Whether you are facing a full-on brunch buffet or a catered dinner smorgasbord, buffets can be a huge challenge for anyone who is trying to eat healthfully or, in the case of that irresistible mac-and-cheese goodness, keep portion-control in check.
The good news is buffets don’t have to lead to feelings of regret and a blown calorie budget. Use this simple five-step strategy the next time you find yourself in that “all you can eat” atmosphere.
1. Don’t go to a buffet feeling hungry.
Buffets often trigger an “I don’t want to be in control” feeling, and hunger will only intensify that. Being faced with dozens of tempting foods all at once is not easy for anyone, but if you have a history of struggling with overeating, a buffet can feel like a minefield. Heading into a difficult food situation feeling ravenous will simply make it exponentially more difficult to be in control.
If you notice a lot of chatter in your head and powerful urges to eat everything, redirect your attention to your breath. Take long, calming inhales and exhales. Redirecting your attention to your breath is a powerful mindfulness technique that will help you feel more grounded and in control.
3. Assess the food situation.
Before you start filling your plate, do a thorough walk-through. Take your time, and look at everything being offered. Is there a dessert section? Is there food you love and don’t typically get to have? What looks especially enjoyable or has been prepared in an interesting way? What smells especially good? If you start to feel overwhelmed and anxious, you can always fall back on those calming breaths.
4. Choose your Top 4.
When you have finished the walk-through, mentally make a list of the Top 4 most appealing choices. Which four stood out to you? Which foods are you still thinking about? Which tastes/textures are you most wanting to experience? The four that keep popping out at you is your Top 4 list.
Notice what you are feeling; if it’s very intense and you are struggling to narrow down your choices, add a small loving mantra to your breathing. The mantra should sound like you are talking to yourself in a supportive way. Such as: “It is hard to choose, I know how much you want it all, I hear you”; “You are doing so well”; “This is hard, you are not doing anything wrong”; “I am proud of you, and I love you.” I know this might feel a bit strange and awkward, but give it a try and see what happens!
5. Go get ’em … and then get seconds!
Now it’s time to enjoy! Start by getting two of your Top 4. While you spoon the food onto your plate, keep focusing on your breath and gently remind yourself to keep the portions small. The goal is to experience and enjoy a variety of foods instead of heading straight into a binge. When you sit down, eat slowly and enjoy the taste of your choices.
It’s a buffet, so when you are finished go ahead and have seconds! Now’s the time to sample your remaining two choices! Continue to slowly enjoy what you are eating, notice how you are feeling, keep refocusing on your breath, and repeat the supportive mantras if needed.
If, when you finish, you notice lingering thoughts of wanting more or distracting urges to keep on eating, gently acknowledge them. Work toward resisting the urge to overeat by tuning into what’s going on around you in the present. Notice the weather, conversation with friends and family, the music that is playing. Stay observant and kind to yourself.
By following this five-step strategy, you’ll be able to enjoy the buffet experience while reducing any overwhelming feelings you may have in this situation using simple mindfulness techniques and self-love. You may be surprised by the power of being gentle and loving with yourself.