Surviving the holidays

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For children, or the child within you, the holiday season can truly feel like the most wonderful time of the year.

As an adult and a parent, this is not always the case. The most wonderful time often transforms into the most stressful. The strain of never-ending social, family and financial obligations, and those tempting, not-so-healthy foods that are always right under your nose are a few stressors that can leave you feeling stressed, sick, unhappy and exhausted.

There is a solution; it does not have to play out this way each year. Taking good care of yourself does not have to wait until the New Year.

Here are some simple suggestions to help you get through the season more relaxed and with peace of mind.

1.    Be mindfully merry

This starts with setting a new intention for this season. Instead of seeing this as the season to endlessly indulge, reframe it a little and think of this year as a chance to be extra mindful. Use this time to slow down and eat consciously. Truly taste and appreciate your food rather than eating out of stress or because you see it there.

2.    Not all about the food

Think of social events as a way to really connect with people, not just to eat. Practice being present and genuinely listening to others you find yourself talking to. This is the secret to creating and maintaining a deeper connection, more enjoyment, and greater fulfillment.

3.    Wake with a workout

Working out in the morning does a number of good things. First, it ensures you get your exercise in before the day derails your best intentions. It also kick starts your metabolism for hours to come and makes you less likely to choose unhealthy foods later. These things are important any time and even more important this time of year.

4.    Think healthy-ish rather than perfection

It is next to impossible to eat perfectly over the holidays, and aiming for nothing less than perfection can make it hard to socialize or relax. Giving yourself permission for mindful indulgences is by far a better strategy than forbidding yourself to eat certain foods followed by breaking down and binging. When entering a social situation where temptations abound, rather than, I’m going to resist everything, think of being healthy-ish. This means making the best choices you can overall while allowing yourself just enough indulgence so you neither harm your body nor come away still dreaming of all the things you craved but avoided.

5.    Guidelines: Relaxed, but still in place

Even though the focus is not on perfection, developing amnesia about what is and is not healthy is not advisable either. Calories, carbs, salt and sugar still exist around the holidays! This is still a time to continue eating plenty of protein, healthy fats and fiber. Keeping nourished is as important as enjoying the occasional treat. All these food-centered events make it especially critical to eat regular, healthy meals. Skipping a meal and planning to over-indulge at the party is a recipe for disaster. Instead, make sure you eat nutritious foods on your own time as you usually would, then arrive at the party with a regular appetite, not a ravishing craving. 

6.    Is it worth it?

Only indulge in less-than-healthy foods when it’s something you really want. Eating something just because it is there and may taste good is neither healthy-ish nor mindful. Ask yourself, if I don’t eat it, will I dream about it tonight?

7.    Smaller and slower are better

If you are eating something because you really want it, eating a lot less of it is perfectly satisfying. Make an effort to eat smaller amounts of indulgent foods—maybe even just three bites. Be present and enjoy each mouthful. Chew slowly. Put down your fork, or spoon between each bite. You will savor your food more, appreciate it immensely, digest it better, and even feel fuller.

8.    Once a day

Another way to avoid over-indulging is to limit yourself to just one treat a day. This isn't an easy task, especially at the dessert buffet, but it will train you to really make that one indulgence count.

9.    Avoid the food pushers

Your well-intended aunt insists that if you love her, you can only prove it by having a serving of her famous maple pumpkin custard pie, or giving your children second and even third helpings. During the holidays, sugar pushers come out in full-force. Be true to you. It is okay to say no. The pusher may seem offended but will most probably forget your resistance relatively quickly and move right on to the next victim. 

10.    Let leftovers leave

If you entertain, those tempting, decadent leftovers can accompany your guests as they leave.  Have to-go containers ready, and encourage your guests to take leftovers. On the reverse side, if you are the guest, it is not necessary to take leftovers that you know you will struggle to resist and will regret eating later.

11.    Know when to go

The time to leave the table is as soon as you have finished eating that delicious meal. Sitting around talking will suddenly find you picking at leftovers and eating more. Instead try going for a short walk, inviting your fellow diners to join you. You can continue socializing while encouraging digestion and each of you will feel better and more energized. 

12.    Find fullness without food

During this season, it is particularly helpful to schedule time to meditate, do yoga, or practice other stress reduction techniques. This will in turn make you a better guest and a better host. It will also make it much easier to resist all those treats when not resorting to stress eating or relying solely on food to make you feel full.

13.    Engage without eating

Recognize that not every holiday activity has to center around food. Look for other ways to celebrate and connect. Schedule activities that involve singing together, decorating, or other creative endeavors you can enjoy sharing.

14.    Take 20

Should you have a second helping is a question this season forces you to confront over and over. One voice in your head tells you may be satisfied while another is encouraging you to keep going. A great strategy is to wait 20 minutes before deciding. This is the amount of time the brain requires to register that the stomach is full and satisfied. This way you can make an informed, mindful decision rather than an impulsive one.

15.    Practice gratitude and giving

The holiday season is about giving and being thankful for what you have. Studies show that how you feel about what you have, rather than what you have, makes the difference. Be grateful for what you have and remind yourself of what you have in a daily gratitude journal. A five-minute a day gratitude journal can increase your long term well-being significantly. Gratitude causes us to focus less on things that matter very little, like making money and acquiring stuff, and more on the things that are truly important, like my loved ones and helping and supporting each other. 

Embrace the spirit even further by giving to others. The holiday season is a particularly opportune time to reflect on good fortune and do things for other people. Doing service can require very little time. Bake some special (healthful) treats for your neighbour, help shovel snow from someone’s driveway or give someone a nice compliment or a smile. The holidays can be a lonely time for many, so what better way to brighten another’s holiday than inviting them to your family’s holiday dinner?

Remember that despite what advertisers have tried to make of this season, consumption is not what makes it special. Behind all the pandemonium and at the core of whatever holiday your background or beliefs lead you to observe, the purpose is to celebrate love, celebrate family and friends, enjoy connections and both give and experience joy.

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For more about nutrition, tips to improve overall health and wellbeing, recipes and meal plans, visit Integrative Health.

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