holidays: “strategery” + tactics
What is up with the holidays?
I kid you not: Halloween decorations have started popping up in stores in August.
I wondered, in 2020, whether this was because so many schools were virtual that “back to school” was not a thing—and the shelves had to be filled with something?
This year, I feel like there was less of an excuse. Although perhaps I’m just a curmudgeon for thinking October 1 would be plenty of time to start?
Because if Halloween starts in August, then Thanksgiving starts in September, and OMG Christmas and Hannukah and Kwanzaa and all those other December holiday decorations appear before Halloween? Please. No.
holidays / holidaze
October to January can already feel like one long holiday, full of “all the bad choices.”
- October: Buy the candy before Halloween, and if you’re lucky, you actually have some left for Halloween. Got leftover candy? Might as well eat that—can’t put orange and black wrappers in Christmas stockings.
- November: a triple whammy of “what the heck, it’s only one meal” and guilt from “I made this just for you—why aren’t you eating it?” and leftover pie for breakfast.
- December: more food. Lots of sweets. Lots of alcohol.
- New Year’s Eve: more alcohol. And more food.
- New Year’s Day: I’ll start tomorrow … or when the leftovers are gone … or ….
As I’ve mentioned before, waiting for someday/some day to start is not a great strategy if you want to get healthy. It’s a holiDAY, not a holiweek/holimonth/holiquarter.
If the last quarter of the year finds you in a holidaze, maybe what you need is some “strategery.” (Wow, that word is now in the dictionary. Well, at least The Political Dictionary. Well played, SNL.)
You don’t have to go into the holidays with a deprivation mindset, which looks something like this: “I’m not going to eat any sugar or alcohol, and I’m going to limit myself to only healthy foods.”
Yeah, we know that’s not likely to work.
Instead, try to find a middle path between (over)indulging and total restriction. If that’s the overarching strategy, what are the tactics? In Integrative Nutrition®, it’s not all about the food—and what you do in other areas of your life can help you to develop a healthier relationship with your food.
I invite you to consider the following: and as always, take what works for you and leave the rest! We’re all bio-individual, and what works for one may not work for another.
survive the holidays: tactics
Take a few deep breaths first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and every time you switch locations or tasks.
Or start a breathing practice: I highly recommend Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 breath and Mark Divine’s box breathing—both are incredibly relaxing, and neither take more than a few minutes and can be done anywhere, even while sitting in traffic or waiting for a delayed flight.
Stay well-hydrated, whatever that looks like for you—you’ll know when you’ve found your sweet spot by how you feel!
If you need a target to aim for, start by building up to 8 x 8-oz glasses of water or take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2—then drink that many ounces of water. Everyone’s different, so you may want more or less—it’s an experiment!
I say “water”—and what I mean is:
- Water: still or sparkling, unsweetened, possibly flavored with pieces of whole fruit and/or some herbs—citrus, melons, cucumbers, pineapples, berries, mint, basil, parsley….
- Herbal tea: anything without caffeine, hot or iced
What doesn’t help hydration levels or has almost no nutrition for the number of calories you get:
- Anything caffeinated (especially not those fancy desserts masquerading as coffee)
- Alcohol (any type of alcohol lowers your inhibitions—and you may find yourself eating a whole lot more than you would if you’d skipped or at least moderated your intake)
- Soft drinks
- Sports drinks
For many of us, the holidays are a chance to stay up late and sleep in—try going to bed early AND sleeping in! There is evidence that our bodies fare better when we go to bed and get up at more or less the same time every day.
Try to stay out of FOMO (the fear of missing out): rather than living like you’ll never have the chance to party again, approach the holidays with a little JOMO (the joy of missing out) and a lot of faith that you will have more time with the people and in the places you love. (Because if you’re staying healthy over the holidays and the rest of the year, you will!)
Get up off the couch and move your body! The holidays are a chance to add in some extra movement rather than stop all physical activity. Consider doing some deep cleaning of the house and make that into some exercise (think: Mrs. Doubtfire vacuuming).
Start a new fitness routine, keep up or bump up an existing one.
Spend some time developing a gratitude practice—it can be as simple as writing down three things you’re grateful for every morning and three things that went well every evening.
Be fully present with your loved ones and with your meals, and be grateful for every moment and every meal you have.
Still wanting some tactics around eating? Here are my thoughts.
