Subscriber OnlyLife & Style

How to ... savour your food better at Christmas

Christmas is a time of abundance and often excess, but try not to fill your plate or others’ to the brim

If you’ve never practised mindful eating before, Christmas Day is probably not the day to start. But there are some simple things you can do to savour your food better this Christmas.

“Start by looking at what’s in front of you,” says Susi Lodola, a cognitive behavioural therapist accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

“By doing that, you are already starting the digestive process. The body and the brain sees there is food in front of you, it signals that food is going to come into your stomach, it’s saying, ‘let’s get ready’.”

Don’t fill up

Christmas is a time of abundance and often excess, but try not to fill your plate or others’ to the brim. Having to ingest an over-full plate can feel like an endurance test rather than a pleasure.


“Tell yourself, I’m just going to take a normal portion. If I want more, I can go and get more,” says Lodola.

The experience should be about quality over quantity. “When you put food in your mouth, taste all the different flavours - the veg, the meat, the stuffing - taste them. Move it around in your mouth and then swallow it.

“Try putting your knife and fork down between bites. If that’s all you do, you are already slowing yourself down.”

Take it slow

There are big benefits to eating slowly. You can taste flavour more, but it also helps your digestive system.

“It regulates your hunger and your fullness hormones as well, because your stomach sends signals to the brain when it is full. That takes about 20 mins,” says Lodola.

“If you are eating really fast, you are going to overeat because by the time your brain registers you are full, you will have already eaten too much.”

That means an uncomfortable overfull feeling and less enjoyment of dessert.

No comment

Mealtimes can be tricky for others for lots of reasons. That’s why you should refrain from commenting about anyone else’s eating.

“Commenting on what others are or are not eating happens all the time, especially in big families,” says Lodola. “You have the feeders in the family who want everyone to eat more and enjoy it. Or someone will comment if you are going for another helping.” Lamenting children’s appetites and ‘fussy’ eating should be avoided.

“These are throwaway remarks, and maybe the person who says it doesn’t mean it, but it can be hurtful for the person who it is directed towards and trigger them into all sorts of psychological problems.”

Midnight feast?

Who doesn’t love a late night turkey sandwich in front of telly, with some crisps of course. And then a mince pie with brandy cream to finish. Why not open the chocolates while we’re at it? This is a fabulous idea, unless of course you need to get some sleep.

“Your body has to process all of that food, that means it can’t rest,” says Lodola.

“The chocolates are going to spike your blood sugar which can also make your heart race and it can make you sweat.”

Taper your eating well before bedtime and avoid sugary foods late at night.

Emotional eating

Christmas can be a smorgasbord of emotions and memories, some of them difficult. Throw in an over full fridge, booze and upended routines and it’s a recipe for emotional eating.

Emotional eating is eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, boredom, sadness and loneliness.

“Food may make you feel better for a short period of time, but think about how it’s going to make you feel later,” says Lodola.

It’s hard to avoid having excess food in the house at Christmas. Try to eat food mindfully and slowly. Think about when I’m lonely, what is it I really need, food isn’t the answer. Is there someone I can call or meet up with for a walk? Is there a book I’d like to start?”

“Be conscious of looking towards food to look after your emotions. Food doesn’t help with your emotions, it can make you feel worse.”

Tomorrow is another day

If you overindulge on Christmas day, as many of us will, it’s not the end of the world, says Lodola. Tomorrow is another day. “Get some fresh air, have more water. The most important thing is not to have too much sugary stuff in the house. Have just enough for a day or two. Once it’s there, it’s going to be eaten.”

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance