Healthy Holidays – It’s Not About Food
Just like the annual Santa Claus parade and awkward office party interactions, you can always count on the holidays for some lame health advice.
Every year you see the same tips. Some make good sense, like eating before the holiday party to avoid over-indulging on the hors’ d’oeuvres. Other tips miss the mark, like having a kale smoothie instead of your Mom’s Christmas cookies. Come on.
Overwhelmingly, the health advice you read this time of year focuses on food. I think this is a mistake. Yes, the season is characterized by over-indulgence and an endless supply of tasty treats, and yes, overeating makes you sluggish, contributes to weight gain and likely increases your risk of diabetes, but that’s true year-round. We can all agree there is more to health than what you don’t eat. Your health over the holidays should be about so much more than food. So, this year I propose we zoom out, and take a wider view of what it means to be healthy, and focus on areas in which you’re more likely to be successful.
Manage Holiday Stress
The holidays are stressful. There’s pressure at work to complete projects before the end of the year, time required for shopping, preparing for guests or travel, and it’s not like your normal day-to-day obligations disappear just because it’s December. But those are just stressors, and the stress that you actually experience is something manufactured by your mind in response to those stressors, and you have more control over that process than you may think.
Just 5 to 10 minutes of conscious breathing daily can enhance resilience and improve your ability to handle the stressors of the season. If you’ve never tried conscious breathing or meditation before, it will take some practice, but the results can be life changing. I recommend using an app like Insight Timer that has thousands of free guided meditations, perfect for beginners. You can rotate through a few, or if you find one that you really like, you can listen to it indefinitely.
Once you have developed the habit, you may find yourself interested in learning more through books, I recommend anything by Jon Kabat-Zinn. You can also sign up for a course. Google “mindfulness (your city name)” and you’ll likely find something. It can be a new health project for next year.
Another source of modern anxiety is constantly being plugged into work via our phones. This is a great time to get a little separation. Can you disconnect your work email for a couple of days? Or maybe turn your phone off for a day? Many people work too hard, and opportunities to relax are few and far between. Although as we just established, the holidays are not necessarily relaxing, the time away from your professional life presents an opportunity to focus on other things. Taking a break will help you return to work in the new year restored and with a new perspective.
Focus on Physical Activity
Just because you ate too much at the party last night doesn’t mean you can’t go for a walk today. And no, the purpose of the walk is not to burn off excess calories, but to have some fun! If walking isn’t your thing, is there a way you can get active with friends and family? Organize a hockey game? Build a snow-fort? It’s always more fun to do something than not to do something. I believe that the post-holiday sluggishness that many people experience has as much to do with being sedentary for days on end as it has to do with eating too much sugar. Move!
Modify your training plan
Here’s an idea I bet you haven’t heard before. If you are already committed to a workout routine and are concerned about what the over-eating that comes with this time of year is going to do to your physique, embrace the situation and spend the next few weeks focused on gaining muscle size, or hypertrophy. Increasing muscle size requires a positive energy balance, a fancy way of saying you need to eat more fuel than you use. If you expect to eat too much, why not modify your training routine and get an adaptation out of it? Training each muscle group twice weekly, with three exercises per muscle group, working in the 8-12 rep zone and going to muscle failure most of the time will provide an stimulus that, when combined with caloric surplus, can result in some bigger muscles. This won’t appeal to everyone, but focusing on muscle hypertrophy at least some of the time during your training program will likely compliment your primary training goal, whatever that is.
Most people struggle with healthy eating most of the time. If you’re one of those people, you’re probably going to be tempted this month because you’re going to be surrounded by delicious food. It only makes sense. If you tell yourself you will abstain from treats completely and you have one cookie, you may feel as though you failed. This can lead to negative self-talk and a loss of self-efficacy, making it all the more difficult to initiate positive change in the new year. We preach kindness to others this season, what about kindness to ourselves?
If you are actively worrying about overeating this season, my advice is just forget about it. Indulge, but stick to your favourites, and do it with joy. It is more important to emerge from the holidays free of self-loathing than it is to avoid gaining a couple of pounds.
This approach won’t work for all. If this was the year you got serious about your health and you’ve made some big changes and you are determined to stay the course, then you do that. Also, congratulations!
But if you’ve been in a groove with your weekly exercise and daily nutrition for a long time now, meaning several years, or if you haven’t yet begun on a journey to better health, this is the wrong time of year to obsess about eating too much. Eat, Drink, and be Merry!
If you are having a hard time figuring out the best health and fitness solutions for you, get in touch. I’d love to help!
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health, health and the holidays, health tips, healthy eating, mindfulness, nutrition