It's that time of year again. The holidays are fast approaching and, while we may be feeling the excitement, we may also be dreading the toll they take on our well-being, our wallets and, of course, our weight. The many weeks between Thanksgiving and the new year are, for most of us, the most taxing and the most challenging when it comes to our physical and emotional health. Many people actually feel depressed, anxious, resentful, etc. (huge 'To Do' list anyone?).
To make matters worse, we may think that because we are supposed to be enjoying it all, something is wrong with us, causing us to feel more depressed and resentful. Yep, holidays = stress; especially for us women, but the men are not immune. The reason I'm pointing out these emotional factors, is so that I can offer you a different approach to staying healthy, keeping off extra weight and still enjoying the holidays and all their festivities. For the most part, we know what and how much we should be eating. We know that we should continue to exercise. We know these things and what we're not sure about, we can look up in no time. There's plenty of great information out there. But actually adhering to our fitness goals is another story.
Let's start with the emotional aspect of keeping on track with staying healthy during these challenging times. First, I suggest owning up to those not-so-happy feelings I mentioned earlier. And when you become aware of them, avoid judging them and yourself. Trust me, you're not alone in your lack-luster enthusiasm for Christmas shopping or a long dinner that includes arguing over politics. So be kind to yourself - this time of year is hard! When we are feeling unkind toward ourselves, self-sabotaging becomes a lot easier. What most of us do when we are stressed, anxious, and perhaps self-sabotaging, is overeat. And with such an abundance of rich foods everywhere for such an extended period of time, shear willpower is not going to cut it. Other reasons we overeat during the holidays are because we may automatically associate holidays and having fun with eating and simply because food is everywhere - and not the healthy kind. We can't escape it!
But you can challenge your belief that food equals fun. Why not start associating fun with good people and enjoyable activities that don't necessarily include food? You can create a new habitual way of thinking about what being festive means to you, and it is a way of thinking that will serve you better. Still, food will be tempting us constantly over the holidays. There are two points I'd like to make about that.
First of all, take it in stride (remember being kind to yourself?). Everyone eats more at this time, no matter what their weight. But if you've eaten more cookies and drank more wine than you planned on in one day, do not use it as an excuse to chuck all of your good eating habits and say you'll start eating well again in the new year. That's like saying, "Well, I've already tripped, so I might as well hurl myself down this flight of stairs." Sounds ridiculous, right? Instead, plan to eat as best as you can at your next meal, and be most strict with the meals that you make at home. If you throw all good habits out the window, you'll have so much farther to go to get back to where you started and you'll have to work that much harder at it. You'll also want to plan to make only one change for the better in your eating or drinking habits. Pick one, stick with it, and if you happen to make some other good choices along the way, then terrific!
Commit to something like drinking two glasses of water 15 minutes before a meal or using a small plate at dinner. Even when it’s not during the holidays, attempting to change more than one unhealthy habit at a time is a sure way to defeat.
Don't skip your workouts! You’ll want to increase the frequency and/or intensity of your workouts, or at least maintain your current habits for the simple reason that you’ll need to burn more calories when you’re eating more. Just as importantly, exercise also serves as a de-stressor, keeping your mood up and stress-induced cortisol levels at bay.
Learn to say, NO. Know that you can say ‘no’ to commitments and that your house, if you're entertaining, does not need to look like the cover of a home decor magazine. Then take that time for yourself to exercise and meditate. And if you don’t meditate, just take time to relax and breath – every day. When you do commit to attending events, choose wisely. Surround yourself as much as possible with friends and loved-ones who re-energize you and give back to you emotionally, as opposed to people who sap your spirit and energy and just make you want to inhale that bowl of potato chips.
Topping off all of this awesome self-care, a fantastic way to “wire” healthy beliefs into our brains is to make positive statements about ourselves while exercising. (You don’t need to say them out loud, so don’t worry.) The more often you do this and the more positive you are, the better. What we repeatedly think, especially during cross-lateral movement, evidence shows (i.e. walking or running where arms and legs move in opposition), becomes what we believe.
I hope these are helpful ideas on understanding and working with the emotional component of staying fit and feeling good over the holidays – and all year round.
All of your healthy habits will be easier to achieve and sustain when approached from a non-judgmental, self-respecting place, and when you allow yourself to be imperfect. And remember to make small, positive changes, one at a time, otherwise you’ll be setting yourself up for failure. We want to set ourselves up for success and for enjoying these holidays!