6 Tips for Eating Mindfully This Thanksgiving

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Don't stress about the bountiful spread. Enjoy the special occasion.

A Thanksgiving table done right is overflowing with mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh white rolls with butter, sweet potato casserole, bread stuffing, cranberry sauce and, presumably, a roasted turkey or other impressive centerpiece. There's pecan pie, pumpkin pie, or apple crisp for dessert, topped with whipped cream. It is a feast for the eyes, body, and soul – exciting for most, but stressful for some.

Food is emotionally charged at Thanksgiving. Not that it isn't at other times of the year, but it can feel worse during the holidays, when the spread is so sumptuous, rich, and extensive, and there's almost an expectation to overeat. For anyone trying to make healthier food choices or maintain a healthy weight, the stress of navigating a Thanksgiving table can overshadow enjoyment of the experience.

One strategy for coping with Thanksgiving excesses is to eat mindfully. Dr. Susan Albers, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and author of seven books, calls mindful eating "an antidote to dieting." She told Good Morning America,

"It's about eating the foods you love but in a mindful way, your awareness of hunger cues, your awareness of taste. When you tune into these cues, you enjoy food more and you're more in control of your eating."

So how does one apply mindfulness to Thanksgiving dinner?

Don't panic. This is a celebration, not the norm, and it's OK to deviate from a strict plan for a special occasion. Realize that expending energy stressing about food choices is energy that's not going into interacting with people around the table.

We live in times of plenty. Fortunately it's possible to find all of these foods year-round, so you don't have to gorge yourself in a single sitting because you feel like it's your only chance to taste cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie till next year.

Eat slowly. You have all evening, so don't rush it. Take time to see what's being served, to smell and taste and chew. Choose what appeals to you most. Fill up on healthier options if you wish. Pay attention to how hungry you are and respect what your body is telling you.

Look around and relax. Sitting down with family at a beautiful table is a treat these days. Revel in the experience and note how it differs from your usual high-speed meals.

Beyond the dinner table...

Find other ways to celebrate the holidays that don't involve food. Little things like lighting a candle, listening to seasonal music, singing with friends, going for a walk on a snowy evening, or sipping tea by a fire are all lovely ways to mark a special time. (This suggestion comes via University of Wisconsin's guide to eating mindfully during the holidays.)

Practice self-care. If you're feeling stressed out, don't turn to food or alcohol to cope. Take a hot bath, read a book in solitude, go for a massage or facial, go for a walk or attend a yoga class. You'll feel better, no calories added.