The past few months have not been easy, adjusting to a new sense of normalcy that feels anything but “normal”. As Christmas approaches, some of these changes are bound to feel even stranger. How can we respond rather than react to these changes? Well, too often, we are so busy watching out for what’s just ahead of us that we don’t take time to enjoy where we are in the here and now.

Gestalt psychotherapy offers a perspective that supports us to be present, even when the world around us seems overwhelming or unfamiliar. It does so by highlighting the fundamental importance of awareness in our lives.

Sometimes, all of us find it difficult to slow down. Our mind wanders into the past, stuck in difficult memories, or travels forwards into the future filled with anxieties. We can feel stuck, mindlessly rushing through life without awareness or freedom.

A state of mindlessness is incredibly common, particularly in our frenzied and often chaotic world. Stanford biologist Robert Sapolsky illustrates this point clearly, in a series of studies he carried out among wild animals. Our cousins in the wilderness tend to experience stress as episodic, a specific response to immediate stimuli. Unfortunately, in humans, stress often becomes a chronic condition which leads to stress-related problems such as ulcers, hypertension, and mental health struggles.

Our tendency toward mindlessness may feel deeply ingrained, however many people are able to change their mindless habits with a little willpower. How? By including moments of mindful awareness throughout our daily lives. The ancient practices of prayer, meditation, and contemplative thinking are all examples of how our ancestors created circles of calm in the midst of difficult situations.

Gestalt therapy presents these time honoured practices with the support of contemporary psychology, to offer a practice that fits seamlessly within our day to day lives. One of the easiest but most often overlooked examples is the practice of mindful eating. Yes, it really can be that simple, and as the Christmas season approaches the practice of eating mindfully is going to become even more urgent!

There are four characteristics of mindful eating.

  1. When you are eating mindfully, you keep yourself aware of what you are doing and the effects that it has on your body—both good and bad.
  2. Moreover, all of your senses are engaged in choosing and experiencing food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body.
  3. Thirdly, we acknowledge our responses to food based on the reactions of our senses, without judgment. This means that rather than immediately evaluating whether we like or dislike something, we give it a chance to engage us and make contact with our bodies. 
  4. Finally, mindful eating involves the practice of awareness, especially your emotions, physical hunger, and the cues that let you know your hunger has been satiated and you are no longer in need of food. Awareness is the key to grounding yourself (and your eating habits) in the present moment.

In sum, mindful eating is not only good for your mind but it’s good for your body too. Just as Gestalt psychotherapy believes in the holistic unity of body and mind, so too have researchers have found a positive relationship between mindful eating and healthy eating, with results that show mindful eating as a factor in stress reduction and healthy choice-making in other areas of life.

During this Christmas, why not explore whether a more mindful approach to food can address your concerns about impulsive eating, reduce your calorie consumption, and support healthier snack choices? All while cultivating a happier relationship between you and your food!

Pete Farrugia is a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist. In his profession he explores the intersection of psychosocial wellbeing, spiritual development, and creative expression.