Staying on Track During the Holidays
The holiday season is upon us in much of the world, and if you’re in the midst of a health transformation, you might be feeling a little nervous. We’re going to work on getting you prepared for this time of year.
Today’s topic is how to stay on track during the holidays. First of all, here’s a sobering statistic: Heart attacks are more common around this time of year, and cardiac death is nearly 5% higher during the holidays. Things like drinking too much, stress, or putting off going to the doctor until the new year all play a part in this. I think it’s safe to say that we don’t generally associate the holidays with good health, except for maybe New Year’s Day.
I believe that it doesn’t have to be this way, though. We can find ways to make our holidays a period of wellness.
I’m not going to give you any advice or top tips today. Instead, I’m going to be asking you a series of questions to help you get more insight around your specific situation during the holidays. We’re going to start with very general questions and then move to specific ones, especially about our diets. You can answer these questions in your head, or you can use them as a journaling exercise by pausing this and writing, and I’ll also put a link in the description to the transcript of the audio if you would also like to work through it in a written format. Answer as many or as few of the questions as you want.
So first up, when you think about the holiday season in general, what’s the first feeling that pops into your head? Are you excited? Are you apathetic? Do you worry that you’ll be bored? Do you feel stressed? Are you absolutely dreading the entire affair, or do you have mixed feelings?
Now you may wonder why I’m asking you about your feelings. Isn’t this supposed to be weight loss information? Where’s the recipe for sugar-free cookies, gosh darnit? Well, if you think about it, love, hate, or indifferent, the holiday season is, for most of us, a break in our normal routines. I’m going to list a lot of different things that can happen during the holidays. If anything resonates with you or creates a reaction in you, make a note of it. For example, you might be going to a lot of parties and spending time with a lot of friends, family, and/or coworkers, so maybe spending more time in social settings with people than you normally do. Or you might have just the opposite. You might have some time off and really have nothing to do and be alone for more time than you usually are. You might be traveling to another city or even another country, or receiving guests in your home, or intentionally stepping back and taking time for yourself, or not really sure what you’re going to do.
You might have to make difficult decisions about where to go and who to see, which invitations to accept and which to decline, and oh my gosh what should I wear to all these outings?
It’s possible that you might have additional religious services to go to, which aren’t part of your normal schedule.
You may be receiving gifts and/or buying them. You might be decorating your house or watching your neighbors do it. You might see all sorts of holiday ads and holiday movies that make you feel nostalgic or just plain drive you nuts. There might be phone calls and messages from people that you don’t usually talk to, or maybe not. And who should you call? And who should you message?
If you work, you might have more stress around this time, as you’re trying to get everything done before the end of the year, or it might be a slow period for you and you’re worried that you’re not using your time effectively, whether that’s to further your career goals, or catch up with people you haven’t talked to in a while, or take better care of your health. On the other hand, if you have a lot of responsibilities in your home, or with children or other family members that depend on you, you may feel jealous that people in the office get some time off and maybe you don’t.
And speaking of kids and other family members, everyone around you is also experiencing the holiday season and may have different schedules than they normally do, so it could feel like a giant juggling act. Or you could be on the opposite end of the spectrum. Perhaps you live alone, so when you hear everyone complain how stressed they are by their spouse or their kids or their grandma you feel like you can’t relate, or maybe you feel pretty good that you don’t have to deal with that. We’re all different.
Or it might not be too much of a shift from your day-to-day life, and maybe you like this and maybe you don’t, but no matter who you are and where you are, even if you’re in a place with a totally different holiday schedule, you’re still likely to be reminded one way or another that ‘tis the season.
The point is, when we’re trying to make a transformational change in our lives, coming at it from a place of organization, strategy, and intentionality – whatever that looks like for you – can make things a heck of a lot easier. So what do you think is a better choice: Letting the holidays knock you off balance and make achieving your goals more difficult and chaotic, or coming into the season with some clarity and preparation? It’s up to you.
So here is another question to think about. What are your goals for the holiday season? Are there specific people that you want to see? Is there anyone you want to avoid? What special events are you looking forward to? Do you want to be busier than you normally are, or do you want to relax more than you usually do? Do you want to lose weight during this time period, or maintain your weight? Do you have any projects around the house or professionally you’d like to catch up on, or a book that you’ve just not gotten around to reading? Is there anything you’d like to learn how to do? Do you like the idea of having some serious down time to relax?
