How to Navigate the Holidays without Stressing About Your Body

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The holidays are one of my favorite times of the year. I’m able to see my extended and immediate family who I don’t see often, and everyone is typically in a relaxed and jovial mood.  To me, this season is about quality time (my love language, if you’re familiar with the quiz) with some of my favorite humans, but it wasn’t always that way. I formerly used my Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holiday breaks as opportunities to eat and drink with abandon. That’s just what you do, right?!  This would leave me with intense anxiety and guilt throughout the entire season, in addition to the months following.

Understandably, the holidays can be a major source of stress for some of us. And if we haven’t developed healthy coping mechanisms, then eating and drinking to excess might alleviate this discomfort temporarily, only to leave us worse off once the season is over by feeling physically and emotionally unwell. Whatever our reason for going off the rails over the holidays (i.e. family drama, finances, relationships, old habits) it’s a futile attempt at solving the root cause and it never results in a positive or fulfilling ending.  Why do we continue to do it, then?

In my experience, it boils down to a few things:

1.     We aren’t aware of an alternative: If we’ve only ever navigated the holidays by going overboard the entire time and subsequently beating ourselves up, and everyone around us acts similarly, then chances are that we haven’t considered an alternative. When we’re surrounded by people who think and act alike, it’s much more difficult to be aware of other options, let alone choose a different path. Consider this your notification that there is, in fact, an alternative.

2.     We don’t know how to navigate the pushback and/or negativity from our family and friends: We may receive resistance from our loved ones (or the random tag-along we don’t know) if we’re opting for more healthy choices (i.e. the popular, “come on, live a little!”), and it can often feel easier to simply succumb to the pressure than stand firm in doing what’s best for us. I remember feeling insecure and overwhelmed about the comments I would receive because I didn’t partake in eating all of my dessert during on Thanksgiving, so much so that I would eat it just to shut everyone up.  Once I learned how to use my words and communicate directly, I started to enjoy a few bites (the amount I really wanted that wouldn’t make me feel awful afterwards) and relayed that I just didn’t want the whole damn pie.  I actually presented my perspective in a much politer tone (**hostility doesn’t usually work here), and that was the end of it. The initial resistance wears off after a few interactions once said pushers realize I’m going to do what I want in the end anyway. So stand firm in your decision!

3.     We approach each party/dinner with an “all-or-nothing” mentality: if we expect to arrive at Thanksgiving or a holiday party and not partake in any booze, dessert, stuffing, (insert favorite unhealthy food here), we’re kidding ourselves. And we’re also setting ourselves up for failure. The idea is to participate and enjoy our favorite foods without going overboard. I recommend choosing a few of your less-than-ideal favorites before you or the guests arrive and choosing to forgo the rest. For me, I prefer to have wine, small servings of the savory and calorie dense foods (i.e. stuffing and green bean casserole), and a small serving of the dessert while filling up on protein and veggies. This means I forgo the bread, most of the appetizers, and huge servings of dessert. Using this approach, I don’t feel deprived at all, but I also don’t feel like shit.

4.     We simply don’t have enough practice in implementing moderation, so we let one perceived misstep ruin our long-term goals: This is a huge one for most people, typically as a result of not utilizing the awareness and strategies described in step three. Or simply not enough practice with either of these. It took me MANY parties and holiday seasons to nail down a consistent practice with moderation, and I had several missteps along the way.  However, I never used one meal of feeling overly full or one day of going off the rails as an excuse to throw my well-being and practice of awareness out the window. We can make the decision to take a better approach at any moment, and beating ourselves up does nothing. Literally nothing.

For some, taking a moderate approach to eating and drinking throughout the holidays is boring and uneventful. To me, this comes down to what one values throughout the season. If someone uses it as an opportunity to indulge in excess, materially or with food/booze, then this entire concept will prove unappealing. However, if one wants to be able to be fully present with their family and friends throughout the next two months without stressing about gaining weight or feeling terrible, I highly recommend considering a middle of the road approach. Moderation isn’t sexy, but it works.