the food tasted as good as you had hoped, if it’s nourishing you, and how hungry you still are. Stop eating when you feel content and energetic, and can continue socializing without the thought of food pulling you away.

Practice self-compassion.

If you did eat more than you needed, or didn’t make the choices you were hoping for, be kind to yourself. A bit of self compassion can go a long way in healing your relationship with food and your body. So lose the guilt. The only food you should feel guilty about eating is food you stole. Getting in tune with yourself takes time, and you only get better with practice.

Bracha Kopstick is a registered dietitian in Toronto and owner of BeeKay Nutrition. She takes the “diet” out of dietitian, and wants you to take it out of your life! As a nutrition expert, Bracha promotes eating home-prepared foods more often and taking time to enjoy what you eat without any associated guilt. She is available for in-person and on-line counseling. Bracha can be reached at Bracha@beekaynutrition.com.