How to Handle the Holidays

20 Dec

It’s that time of year again (though it does not look like it AT ALL in Southwestern Ontario).  A time of feasting and fun with family and friends.  A time to enjoy life, the company of others, and the bounty of the earth (and the supermarket, and grandma’s kitchen, and the wine cellar).  A time where maybe sometimes, some of us, overindulge maybe a tiny, little bit.


Here’s the thing: it’s the holidays.  There will be parties.  There will be merry-making.  There will be drinks, and hors d’oeuvres, and sweets.  The end of December tends to bring out the host in all of us, and that’s not a bad thing.  Holiday parties – not a bad thing.  Meals with family – not a bad thing.  It’s the cycle of massive over-indulgence, followed by massive guilt and shame that end up being a bad thing.  Trust me, I know all about the food guilt and shame.

Couple a comfort-food-rich time of year with the stress of getting everything done before December 25th, the money-managing that has to happen, and the challenges of family relationships, and you might be looking at a nutritional and emotional powder-keg.


But the end of December doesn’t have to be a threat to your health and fitness goals.  Rather, it can be an awesome time,  where you maintain your sanity, maintain your healthy eating habits, and still have a good time with those you love.

Here’s how I try to keep things in check over the holiday season, so that I don’t start my January full of stress, shame, and cheese.

Learn to say no (and to say ‘not right now’).

There are tons of holiday parties, gatherings, lunches, dinners, and events.  Prioritize.  Seriously, you can’t do everything.  Give yourself permission not to attend every single event you’ve been invited to.  If you want to go somewhere, go there.  If you’re doing it because you feel obligated or pressured, evaluate the pros and cons, and let yourself say no.   Absolutely the holidays are about people-pleasing, but as they say, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  I have spent many a New Year’s Eve trying to attend every single party, and ended up not really having enough time to spend with the people that matter.   The people that love you understand that everyone is facing about a million demands from now until the New Year, and will understand if you need to offer a rain check*.   Try to manage your time wisely, and make sure that you carve out chunks of time that are just your own.

Check yourself from time to time.

Holiday time is stressful.  Trying to find the perfect present, the perfect outfit, and also be on your best behaviour for in-laws or bosses – it can wear on a person.  Make sure to check in on your mental health and stress level.  It can seem like a sprint from mid-December to January 1st, make sure that you use your rest stations.  Running yourself ragged will do you no favours, not for your peace of mind, and not for your overall health.  Realize that sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good, and that being yourself is a pretty good thing to be.

Make Lists.

Right now, on my person, I have 3 to-do lists.  There are days when I have more.  Lists keep me sane.  They keep me on track, and crossing things off them makes me feel good.  The book, The Checklist Manifesto, is totally boss.  It talks about how simple checklists keep the most detailed professionals – surgeons, pilots – on track and operating at their most efficient (it’s also a great gift for that Type-A person on your shopping list).  It’s true that what gets measured gets managed, so list your responsibilities, list the tasks you’d like to finish, list the places you need to be, and list the goals you want to achieve.  Then get after it.  The other nice thing about a checklist is that once something is on the list, it becomes a priority.  For example, almost every single to-do list that I write has my personal training session on it.  That way, I make it a priority and don’t just skip it because I’m too busy.  I make the time, and I’m glad that I did.

Indulge in splurges, not substitutions.

So, I haven’t talked a lot about dietary choices thus far.  I think that’s because managing your stress and checking in with yourself go a long way in helping to keep food choices on course.  However, this time of year offers lots of temptation, and popular media really likes to highlight the familiar scene of binging all December and begging forgiveness come January.  I’m pretty sure there’s a better way.  There are lots of little tips to avoid holiday overeating – eat a healthy meal before you go to parties, keep your plate full of veggies, try to talk more and eat less, keep your glass full of water, and so on.  These will work for various people to various degrees.  Here are the two things that work best for me when it comes to eating over the holidays:

  • Don’t keep checks and balances.  This might be a contentious point, and some folks may respond very well to doing the exact opposite of what I say here, but this is about what works for me.  I know how my food crazy operates, and what will make it spin out of control.  If I start obsessively tracking what is “bad” in my diet, I will start taking measures of self-denial and commence with the negative self-talk.  If, in stead, I try to eat healthy, whole foods 90% of the time, and don’t fuss too much about the other 10%, I’m a much happier, healthier person.  It can be so easy to beat yourself up about “giving in to temptation” over the holidays, but what good does it do?  More often than not, it leads to feeling worse about yourself, and making more of those choices you are beating yourself up for.  Guilt and shame about food add more stress to an already stressful time of year.  This year, try some new, healthy recipes, work in lots of veggies and lean proteins, and remember to enjoy the act of sharing food with friends and family.
  • In order to abide by the advice above, this is my main holiday (and also all-year) eating tip:  Splurge, but don’t substitute.  I LOVE freshly roasted turkey, I LOVE stuffing.  I LOVE pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream.  I LOVE Toblerones.  And I will eat these things over the holidays.  I like cookies, and brownies, and truffles, and chocolates, and pastries.  But I just like them.  I struggle, because I know when these things are put in front of me – if I have one, I’ll keep going, and I’ll probably feel bad about it later.  My best tool against eating a bunch of stuff that I sort of like is eating a little bit of something that makes me drool with anticipation.  When the treat is something that I’m crazy about, I can revel in my decadence, be totally satisfied, and move on.  When it’s just a filler, I’ll keep eating because I’m not getting what I really want.  So, instead of eating things because they are there – eat them because you really, really want to.  You’ll eat less, and you’ll feel better about it.

and finally,

When you have time to train, train.

This is a busy time of year, and your training sessions can often be the first thing that gets skipped.  Don’t let them be.  Training time is important time.  Last year, the first thing I did on Christmas morning (after kissing my husband, petting my dog, and putting the turkey in the oven) was went down to my studio for a workout.  Remember that energy begets energy.  A good training session will leave you with more energy to tackle your to-do list.  It’ll put you in a better mood, and can serve as that valuable “me-time” that we all crave.  Remember that training is treating yourself well, and the holiday season is all about treating those we love.  Love yourself – train in December.


I wish you all the happiest of holidays and wonderful things in the year to come.

* Here’s an interesting fact about the expression “Rain Check”:  It’s apparently American in origin, and refers to a token (originally from sporting events), rather than a cheque to be banked later, so even though the Canadian in me wants to spell it “rain cheque”, that would be incorrect.  Seriously, read all about it.  Also, I think I have a new favourite website.


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