The holidays can filled with joy, but they can also bring a lot of stress and sadness.
I wanted to share the things I do for myself that allow me to enjoy, indulge and create memories without sacrificing how I feel – physically or mentally.
Indulge without *over* indulging
There is nothing wrong with enjoying ourselves during the holidays and indulging a bit more than we normally would. The problem is when those small indulgences become too large or too frequent – then we’ve over-indulged.
The difference? Not the scale. Not a little bit of visible bloat. The difference is how we feel! Indulging may leave us a bit fuller and slower than usual, but shouldn’t have a drastic impact on the way we feel beyond digestion. If we start to feel generally gross or – worse – experience pain, that’s our body’s not-so-subtle indication that we’ve gone a bit too far. This is why it’s important to understand what impacts our bodies most. For me? Refined sugar is my nemesis. I enjoy it very much, but it doesn’t take much for my body to feel the negative effects so I will generally be a little laxer with indulging other items (give me alllllll the stuffing and mashed taters, please), and a bit more restrained with indulging refined sugars.
Trying to all-together avoid foods we enjoy creates a yo-yo effect where we are likely to eventually over-indulge after restricting for so long. My solution to this is quite simple: portion control. I’m going to eat the refined sugar, but instead of the 17 homemade cookies I’d like to eat, I will eat 2. Allowing myself to eat whatever I want in reasonable portions leaves me satisfied, and I don’t feel like I need to cram a bunch of “unhealthy” stuff in some specific window of time. I will increase those portions a bit over the holidays – again, potatoes and stuffing please – but a reasonable increase isn’t going to have me feeling terrible physically (or mentally – holiday food guilt is BS).
Focus on Adding Nutrition
It can be so easy to focus on the things we “shouldn’t” eat over this holiday period. Partially because there is an abundance of temptation when it comes to less nutritious options over the next few weeks, and partially because we’ll be simultaneously bombarded with messages about changing our health by changing the way our bodies look. To be clear, not all weight loss is healthy just as not all weight gain is unhealthy.
Nutrition is tricky. We don’t often see the benefits right away, but we feel it… and more so, we feel the absence of it. For that reason, one of the things that keeps me feeling my best throughout this holiday period is adding in nutritious foods where I can. Even though I’ve set goals related to feeling rather than looking good over the last few years, that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the messaging. Part of the extra forcefield I carry during these times relates to simply focusing on doing good things for my body – like add veggies – rather than focusing on what not to do – like eat sweets. I’m going to eat potatoes and stuffing and cookies and crescent rolls to nourish my soul, but I’m also going to make sure I eat plenty of foods that will nourish my body.
I’ve been known to dig into the hors d’oeuvres before the meal, then dive straight into the stuff on the less nutritious end (did I mention stuffing?), and by the time I start to breathe, I’m full and haven’t had enough of the more nutritious stuff to fuel my body. Ruh-roh. I’ve found that focusing a little more heavily on those more nutritious foods up front helps me feel better in the long-term. And I usually still have room for cookies…
Holidays can be full of love and warmth, but also stressful as hell. And the reality is holidays *aren’t* full of love and warmth for everyone; they can be extremely difficult and lonely. It’s not abnormal to require a little extra attention for our mental health during this time, and I find a daily mantra practice to be helpful. The mantra can be used to help maintain perspective, express gratitude, provide a positive affirmation… whatever it is you need to hear from someone that day, you’re going to say it to yourself.
Some ways I’ve done this? I love a dry erase marker on the mirror! Annnnd hand sanitizer will wipe it off like it was never there. You can also create a wallpaper in a free app like Canva so you’ve got your mantra at your fingertips. Most importantly, whether you keep the mantra somewhere visually or just in your head, repeat it every time you need it. Repeat it until that crappy thought or feeling that had infiltrated is gone.
A personal trainer? Recommending movement? Groundbreaking.
I know, I know. But look, I’m not necessarily talking “exercise”. Any movement that gets the heart rate up is going to do the trick. Many of us are outside of our normal routines over the next few weeks – even if not traveling for holidays, kids are out of school and all sorts of scheduling changes occur. It can be so easy to forego intentional movement during this time, but it truly is one of the best mood boosters out there. And there are plenty of ways to make it happen if you can’t be alone. Maybe it’s running around outside with friends, family, or pets, cranking up the tunes and having a dance party, or taking advantage of some time off by getting outside to clean up the yard – whatever it is, make a plan and go for it.
If you’re the kind of person who needs structured exercise <raises hand>, I’ve found workout variety/availability and stigma to be the primary barriers. Keeping up with the structured movement that makes us feel good is a little easier without travel plans, but can be more difficult to achieve when hitting the road. Aside from the obvious like walking/hiking/running outside, there are so many versatile options for home workouts using just body weight, or easy-travel equipment like resistance bands on YouTube, free apps, etc. Like, I remember the days of traveling with workout DVDs and making sure the laptop that came was able to play said DVDs.
Last: do not apologize for taking time out to make it happen “even during the holidays”, “on vacation,” etc. Movement has been portrayed as punishment for our bodies for so long that it can be difficult for some to understand doing it to feel good, and I’ve found sometimes I just have to be okay with being misunderstood. To be clear, I’m not advocating anyone spend 3 hours a day at the gym, missing out on valuable time and memories – what I’m saying is, if you can take 30 minutes for yourself without compromising anything significant, do it.
Maintain One Small Routine
With the almost inevitable overwhelm and schedule upheaval the holiday season can bring, I like to make sure I’m maintaining at least one small routine that helps me to feel like myself. Structured movement certainly falls under this category for me, but something else I find I need is my morning coffee routine, which can be done virtually anywhere. Some other ideas are a skincare routine, stretching routine, prayer/meditation, etc. It’s not so much the routine itself – it’s the mindfulness in taking those few minutes to do something small that fulfills me. Whenever time starts to feel like that spinning tornado that’s about to suck me in and spit me out two weeks later, these small moments can really ground me.
Avoid Too Much Alcohol
I find this to be a big one in terms of impacting how I feel physically. And let’s face it, there are several reasons we may drink a bit more than usual during the holiday season (and this was before Taylor and Adele decided to drop new music within days of each other). Regardless of the root cause of the increase, this is one where I’m going to assert it’s important to have restraint. That doesn’t mean to avoid alcohol all together, but to avoid consuming it in excess regularly throughout the holiday season. A drink or two isn’t a big deal, but more than that on a regular basis can really screw with our sleep, dehydrate us, add to inflammation, and prevent our bodies from properly absorbing nutrients. Not over time – right now
Lots. Of. Water!
Water is one of those things I hate to love. Drinking it can be a chore, but it makes such a difference and there are so many reasons to increase intake over the holiday season. Dry air is common almost everywhere in the winter, whether it’s due to forced heat in cold weather regions or dry heat and air conditioning in warmer locations. Add in travel and increased alcohol intake, and our bodies are screaming for extra hydration. Increasing water intake also helps with digestion and blood pressure regulation. And please don’t discount the positive effects of water on sleep. Part of the regulation of blood pressure is also temperature regulation. Keeping hydrated allows us to maintain a lower body temperature when we sleep, which helps counter the natural temperature increases we’ll experience through the sleep cycles.
Please note, there is such a thing as TOO hydrated – it’s called water intoxication. Do not consume more than a gallon in a day, and space it out throughout the day as much as possible. Too much sodium is bad, yes, but too little sodium and electrolytes in our bodies will kill us. Literally.
I hope you have a soul-affirming holiday week, and I’m holding a special space for those of you who find this to be a particularly difficult time. In my own way, I’m there with you.