Additionally, how do you want to feel when this time period is over? So, when the holidays have finally finished, what thoughts do you want to have in your head? Do you want to think, “Wow, that was great. I spent so much time with my family,” or, “It was so wonderful to catch up with some old friends I hadn’t talked to for a while,” or, “I’m so glad I skipped that company party, it looked terrible,” or “Wow, I really had a chance to rest and sleep,” or “That was great, I took really good care of myself,’ or, “I didn’t talk to anyone for seven days. Best. Week. Ever,” or, “Awesome! I lost weight in spite of the holidays and I now don’t have to start the year off on a bad foot,” or “I was able to attend a lot of events while still feeling calmness around food,” or “Hey, I did a good job of taking time to exercise the amount that I wanted,” or “My vacation was so cool and I took so many interesting photos,” or simply, “Yup. I had a great time.” Take a moment to envision yourself post-holidays. What do you want “future you” to feel like then?
Once you have some ideas about your vision for the holiday season, you can start to create a plan and put together some strategies.
First, let’s start with the things you’re looking forward to. Which things are you most excited about? What can you do to really be able to enjoy them? For example, if you’re really pumped about your vacation, what steps can you take in order to make it a really good one? Do you need to do some more research about where to stay and what to do? Are there any things you need to buy before you go? Do you need to schedule services like a dog walker or someone to water your plants while you’re gone? Do you need to go to bed early the night before you leave? When are you going to do these things? Have you put them on your calendar?
Or another example of something you may really be looking forward to is hosting your own holiday party. What do you need to do to make it a great one? When should you send your invitations? Who are you going to invite? What food and drinks are you going to have? Are you going to decorate? So again, when are you going to do these things? Have you put them on your calendar yet?
When we get really clear about something we want to do and set aside time to do it, we’re much more likely to get the result we want, but you knew that.
Now let’s think about the things that you’re not looking forward to or just downright dreading? Is there anything coming up that just gives you that icky feeling? First of all, take some time to figure out why you feel this way. Let’s say, for example, that you always send Happy Holidays cards, but you really can’t stand doing it. Why do you dislike it so much? Is it because you don’t know who to send them to? Does it just take you so much time to do it? Do you feel stressed about what the card should look like? Get specific about what it is that’s driving you nuts. Then, see if there are any possible solutions, and also ask yourself if there’s something else going on under the surface. For example, in terms of solutions, if you feel stressed about what the card should look like, can you set a time limit and say that whatever decision you come up with in however many minutes is the final decision, no regrets? Or, is there anyone else you can delegate this decision to (your kids, partner, a friend)? In terms of if anything else is going on, do you usually send a picture of yourself and is that causing you stress? If so, why? Is there anything you can do to change this? Or, alternatively, are you doing something because you feel like you have to or because it seems like everyone else is? If so, take a moment to think about what would happen if you didn’t do it. How would you feel? What benefit are you getting by sending out these cards, and is it worth it? If not, you know what to do.
You can go through these questions with anything that you’re just not so keen on doing. Why do you feel this way? Are there any possible solutions? Is there anything else going on under the surface? Lastly, is it worth it?
And of course we have the things that we’re ambivalent about. It’s worth giving some thought to these ones too. Can you do anything to make these things more enjoyable for yourself or at least less of a pain in the butt? For example, if you’re feeling kind of so-so about the company holiday party, would you feel better if you got your hair done before it, so that at least you felt really fabulous? Or, can you set a time limit for how long you want to be there and stick to it? Things like that can really help.
Let’s talk about gifts. Many of us buy and receive gifts during this time of year. (budget, last minute - stats?) I read an article in the magazine Fast Company from last year, that said that 74% of consumers planned on doing some last minute shopping. Another article from People Magazine stated that 51% of Americans wait until Christmas Eve to buy gifts. Has this ever happened to you? I know it’s happened to me, and I have vivid memories of being very stressed out, running around a busy shopping mall, buying whatever the heck I could find without stopping to think about the price, and then ending the excursion slumped on a bench, drowning my sorrows in Auntie Anne’s Pretzels. Perhaps, there is a better way. I think you know exactly what I’m about to say. Ask yourself these questions: Who do you plan to buy gifts for? Where are you going to do this? When are you going to do this? Is it on your calendar? And also, what’s your budget? If money is no object for you, fine, but if not, what’s your spending limit? Can you look at prices online to see if that’s realistic and if not, can you make any changes? Yes, of course, we all want to be generous, but I don’t think our friends and family want us to go through financial hardship and stress for the sake of giving them a gift, at least I hope not.
