Surviving the Holiday Temptations
Mark Sisson, author of “Mark’s Daily Apple“-Primal Living in the Modern World has a goal of empowering people to take full responsibility for their health. The website has many useful resources, and here Mark presents his tips for surviving the barrage of food temptations during the holiday.
Holiday Survival Guide
by Mark Sisson
Everyone knows the holidays are a spare tire waiting to happen. Alcohol, rich desserts and indulgent carbs are practically throwing themselves at you, begging to be eaten and taking it personally if you don’t. You know what we’re talking about – food is emotional, and powerfully so. It’s that bizarre twinge of guilt for attempting to say no to foods which, come holiday season, seem to take on actual feelings. It’s almost like you’re insulting the food if you don’t eat it. There’s a reason for this. Rich foods, particularly sugary desserts, have long been combined with emotional events. In the Middle Ages, these items were called subtleties, and they still exist today: in the form of Easter chicks, Easter bunnies, Valentine’s hearts, advent calendars, Christmas cookies, and so on.
That’s really great, you say. But it still doesn’t help me say no to unhealthy foods or avoid gaining ten pounds before the New Year knocks at my door.
Hey, we hear ya. So, here’s a quick-and-easy realistic guide to getting through the holidays, enjoying them, and maintaining your sanity.
Part 1: It Ain’t Just the Sugar
A lot of holiday health guides point to the obvious no-no: sugar. Of course you want to stay away from sugar, but that’s probably not realistic, no matter how disciplined you are. We suggest you instead focus on limiting portions. A lot of times, we simply expect too much from ourselves. “No sugar, period. I will be healthy and eat only bean casserole, being careful to remove the crispy fried onions.” This works fine for about five minutes, until peer pressure, Aunt Louise and mulled wine conspire to destroy your best-laid plans. Before you know it, you’ve eaten three cookies, two slices of pie and eighty-three truffles. You feel guilty, bloated and sick, you give yourself a pep talk, and at the next party…you do it all over again.
Step 1: No ridiculous standards. Do not set a goal for yourself that you know you probably won’t reach (from past experience or awareness of your weak points). This just makes you feel bad, and no one is putting that pressure on you, so be nice to yourself. Who needs the added stress? Find a middle ground. If you normally end up indulging through the holidays, try giving yourself a “one freebie” rule: one treat at every party or event.
Step 2: Portion control. The amount of indulgence is more important than anything else. If you love carrot cake, eat a big bite or two, and stop. It won’t taste any better if you eat the entire thing, and you’ll have accomplished two great things: some enjoyment and some discipline. One bite of sugary cake isn’t great, but it’s not going to be cause for regret. You can try out a few of your favorite treats this way without doing any serious damage to your health or waistline – but limit yourself to just a few things at each party or event.
Step 3: Stress! Do you ever wonder why people get sick during the holiday season? It’s not just because we’re indoors and sharing the same old air. It’s not just because of all the sugar in everything. It’s also because of the stress. The holidays are the most depressing, dangerous, stressful time of year. That’s a fact with no sugar coating. Yet it’s supposed to be the happiest time of year. And therein lies the problem: pressure. Combine lack of activity from being indoors with excess amounts of sugary foods with the pressure of gift-giving, travel and entertaining, and it’s no wonder people have a hard time when Santa comes to town. Give yourself a break. The best thing you can do – possibly even better than obsessing or feeling guilty about food – is to get as much exercise, rest, and “me time” as possible.
Tips to Stop Stress:
Step 1: Insist upon 30 minutes of “me time” every day. This should include some physical activity, such as a walk or quick work-out, and ideally some meditation, prayer or other time to reflect peacefully. Do more if you can, but treat yourself to 30 minutes at the very minimum. Anything that allows for you to breathe deeply, gather your thoughts, and refresh yourself is the ticket. Absolutely insist on this for yourself – you can gain more benefit from this than any other single action you take to be healthy during the holidays.
Step 2: Limit your driving time as much as possible. Stopping at several parties, giving rides or running to the store for the tenth time to get that last ingredient can be incredibly stressful, especially during traffic peaks. “Save up” your errands and tasks, coordinate driving and party stops ahead of time, and skip as much as you can. I’m always surprised by how simple it is to just say no to something I thought was needed – often, it turns out to be just a “want”, and the stress I save myself is something far more desirable.
Step 3: Get good sleep. It’s more important to get six or seven hours of good sleep than a lot of bad sleep. If you’re in bed for eight hours but spend three of them thinking of all you have to do, you’re not going to be refreshed. You might get a little less sleep during this time of year – that’s okay. Give yourself a break and focus on making time for enough quality sleep, not just “enough” sleep.
Step 4: Do it later. This is not the time of year to attempt any 11th-hour goals, such as home improvement projects (your guests won’t mind working around a problem – really). Forgot to renew your license or get the kids to the dentist after the Halloween sugar siege? Save it for January. It won’t matter.
Stress Comes in Many Forms:
There are also plenty of unlikely stress factors we forget about. First of all, consider that any change – even a good change – can be incredibly stressful to the mind and body. Good things can be stressful in their own way. It’s things like the “come-down” on the drive home from a festive gathering or the unexpected (but strangely inevitable) bickering after a long day flying to see beloved friends or relatives. It really is critical not to overload activities, daily goals or your general schedule. Give yourself and your loved ones adequate time to enjoy each good thing.
Second, the psychological impact of the “end” of the year – and the national pastime of making “New Year’s Resolutions” – can be overwhelming and depressing for many people. The holidays are one of the most stressful, serious, difficult times of year for many – everything in one’s life comes into sharp focus in the midst of a distracting whirl of activity and ritual. I encourage my loved ones to avoid any serious reflection or making resolutions if it feels at all like unhealthy pressure. Setting goals for self-improvement is a sign of a healthy and motivated mind – but personally, it’s something I like to do before the holidays even start. Self-improvement is a year-round activity, not a December obligation. When a goal pops into your mind and you weigh it, try taking the first step right then – and if you can’t, choose the right time, not an arbitrary time based on everyone else. Don’t put the pressure of “once a year” on a healthy ambition. Let it begin when you’re ready to begin it. You’ll be more successful that way, anyway – and your holidays will be more relaxed.
Finally, it can help to remember to focus on others, not yourself – give yourself a little break. We’re often our own worst critics. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should let your diet or good habits slide. (Think of healthy choices as gifts to yourself – don’t you deserve to feel good?) But I’m confident you’re already making many wise health decisions, so remember to focus on the positive.