The Holidays are showcased as the time of year that everyone gets into the "Holiday Spirit". "Holiday Spirit" means 'to be happy, to be joyful, to be giving'. This all sounds so perfectly wonderful, doesn't it?
Well, these feelings aren't ALWAYS there. In my opinion, the Holidays provide a few challenges as well. Between Thanksgiving and New Years I see my fair share (and experience this myself) of seasonal stress - the shopping, cooking, planning - and it doesn't end there. There is the CONSTANT pressure of indulging in sugary desserts and candies. People LOVE baking their favorite "past-time" Holiday treats around this time and of course they LOVE to share them with others. So, we are around these treats for over a month. While everyone else is enjoying the "norm" of partaking in these foods, sometimes that leaves us (those who are trying to cut down) feel isolated.
The second challenge and pressure we may feel around this time is that BIG FAMILY/FRIEND FEAST. While the seasonal pressure builds up over a month or more, family dinners only last a few hours – but they’re much more intense. For those trying to eat healthier, traditional holiday dinners become a minefield of food temptations, offended relatives, and rude questions about “your WAY too strict diet.” This is especially true if you’re also traveling, without access to your own kitchen and a place to get away if you need a break.
BUT, there's hope. You don't have to give up YOUR "Holiday Cheer" just yet. These tips will help you be mindful and stay on track with your healthy lifestyle through the Holiday Season.
1. Boost your Immune System
The holidays are hard enough when you aren’t sick, but just when you least want to come down with that nasty winter cold, you’re in the ideal environment for it. During the weeks leading up to the holidays, most people spend more time than usual packing themselves into small indoor spaces like malls and shopping centers, sleeping at each other’s houses, or crowding into cars for road trips to Grandma’s. Colds, flus, and nastier bugs like pneumonia flourish in that kind of environment. To help keep sickness away:
* Continue with your healthy diet. Eating healthy keeps your immune system in peak condition.
* Make sure you get plenty of Vitamin D (especially if you live somewhere cold and dark)
* Make sure you get plenty of Vitamin C.
* Get your sleep. When you lack sleep, your body accepts sickness more. Try to average at least 8 hours every night. Or, take a nap in the afternoon if you are going to be up late.
2. Set December Exercise Goals
Regardless of whether or not you indulge in holiday desserts, sticking to your exercise plan will help you handle the stress of the season. Just maintaining your routine can bring an important little bit of sanity to an otherwise crazy time of year. Exercising also releases endorphins, natural mood boosters that help cheer you up on dark winter mornings. As a bonus, many people find that when they stagger out the gym after a hard workout, it’s much easier to make smart nutritional choices because they just aren’t interested in sugary junk food.
To keep yourself motivated during the holidays, try setting a personal exercise goal for December, and planning some kind of (non-food) reward if you make it. Having a definite plan in mind will help you much more than the vague idea that you need to keep up with your workouts.
Even if you’re traveling for the holidays, you can still make time to move around. Your grandmother might not have a full set of Olympic lifting equipment tucked away in her basement, but a brisk walk in the snow before breakfast, or an energetic snowball fight will get your blood pumping just as well – if you’ve been pushing yourself athletically in the season leading up to the holidays, this can even function as a de-load week, giving your muscles a welcome chance to relax and repair themselves. For a more intense workout, try a run around the neighborhood, or some bodyweight exercises that you can do anywhere. Think of holiday visits as a beneficial challenge to your fitness routine, and take the opportunity to try something you don’t usually go in for – you might be surprised by how much you like it.
3. Make it Yours
Too often, people approach “surviving the holidays” as though they’re powerless to change anything about the season, and they just have to put their heads down and grit their teeth until January. But that doesn’t have to be the case! Sure, the modern holiday season revolves around sugar and candy, but there’s no reason why you can’t find the parts of the season that are actually meaningful to you, and develop your own style of celebration. The religious tradition of Christmas doesn’t require any kind of special food and a secular celebration of family, generosity, and goodwill definitely doesn’t have to depend on what you eat.
The key to this is to be proactive about it. Instead of suffering mutely through the commercialized, sugar-laden version of December, try creating your own traditions. Go for a sleigh ride, have an epic snowball fight with all your relatives, or get together to create handmade paper ornaments instead of just throwing a box in your cart at Target. These are traditions that appeal to everyone, no matter what kind of food they eat, and you might be surprised at how happy your relatives are to escape the typical Christmas visit activities.
4. Give Yourself a Break
Counterintuitively, one of the best ways to handle the holiday stress is just to acknowledge that it exists. The cultural pressure to feel constantly cheerful and merry during the entire month of December is stressful in itself, and dietary pressure is just icing on the cake (the cake you have to constantly resist eating). Almost everyone feels deprived and exhausted at some point. It’s tempting to surround yourself with tough love and white-knuckle it through December: food is nothing but fuel and you only feel so unhappy because wheat is addicting. But food is so much more than fuel. From the beginning of recorded human history, we’ve used food as a tool of cultural exchange – when you turn down the gingerbread at a party, you’re excluding yourself from a cultural connection, and that hurts. Give yourself permission to feel unhappy, lonely, and deprived at times, and those feelings will become much more manageable.
It’s also important not to expect perfection from yourself. In the middle of all the craziness, if you give up and just eat a bagel because it’s right there after a marathon shopping trip and you’re starving and exhausted and don’t have the energy to go home and cook, let it go. If you’ve spent the better part of a week fending off your grandmother’s gingerbread and you don’t have the patience to smile about it any longer so you eat it just to get her off your back, let it go. Beating yourself up about it won’t help. Try putting it in perspective: if you’ve stuck to your guns since before Thanksgiving, a few cookies on December 23rd won’t undo all your hard work.
Some people might even find it helpful to plan a “cheat” during the holidays. Obviously if you have a life-threatening allergy or intolerance to something, the fact that your mother made it over Christmas doesn’t matter. But if you’ve been eating healthy long enough to heal your gut from the damage of the standard American diet, and you’re willing to accept the consequences of eating foods you normally wouldn’t, it might not be such a big deal to plan on enjoying some of the holiday goodies all around you.
This doesn’t mean that you should binge on everything in sight – pick your cheats carefully, and make sure they’re actually worth it. What’s “worth it” will depend on you – for some people, it might be their grandma’s traditional Belgian chocolate cake; for other people, it might be a well-savored bowl of Ben&Jerry’s. If Reese’s Pieces are really what you want, there’s no point “cheating” with homemade fruitcake and then having to suffer the health consequences even though you didn’t actually get what you were craving.
There you have it . . . start with these 4 tips. I will be posting 4 more tips in the next few weeks to come. Read through them and apply them . . . see if you can "de-stress" your Holiday Season and tap into that "Holiday Cheer" that you see on all those Hallmark shows :-)