Here are some other things to think about. Sleep. How is your sleep schedule going to be affected by the holidays? Do you have anything on your calendar that’s really early in the morning or late at night, whether that’s a flight, a party, a family commitment, or something else? What can you do in order to still get enough sleep? Can you block off some time in your schedule for a nap the day after a long flight, for example? Can you abstain from alcohol if you’re not already in order to sleep better? Are there any activities that you can skip in the name of getting a good night’s sleep, such as a late-night movie with your family? Do you need to bring earplugs, a face mask, or even a travel pillow with you if you’re going to be somewhere else? If you’ll be having houseguests, is there anything you need to communicate to them about your bedtime routine so that you have a clear boundary around it, like, what time you go to sleep, or what time the TV needs to be turned off, or what time you make breakfast if that’s your responsibility. Get strategic about the ways you can protect your sleep during this time.
Let’s talk about exercise next. How much exercise do you want to get during this time? Is there space on your calendar to do it? Notice I keep talking about the calendar and the schedule. It’s your choice, but scheduling really is a powerful tool. I learned this from the brilliant Dr. Kim Foster, one of the leading experts in the health and wellness space. Let’s say for example that you want to go for a 20-minute walk outside five times a week. What days are you going to do that on, and at what time? Also, what do you need in order to do that, is it walking shoes or even snow boots, headphones to listen to music, something to carry your phone and keys in, clothing to protect you from the elements? What might get in the way of this? If the weather’s bad that day, are you going to do it anyway, or do you have a plan B, like walking around a covered parking lot nearby or doing something else like turning on music and dancing inside? What else do you need to think about ahead of time? If you have house guests or are staying with family, are they invited on your walk, or is it something you want to do alone? Can you tell them ahead of time so they know what to expect? If you have small children, can you bring them along with you, or can someone else watch them for a bit? Think about it and set yourself up for success.
And last but certainly not least, my favorite subject of all until the day I die: food. Here’s my opinion. Think about if you agree or disagree with me. I feel like lots of people use the holidays as an excuse to go totally off the rails and eat in a very unhealthy way that doesn't do them many favors. Am I right? Lots of the time we are bombarded with all sorts of cookies, candies, hor d’oeuvres, chips, dips, alcohol, and on and on. Then in January it seems like everyone and their mother is at the gym, desperately trying to erase the previous months. I know I’ve been there. What about you? In the past, have you stuck with your normal eating habits during the holidays, or have you gone a bit wild? Let’s talk about how we can prepare ourselves for this time of year, which can sometimes feel like a festival of food. I’m going to really dive deep into this one because, not only is it my favorite thing to talk about, but I think it’s a real source of distress for many people who are trying their darndest to stay healthy while surrounded by candy canes.
Let’s start with the positives. Are there any? Is there anything during this time of year that can actually help you stick to your chosen way of eating? Are you going to have more time to go shopping for groceries and plan what and/or when you’re going to eat? Will not being at the office on some days allow you to make good choices when lunchtime rolls around, or fast without your coworkers feeling the need to comment? If you have kids, will having them with you at more mealtimes make it easier for you to cook one big meal for everyone instead of packing food for them to take to school and thus give you more time? If you’re going on vacation, will there be interesting restaurants you can try? By the way have you looked to see which restaurants there are near where you’re going and have looked at their menus so that you can plan ahead a bit? Or if you’re practicing fasting, will the change in schedule perhaps make it easier for you? It’s not all doom and gloom, I promise. Sometimes even the holiday season can present us with opportunities for adhering to our diet. Think about what silver lining this Santa Claus-shaped cloud might have.
Now let’s move on to the crappy part. You knew it was coming. For starters, we often receive gifts of food, sometimes in the mail, sometimes in person. Hey, sometimes it’s good stuff that fits in perfectly with your diet. Awesome! What should you do, however, if you get something that you really don’t want to be eating? Should you give the giver a lecture about what a terrible gift that was and how dare they send you crackers, don’t they know what that does to your insulin levels? Probably not, right? I’m pretty sure they were just trying to be nice. Can you throw the food away, or regift it to someone, or perhaps donate it to a food bank? Think about which options you feel comfortable with and can realistically do. Can you make a plan for this now so that you’re ready to follow it if and when the gift arrives?
