Stop the seasonal “challenge” madness!

Even when I was in the midst of losing weight and overhauling my health, I never loved the monthly/seasonal/21 day/you-MUST-weigh-less challenges.  I did them sure, but never wholeheartedly.  Always in the back of my mind I was thinking “But I’m not going to do this after the challenge, so what’s the point?”

We have entered the holiday season and our culture promotes two basic things during this time of year:  excess/indulgence AND stay slim/don’t gain weight.  Weird dichotomy, right?  Right!

Where I stand these days in my view of healthy living is this: I don’t think either of those approaches during the holidays makes sense.  Going to excess during the holidays simply doesn’t work, that’s obvious:  eating and/or drinking whatever you like at every holiday gathering isn’t a good idea, nor is spending money you don’t have on extravagant and numerous gifts.    Likewise, I don’t think trying to restrict calories by avoiding every holiday treat OR exercising to extremes to negate extra calories is a worthwhile approach during the holiday either.

Step back for a minute and think about what you really and truly love about this time of year.  Is it the food?  Is it the cocktails? Is it all the gifts?  Is it the traditions?  Is it the gatherings?  Is it the connections with family not often seen?

For me, it is the once a year traditions like:  Going to get our tree from the tree farm. (We as a family end up fighting every year…undoubtedly, my husband and I are pissed off by the time we get home because our two daughters have been fighting and totally uncooperative.  Buuuuuut, that’s what makes the memory funny, so we continue to do it!)  Or decorating gingerbread houses.  Or watching White Christmas as a family the day after Thanksgiving.  Or driving around the neighborhood looking at Christmas decorations.  

Now, we certainly have food traditions, too.  I bake cookies with my girls.  We have crab legs on Christmas Eve.  We have cranberry pudding on Christmas.  These are foods we have ONCE a year.  ONCE!  

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So here’s what I’m thinking and here’s what makes sense and works for me:  enjoy your holiday using good sense and lose the guilt.  How does that look, you ask?  Well, here are some pointers to consider:

  • Make the focus of the season, the activities versus the food.  What can you do to build traditions and fun into your gatherings using other things besides food and cocktails?  Add games, add ugly sweater contests, add photo booth props,  do a yearly keepsake craft (Pinterest will help with ideas here!).
  • When you aren’t in control of the gathering or the food/drink offerings, focus on connecting versus eating/drinking.  Ideas:  use your time to circulate and catch up…how many people can you talk to before the gathering is over;  pick one drink and milk it…sip slowly, chew the ice, keep talking, then switch to water (add ice cubes and a garnish and people won’t think you’re going NA);  rather than pick at the buffet as you walk by, get a plate, fill it, eat with intent and savor all the wonderful flavors, then steer clear of the food table (most people will put out fresh veggies so load up and then take less of the other stuff)
  • Stick to your routine!  Keep moving and don’t miss days.  Even if you are traveling you can walk, do stairs, do a bodyweight workout in a hotel room.  IF you miss a workout, stop the guilt, and adjust accordingly.  Enjoy the gathering, but maybe one cookie instead of trying all four varieties.
  • Most importantly, stop the guilt and shaming.  I am past saying no to cranberry pudding and seasonal cookies.  (Admittedly, I have work to do in the moderation department since cookies are my second love…only marginally behind my family!  🙂 )  But gone are the days of me feeling guilty for enjoying food traditions.  Cranberry pudding is something my grandma made, then my mom made, and we had it only on Christmas.  You know what??  It’s okay to enjoy a special dessert that is nostalgic and brings to mind good memories of generations gone.  Do I eat the whole dish?  Do I eat a 3-cup serving?  No!!  But a scoop isn’t going to derail my HEALTH and having a scoop adds to the enjoyment of the holiday.


Bottom line folks:  this season is about happiness, reflection, and family.  Learn to enjoy your traditions because they will add to and promote your overall health.  Food and drink are only a small part of the season, so treat them as such, rather than making them your focus.  Stop trying to double down on your workouts for the sake of outdoing extra calories–enjoy your gatherings in different ways so you don’t feel the need to punish yourself with workouts.  Just try!  Perhaps when you try a different approach, the guilt will go and you will enjoy your holidays much, much more!!

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