Whatever your chosen eating style, from plant-based to carnivore, there are a few basic principles of healthy eating that I teach my clients:
- Eat when you’re physically hungry
- Focus on whole foods…
- Cooked from scratch…
- Eaten in moderate portions…
- With mindfulness and gratitude.
Know you’re going to be eating out and that your preferred options will be limited?
- Eat a healthy meal or snack before you go—if you really tune into your level of fullness, it may keep you from overeating foods you would normally skip. And if you can’t resist, at least you’ll have already done something good for you!
- BYOF: if you are adhering to a specific eating style for health reasons (celiac disease, allergies to dairy, etc.) rather than out of preference, consider bringing your own food along.
- Choose to indulge: if you regularly eat healthy, one meal is not going to derail you. It’s only when we make the poor choices meal after meal, day after day that disease creeps up on us. Yup, this a health coach telling you to eat the pie à la mode and enjoy every dang bite of it. One piece, one scoop, slowly, and with lots of moans of pleasure.
Personally, I think bringing your own can come across as rude if mishandled, so contact your host ahead of time, explain that you will be bringing your own food as a way of not inconveniencing them, and then be subtle about it. This is not the time to wave your flag and try to convert others.
food for thought
change is stressful
Travel, change of scenery, change of company, change of diet and lifestyle during the holidays can all be stressful. And when we are stressed—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, energetically—our body’s stress response is the same: we can go into flight, flight, or freeze mode.
In that state, all non-essential functions (from digestion to reproduction to growing healthy muscles, skin, hair, and nails) cease.
So stress relief—whatever that looks like for you other than numbing devices, such as food and drink—is a must during the holidays. Spend some time figuring out what works for you, and try to fit it in daily.
the flip side
Taking ourselves out of our daily routine can also provide a positive stimulus.
When my daughter was little, I was always amazed at how, after visiting Grandma’s house, she’d suddenly make a huge developmental leap: rolling over, sitting up, walking, talking all seemed to start after her daily routine was disturbed.
(BTW, this is not an endorsement of overstimulating our children or ourselves! These visits were relatively few and far between.)
Are you stuck in the muck of the day-to-day grind? The holidays can provide that jolt that opens up new possibilities:
- Is there a new way of moving that you’ve been thinking of trying? Replace your current routine (or your state of couch-potato-ness) with a new workout and see what happens. It can be as simple as a walk around the block after a meal or as complex as a new fitness routine you’ve heard about.
- Do you not have time for meditation, journaling, reading, play with your family and friends during a normal work week? Try adding a new element to your day and see how it goes.
- Have you been trying to break a “bad” habit? Putting yourself in a new situation can help! Not having the familiar parameters of people and place and schedule can remove the temptation to follow our normal not-so-healthy practices.
The important thing is to think carefully about your holiday behavior after the fact as well as before:
- What habits or routines dropped off your radar—and could stay that way once the holidays are over?
- What practices did you undertake that you might want to keep in your daily routine after you’re back at home and at work?
As I’ve written about before, the holidays can be a time of mindless pleasure (which is, let’s be honest, not a bad thing sometimes). And they can also serve as a grand experiment.
If you’re truly mindful, you can make some fascinating observations about yourself—both your day-to-day self and your off-duty self.
- Are you incredibly rigid, not allowing the holidays to budge your routines? How do you feel about that? How do others feel around you?
- Are you a “weekend warrior” who does fine with day-to-day routines but tosses them out the window and undoes a lot of steady progress by partying hard during weekends and holidays? How does the all-or-nothing approach work for you? How doesn’t it serve you?
- Are you terrible at making better choices irrespective of whether it’s the holidays or not? What sort of an effect does that have on your health over time?
- Can you find a middle path, somewhere between rigidity and complete lack of control?
make the connection
Without a doubt, the holidays can be highly stressful. If you think that healthy food and lifestyle choices are not a part of them, think again!
If the strategy and tactics above are something you can implement on your own—go for it! Start planning for and implementing them now (after all, the retailers are doing it already).
And if you think that working with a health coach is something that you’ll do after January 1, think again: some of my most successful clients have found that starting before the holidays is the best time to reach their health goals. Because that way they have the support and accountability they need during the most stressful time of the year.
Looking for some support and accountability specifically related to emotional eating? Applications are now open for my Stewarding Emotional Eating group coaching program, the next cohort of which launches November 1.