Author: Mike Inglis
Our last article talked about strategies for surviving the Thanksgiving holiday without completely losing momentum of good habits you've been following. Well, December can be even MORE challenging as it's an entire month where parties, time off from work, and other distractions can derail our efforts to live healthy, active lives. So in this article I'm going to continue the survival theme, but looking at the month of December and some of the pitfalls that you will likely be facing shortly (if you haven't already!)
December Can Be Challenging
We all have challenges during the holidays that don't usually occur during the rest of the year. And they can wreak havoc on our health if we're not careful. The first step in heading disaster off early is to understand what YOUR challenges will be this season and prepare to meet them. You'll find a common theme of PREPARATION as the key to successfully navigating the holidays and NOW is the time to start!
So the three areas that we will focus on today include the inevitable Holiday Parties you'll be attending, the almost-assured Disrupted Routine that you will experience at some point this month, and finally, the Stress that almost always accompanies the holidays. Most of us will confront some, if not all, of these challenges in the next month. So let's explore some strategies for meeting and actually thriving in the month of December.
Holiday parties are awesome! Contrary to popular myth, Diana and I love going to holiday parties, laughing, and enjoying food and drinks with friends! And I am acutely aware from past experience how easy it is to get carried away and overindulge. So how are we going to deal with it this time around? Let me throw a few ideas out for you to consider.
1) Eat something before you go: The most tempting time of a holiday party for me is right when I arrive. All of the appetizers are out and begging me to give them a try! So now, before I go to a party, I make sure that I eat something filling (lots of protein) before I go. Now when I get there, the food isn't quite as tempting and it's much easier to go for the veggie platter and skip the hot artichoke/cheese dip.
2) Skip chips and dips: And speaking of that artichoke dip, another great strategy is to just skip chips and dips altogether. I read a fun trick recently called the napkin test: If you put a napkin on a food and it comes away with a grease stain, avoid it. Pretty much every hot, cheesy dip fails this test. Your best bet will be to skip the dip and the chips altogether.
3) Alcohol in moderation: Alcohol can add a bunch of calories without you even realizing it. Now I'm not going to tell you to abstain completely as for most of us it won't be realistic. But I'd like to offer a couple of strategies to enjoy yourself without giving away the farm. First, try sipping on sparkling water versus champagne to start with. It still feels festive but will save you some calories right off the bat. A second strategy (one that I use) is to alternate drinking an alcoholic drink with a glass of water. Don't have another drink until you down a full glass of water. It will stretch out the time between alcoholic drinks, save you some calories, and also keep you from getting dehydrated as the night progresses.
4) Fill half your plate with veggies: When it comes time to get your food, whether it be appetizers or a full meal, there will be plenty of temptations that you'll have to deal with. A great strategy for keeping a healthy edge to your meal is to fill half of your plate with veggies before adding anything else. This will still allow you room to add some of the other yummy but not-so-healthy foods without overdoing it.
The Disrupted Routine
Whether you have kids home from school or you're off of work for a week or two over the holidays (or both!), your normal routine will almost assuredly be disrupted at some point. And the loss of routine can be devastating. If you have been diligent about planning your exercise and/or food around a consistent timetable each day, a change in that timetable can really throw a wrench into your well-meaning plans. But it doesn't have to be a complete disaster if you take some time to prepare!
1) Mentally prepare for the disrupted routine, because it's almost certainly gonna happen whether you want it to or not. Envision how your routine is going to change and the implications it will have to your eating and exercise. Then figure out a plan for how to work around the disruptions!
2) Don't expect to lose weight during this time (if that is your long-term goal). Given the disruption you'll likely be dealing with, it's often unrealistic to assume you will be losing weight. Change your mindset to do your best to maintain where you are at now through the holidays. If you can achieve that, it will be a victory worthy of a New Year's Eve toast!
3) Plan your healthy meals and workouts in advance given what you expect your disrupted routine will look like. If you plan for actually making these things happen during the disruption, you will be more likely to actually follow through! If you don't plan for them, you will fall into the old habits of just letting the day own you.
Finally, the holidays can be an incredibly stressful time of year for many people. There can be a multitude of reasons for this but the bottom line is that stress can sabotage our efforts to live a healthy and active life just as much as the parties or disrupted routine. So what can we do about it? Here are some ideas to keep in mind to hopefully make this a much more relaxed and joyful time without all the stress.
1) Don't overdo the special events: There will likely be a ton of opportunities for you to go to parties, see performances, go on special shopping trips, etc. Now you may be saying to yourself "But this all sounds like FUN stuff!". And there is no doubt that every one of these types of events can make for some very fun memories. But when you fill your schedule so full that you don't leave any time to regroup and ground yourself, you can see those events turn from fun outings into ball-and-chain commitments that become sources of stress. And the more you try to pack into your schedule, the harder it will be to do the right things for yourself. So limit the number of time commitments you make and save time to just enjoy being with your family and hanging out.
2) Make sure to plan time for yourself. With kids home from school, spouses off of work, parties, shopping, etc, it can be very difficult to find time for yourself. But without the ability to refocus and nurture yourself internally, the holidays can turn into a slave-driver of dissatisfaction versus a wonderful, positive time. So make sure that you reserve some time to do whatever you find recharges your batteries. Whether it's reading a book, working in your garden, or spending time on a craft, you need to include these things in your schedule. When you feel whole and grounded, you are much more able to give and contribute to everyone else around you.
3) Get plenty of sleep: Being well rested is essential for us to keep our energy high and to stay well during this season. The hectic pace of December can lead to getting our bodies and our minds run down and can lead to sickness or lack of energy. And the last thing ANY of us wants is to get sick during this time. So go to bed at a reasonable hour and get plenty of sleep. If you are able to function your best in December, you will help everyone around you enjoy it more as well.
So don't let this time of year get the best of you! Plan ahead to do what you need to do to stay well, healthy, and happy and you'll find the holiday season to be much more enjoyable and fulfilling for you AND your family.