What happens if someone gives you a gift in person and says, “Try it! Now!” What can you say or do? If you simply say, “No thanks,” do you think that will be enough? How does the idea of doing that make you feel? Can you tell them that you’re eating in a very specific way? If you do this, what do you think will happen? Do you think the person will say, “Okay,” or do you think they will try to get in a big nutrition argument with you, or say, “Come on. It’s the holidays! Live a little!” Are you willing to handle any reaction on the spectrum? If not, is there something else you can do? Are you comfortable making excuses for why you don’t want to eat that food right now? If so, what excuses can you come up with? Think of some examples. It could be anything like, “Oh, no thanks. I just ate and I’m stuffed,” or “Oh, that cookie would go great with my afternoon coffee, I’ll save it for later,” or “The waistband on these pants is already pretty tight, I’d better not push it,” or, “I’m going out to dinner later so I’d better leave room, but thank you.” Would anything similar to this work for you? How do you feel about white lies? Are you okay with saying them in the name of self-preservation or do they make you feel really uncomfortable? There’s no right answer. It’s whatever feels best to you and whatever you feel you can do in the moment.
Do you need to use different strategies with different people? For example, in my case, I know I can tell my close friends and family, “No thanks,” and leave it at that. I do have an acquaintance, however, and I’m not going to name any names, who really seems to take it really personally when I refuse food that she offers me and gets really dramatic about it. I’ve just resorted to straight up lying to her and saying things like, “I’ll try some later, thank you. I’m drinking my coffee right now,” or “I’ll take that candy home with me and have it after dinner. Thanks!” Then I usually just hide it somewhere and pretend I forgot it. Oopsies. Is it the most mature strategy in the world? I’ll leave that to you to judge, but I just, frankly, do not want to deal with her, so this works for me. What can I say? Just being honest. What I’m getting at here, is that, if you find yourself in similar situations, it’s a good idea to be prepared so that you’re not thinking on the spot about how you’re going to react. Just as an exercise, can you think of really gracious ways to refuse food, or maybe even humorous ways to refuse food? Can you picture yourself calmly handling the situation? Give it some thought.
So in addition to gifts, whether in the mail or in person, a lot of us go to holiday gatherings. Whether that’s with friends, family, your family’s friends, your friends’ family, your high school buddies, your coworkers, your neighbors, at local businesses, you name it. You might even have more than one party to go to in a day. Is it possible to go to a party, or to go out to eat, or to go to the bar and still stay on track when it comes to your diet? What do you think?
If you’re going to a gathering at someone’s house, what can you do to set yourself up for success? Here are some questions to think about: Should you eat right before you go? If so, what could you eat beforehand that would be really satiating? Or another idea, if you’re going around dinnertime, for example, what could you eat for lunch that would put you in a good place? If you’re fasting before the gathering, what do you think would work better for you, breaking the fast before going, breaking the fast at the gathering, or continuing to fast until the end of the event? The answer will be different for everyone.
In addition, how do you feel about bringing your own food to the party? What would that look like? Would you bring enough just for yourself, or would you bring enough to share? What would you bring, an entire meal, or something small? What would work best for you? If you’re meeting with others at a bar, remind yourself of any plan you have made surrounding alcohol, whether that’s abstaining, limiting it, whatever you’ve decided to do.
And just as it can be helpful to think ahead of what to say when you receive a gift of food you don’t want to eat, it can also be helpful to think of what you’re going to say in advance if you’re at a party, a dinner, or at the bar and are offered food or drink that you don’t want. Do the same strategies apply when someone shows up out of the blue at your desk with a cookie that apply to someone inviting you to their house for a meal, for example? Or do you need to think of something different? Would it be a good idea to advise your host in advance of your diet? Getting clarity around all these things when you’re away from the situation will, in my opinion, make it easier to handle them when you’re actually there.
So some of us spend the holidays bouncing from get-together to get-together or jetting away on vacation with loved ones, and some of us spend a lot of that time alone. This could be because you wanted to be alone and spend some time with yourself. If that’s the case, how can you set up your environment to make sticking to your diet as easy as possible? Can you plan out what you want to buy at the grocery store or any delivery or take out you plan on having or restaurants you’d like to go to, and maybe even put it on your calendar? (You know I love the calendar.) Ask yourself if there is anything that tends to derail you, for example, not having anything in the fridge, or waiting until it’s so late to eat that your only option is pizza delivery, which might not jive with your diet. What solutions can you take to avoid these situations as much as possible?
