It's that time of year again. Your social calendar is booked up. You're busy preparing either for holiday festivities or just for being away from work. It's not long before you end up tired, hungry, and thirsty and then voila….you arrive at today's scheduled celebration and the place is oozing with treats that you are pretty sure you didn't see listed in your gluten-free whole-foods no-processed organic locavore paleo diet plan. Uncle Fillerup keeps appearing out of nowhere to top up your seemingly never-ending glass of wine. Everywhere you go tables are groaning with food and it's not long before your belt is doing the same.
Regardless of which holiday, if any, you might celebrate at this time of year for many of us there is usually a lot of food and drink involved. The problem of course is that this isn't limited to just one day. There are weeks and weeks of preparation and celebration with plenty of opportunity for overindulgence which never feels as good after the fact as it does in the moment. You don't even have to go looking for trouble….it can come to you. I'm referring here to the office coffee room "treat table" or the boxes and bottles of goodies that are given to you as presents.
If you're a health conscious person or currently in the middle of working on a health plan for yourself then these can be trying times. But avoiding people and parties just to stop yourself from over-indulging doesn't really sound like much fun. What to do?
You've seen them before and you'll see them again. Lists of tricks and tips for 'surviving the holidays', 'avoiding holiday weight gain', or 'being mindful'. Meh. Truthfully? When I see these articles on how to be perfect and survive the holidays while being gracious, perfect and thin I usually just want to punch someone in the nose. But then I'm probably already tired, hungry and thirsty….see above.
What about enjoying yourself without regret or post-holiday self-loathing? What about having fun but perhaps tweaking the definition for holiday fun? So at the risk of just sounding like everyone else who writes on this topic I'm going to venture into….yep…. a list of tips for the holidays. But bear with me. If you've already rolled your eyes into your head, are swearing at the computer, or putting on your boxing gloves - read no further. Just step away from the computer and we will never speak of this again. If you think there might be a reminder below that is useful to you? Read on.
Focus on friends not finger foods. Sometimes we stick to the dip table to avoid talking to people. I'm not naming any names. Many of us do it. We're tired, bored, or we're attending a gathering because we feel obligated to be there. Go to events aiming to engage with people and share time with them. You might learn something about someone that you didn't know or make a new connection. Either way it's better than clamping on to cocktail wiener number 36.
You can fall off the wagon but there's no need to throw yourself under the cart. The great thing about our modern calendar is that every morning is a new day. A fresh start. You went to a party and had more champagne than the rest of the year combined? No matter. Didn't know Aunt Mary was going to make the trifle of the century? So what. One swallow does not a summer make. The real trouble is when we string together day after day of wagon-falling. Don't punish yourself or overcompensate for last nights indulgence with a 3 day fast. That's destined to fail. Just go on with your base plan. No biggy.
Narrow the focus. Let's be honest. There are holiday events that you really can't or don't want to miss. And then there are the rest. Be selective. If you've been invited to your mother's brother's friends cousin's neighbours Christmas Eve Eve party...maybe don't go. Chances are the celebration will go on without you. Give a polite decline. Usually no-one notices.
Pick your food favourites. There are definitely foods and beverages that we associate with holiday celebrations. These are the things we love and might not want to miss. The recipes that family make or things you only see at this time of year. So don't miss them! Enjoy. Figure out what they are for you and look forward to them. Then "reserve" your treat space for these special things instead of filling up on fluff. Where I work there is a very nice lady who every year makes chocolate peanut butter balls for the entire office. They are delicious. Wonderful. They have made her famous. They are known in the clinic as "Gunter balls". Named after her of course. Every day of December I walk past our office coffee room table piled high with all sorts of treats. I never bother. Except for Gunther balls - I wouldn't miss those suckers for anything. Two of those and a hot cup of tea and in my head the Christmas season has started.
Get sneaker savvy. With the best of intentions we can avoid all the obvious glaring nutritional nightmares only to be done in by the sneaky things. Liquid calories are famous for this. You steer clear of the dip table, are reasonable at dinner, get selective at the dessert table and then figure out that the punch you've been sipping is loaded with sugar, corn syrup, artificial colouring and maraschino cherries that will live longer than you do. Perhaps have something that won't make you feel radioactive the next morning.
Don't bump healthy nutritious food off the menu to save calories for treats. Eat them both. This is the big one. Too often we prepare for eating treats by starving ourselves for the rest of the day or replacing meals. This is fatal. First of all when you limit your intake to only sweets and treats you spike your blood sugar and drive up insulin production. If you haven't eaten all day this spike comes after hours of depletion. You are on a metabolic roller coaster. Most importantly this makes you feel like garbage. But also it's counter productive. If you eat regular food the rest of the day including lots of vegetables, healthy fats, proteins and water you are far less likely to over-indulge later on. Starve yourself? You might just hop onto the dessert table mouth first until someone who loves you can pry you off. It's not pretty.
Treat yourself to special exercise. See the holiday season as a time to do something special that you might not have time for outside of the season. Go curling, or tobogganing with friends. Make a skate date with your sweetie. Or plan a family walk to look at people's Christmas lights or decorations. Just because your boot camp or yoga class is closed until New Years doesn't mean you have to do nothing. See it as an opportunity to do something different. Exercise is good for the body and great for stress management and the blues.
Prepare with sleep. Log Zzzzz time on the nights when you aren't booked to do something. Sleep decreases our appetite, enhances mood, and allows us to enjoy ourselves when we are out and about instead of feeling dragged out and exhausted.
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