The holidays are a challenging time for all of us when it comes to healthy eating and mindful weight loss. Here is a guide to help you through this season in a healthy and joyful way.
1. Take it day by day. “The holiday season” is really just one day followed by another. When we approach it as a large block of time —”The Holidays” —it becomes more difficult than it needs to be. Here’s a tactic that Steve uses when teaching martial arts to kids: During the warm-up the kids frequently complain about practicing 60 breakfalls in a row. They constantly ask “how many more???” and sometimes doubt that they can get through all 60. So when asked “how many more?” Steve always responds “one more….just one more…and one more…almost done….one more…” each and every time until we hit 60. I don’t know how he counts to one 60 times and knows when to stop, but it works. The kids laugh and learn the greater lesson that large intimidating tasks are really a series of small easy tasks. The holidays are no different. So, rather than ask how you will get through the holidays, think of each day. One day may include a big party (challenging). Another day may be an easier day. Take it one day at a time, and respond to only the challenges of that day rather than giving yourself more.
2. Set up your environment for success. You are going to have unforeseen circumstances during the holidays. A co-worker may bring in a giant plate of cookies. You may need to bring a client out to a year-end dinner. Those things you can’t control. However, a large portion of your environment is totally within your control. Focus on those areas. Go through your home and office like a detective and set yourself up to succeed. Don’t keep candy or cookies within easy reach. Remove trigger foods. If you go to an office party, do your socializing away from the food. Suggest activities that involve celebration not centered on food (charitable work,visiting a nursing home, buying toys for kids in the hospital, etc.). If you are in charge of your office, consider a policy of “healthy food only” to discourage people using the office kitchen as a “dumping ground” for leftover sweets. Be proactive.
3. Be an observer of yourself. Watch your reactions, emotions, and thoughts without necessarily acting on them. Take the stance of a curious bystander observing your own experience with the goal of simply taking note. Try doing this for a set amount of time—an evening, during a holiday party, etc. What do you notice? Practice non-judgmental awareness. Do you notice that you have very strong cravings at some times and not others? Do you notice evenings are harder than days? Do you notice any recurring holiday-specific triggers? Do certain people seem to be sabotaging your goals? Just take a step back and be curious. This could open the door to new solutions.
4. Focus on the spirit of the holidays, not the food. Our culture has become increasingly food-centric. I gave up watching commercial television after Hurricane Sandy (good decision—haven’t looked back!), but when I catch a glimpse I am struck by how many food advertisements there are– especially around the holidays. We are bombarded daily with decadent, seductive images of food. We even have a Food Network with 24/7 food. Even though feasting is an important part of any holiday ritual, it need not last the entire season. In another era, only the actual day of the holiday included celebration with food, not a whole season. Focus on the spirit of the season that does not rely on eating: generosity, kindness, togetherness, family, love, peace. Contemplate these qualities and know that none of them are necessarily linked with food.
5. Get help. Are your working with a trainer, coach, or group? Brainstorm and strategize with them. Keep in touch with them between sessions via email, phone, or text. Ask specific questions (we love it when you ask us stuff!). Let them know about your triggers, struggles, and setbacks. Celebrate your successes with them. Few difficult things can be accomplished alone, and losing weight during the holidays is no exception.
6. When in doubt, throw it out or pass it along. Get rid of the really bad stuff. Normally, I’m not in favor of wasting food. But this tip is for food that isn’t nourishing anyway–cakes, pies, etc. The reality is that the holidays will supply us with an overabundance of unhealthy food. Sometimes it will literally appear at our doorstep. If we eat it all, we will be endangering our health and our goals. For food like this, enjoy a reasonable amount and get rid of the rest. Of course, if it is still wrapped you can give it away, regift, or donate. If it is nourishing food, consider dividing it into smaller pre-portioned meals and freezing them. But for a trigger food like a half-eaten pecan pie– when you think you may eat the whole thing— better to get rid of it.
7. Be aware of feelings. Food is rarely just food. It often holds great symbolic and emotional meaning. This is even more true during the holidays—where emotions run high… and low. Depression tends to spike around this time, in spite of the veneer of happiness. Emotional eating may be even worse than it normally is for you, both due to the availability of high-calorie food and the abundance of emotional triggers. Refer to the Emotional Eating Guide for help navigating this terrain (you will get it for free if you subscribe to the blog, or you can email me and I will send it). Ask yourself “What am I really hungry for?” or “Why do I want to eat this?” Chances are, there is an emotion at the core that needs to be dealt with.
8. Highlight successes. Don’t let your successes go by un-noticed! Take a moment and recognize the tough days you got through, the triumphs, the weight you lost, and the brave rebounds from your setbacks. We are very good at noticing when we mess up, but we let our successes go by with barely a mention. Know that even on the most difficult days, there were many things you did right. Focus on those and use them as positive momentum.
9. Manage your stress. This is true for the holidays and every day. Stress eating is a real pitfall. We all do it. We overeat to calm ourselves. Lack of sleep makes things worse. Get ahead of your stress.Take walks. Get enough exercise. Do some mindful breathing or meditation. Unplug. Get enough sleep. Whatever your personal de-stressing routine is, don’t let it go during the holidays. Make it a top priority to keep your healthy routines even amidst traffic, parties, and shopping. And if you don’t have a de-stressing routine or activity? No time like the present to get one, or to start one. What better holiday present for yourself than a yoga or gym membership? What better New Year’s commitment than setting up a routine to manage stress?
10. Visualize. This tip comes from one of our members who got through a challenging Thanksgiving by visualizing the scenario ahead of time. She was extremely specific, imagining the entire day in great detail, possible scenarios, and her success. Also visualize yourself after the the scenario, imagining how you will feel having gotten through a challenging time with flying colors. Visualization can both mentally prepare you, as well as generate desired feelings and motivation for success.
11. Put yourself at the top of your holiday list. This is perhaps the most important tip for making it through the holiday season. Are you running yourself ragged to buy gifts for every last person on your list? Where do YOU fit in on that list? What is more important—your health, or a gift that someone probably doesn’t even need? Put yourself first, and make your health your precious gift to yourself and your loved ones. What you prioritize will materialize. Prioritize your own self-care this year and you will see results.
Warm wishes for a joyous holiday season and a healthy New Year.