On the other hand, if you’re alone not because you wanted to be alone but because that’s just the way things worked out this year . . . how can you deal with this? The same ideas apply as before about being prepared food-wise, but I would also invite you to devote some energy to taking care of yourself emotionally. If not - you might be making it harder on yourself when it comes to sticking to your diet, and you might even have thoughts like, “I’m so bored. I feel lonely. I’m having a crummy Christmas so I deserve to eat a crumb cake. A whole one.” Yes, there are steps you can take to address emotional eating, some are dietary changes, some are behavior-modification based or mindset based. And it’s definitely worth looking into that if you feel it’s something you struggle with. But in the meantime, what can you do to make it easier on yourself? Journal? Go to a religious service? Try a yoga class, in-person or even online? Go for a walk? Call a friend, family member, therapist, or coach? Go to a 12-step meeting if you’re a member of a group like Overeaters Anonymous or something similar? Distract yourself? Would listening to music help, and if so, what kind? Can you have a party for yourself? Do you like putting up holiday decorations? If a tree is decorated in the house and no one but you is around to see it, is it still beautiful? - I think so. Think about things you can do to make this a more enjoyable and caring time for yourself.
Also think about what sets you off. What puts you in that state of mind where you just feel out of control? I think a lot of times when we’re in that state of mind, we have a lot of thoughts going through our heads. It can almost feel a voice inside your head. And I would like to propose, that just in the way you might want to think of gracious ways to refuse unwanted food from others, you might want to think of gracious ways to talk back to the voice in your head that’s telling you to go to Dunkin’ Donuts. I’ll give you an example. The voice might say something like, “I’m having a crappy Christmas. I deserve a treat. It’s the only thing that’ll make me feel better.” What could you say back to this voice, to practice loving self-talk? There are a million different answers. I’ll tell you what works for me, but, please keep in mind, everyone is different.
For example, the other day I had stayed up too late the night before. Coach not taking her own advice! No, I wasn’t born in the lotus position chanting “ohm” and I am not an eternal and perfect being of light and constant tranquility. I mess up sometimes, yes I do. So I went down to the corner store to buy toilet paper, actually, and there I saw a perfectly displayed stack of Chocoramo, which is a packaged, ultra-processed, God-knows-what-chemicals-are-in-it-and-how-long-it’s-been-sitting-on-the-shelf slice of cake in a chocolate outer-coating, individually wrapped, very popular here in Colombia. I used to have one to two of these a day before I got my act together, often along with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and a Diet Coke, ‘cause the Diet Coke cancels it out, right? And when I had that habit, what I used to tell myself was, “You’re tired. You’re working hard. You’re having a crappy day. You don’t have time to eat anything else. You deserve it. In fact, you need it. Buy it. Eat it. Now. It’s the only way.” I know that sounds dramatic, but that’s really what was going on in my head. So there I was, in the store, half-asleep, Chocoramo singing a sweet Colombian salsa melody in my ear and I felt my hand starting to reach for it before my conscious mind even knew what was going on. That’s how strong that habit had been for me.
And there came the voice: “You’re tired. You’re working hard. You’re having a crappy day. You don’t have time to eat anything else. You deserve it. In fact, you need it. Buy it. Eat it. Now. It’s the only way.” And you know what I did? I talked back to it. I said, “You’re right. I am tired. I am working hard. I am having a crappy day. You’re right. I don’t have time to eat anything else in the next hour, but I do have time to eat in an hour from now, and I’m not going to die if I wait just 60 minutes so that I can eat something decent that my body actually needs. What I deserve is to still feel good after I leave this store. I don’t need it. I’m not going to buy it, and I’m not going to eat it. And, no, it’s not the only way. So there.” And I didn’t buy it. And I ate a healthy lunch an hour later. And I went to bed early that night, thank God.
Again, this is what works for me. Can you find what works for you? What does the voice say, if you’ve got one of those buggers like I had and still do have sometimes? Does it say things like, “Everyone else in the world is at a Christmas party right now except for me. I’m going to be alone until the end of time?” Oh really? Is the first sentence even true and as for the second one, can you really predict the future, and if so, can you please give me some stock tips? Thank you! What would you say to a friend who said that to you? “Everyone else is at a party right now. I’m going to be alone forever.” How would you comfort her and support her? Can you do the same thing for yourself? Do you need additional support with this, from someone you’re close to or a trained professional? I know it can be rough when you’re alone on the holidays and don’t want to be, but it doesn’t have to be hell. Take some time to think of ways to make it suck less.
In summary, the holidays: we love ‘em, we hate ‘em, we love to hate ‘em, we hate that we love ‘em. Wherever you are on that continuum, you have the ability to go through the season with intentionality, and no you can’t control everything, but you can be prepared.
So happy holidays!
I hope the end of the year brings you light, laughter, and joy, and maybe even a couple of minor mishaps that eventually turn into funny stories. Why not? That’s life.
If you would like to learn more about holistic wellness coaching and especially weight loss coaching, contact me.
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Thanks so much for reading, and have a happy and healthy day.