This year, instead of calorie counting and deprivation during the holidays, try something new.

Leftover Halloween candy, multiple holiday meals, parties and special treats — it’s the start of the holiday season with endless opportunities for overeating followed by weight gain and self-loathing. 

This year, instead of calorie counting and deprivation during the holidays, try something new. Eat what you want when you are hungry, and don’t eat when you’re not hungry. No restrictions, no limits. How is this going to prevent weight gain? Practicing mindful eating can help you enjoy the experience of eating and reduce the amount that you eat. Perhaps aiming for maintaining your current weight is a more reasonable goal than trying to lose weight during the holidays.

Here are some tips to help you navigate the holidays.

1. Before you eat, think about why you are eating. Are you hungry? Is it “time” to eat? Is someone forcing food on you? Are you eating to be polite? If your reasons for eating are anything other than hunger, put down your fork and wait until you are hungry.

2. Minimize distractions. Sit down to eat, turn off the TV (or at least turn it down), and put away your phone. If you engage in conversation, take a break from eating while speaking and listening. 

3. Eat what you want. At your next party or holiday meal, peruse the offerings to see what foods look appealing to you. Eat those, and enjoy them. Forget “good” foods and “bad” foods. Don’t waste your appetite on foods you don’t love. Learn to say no to offers of food that you really don’t want.

4. Focus on the food. Notice the aromas, colors, texture and presentation of the meal. Take a moment to be thankful for the food and all the steps and people involved to get it to your plate.

5. Take small bites. You have taste buds only on your tongue, so the flavor of a large bite of food is lost on your teeth, cheeks and the roof of your mouth.

6. Chew slowly. Notice the texture and flavor of the food. Breathe — flavors other than salty, sweet, bitter and sour come from aromas. Try to get 30 chews out of each bite.

7. Set your fork down between bites. If you load your next forkful immediately, your attention will be on the next bite, not on the one you are eating now. Don’t pick up more food until you have thoroughly chewed and swallowed your last bite.

8. Pause for several minutes in the middle of eating to assess your hunger and fullness level. Listen to your body, and stop eating when you start to feel your stomach stretch. Avoid getting to the stuffed stage!

9. Drink water. The busyness of this time of year combined with cooler weather can make you forget to drink water. Water keeps us hydrated and can prevent headaches associated with dehydration. It is easy to mistake thirst for hunger, so drink a glass of water before you grab a snack. Be mindful of your beverage choices. Eggnog, alcohol, juice and sodas pack a lot of empty calories that will not satisfy your appetite.

10. Be mindful of portions. The first couple of bites of anything are the best. Take small portions, and go back for seconds, if you really want more of something. Don’t fall victim to the “clean plate” rule. Pack up leftovers to take home and enjoy another time. 

In general, we overeat at the holidays because that’s when we have access to foods that aren’t typically available. Goodies like pumpkin pie, frosted sugar cookies, candied yams and Christmas candies are special to the holidays, so we try to eat as much as we can when they are available. Perhaps making some of these foods throughout the year would make us less likely to gorge on them during the holidays.

Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach.