I love the Holidays, many of us do, but I don’t love the fatigue, stress, and expanded waist lines that are all too often associated with the season of giving and receiving. This got me thinking, what nuggets of advice can I share with you? I have put together my best, simple tips for staying vibrant, light and loving during the Holidays.
Although I’m a Health Coach and I know what I should and should not be eating to optimize my health and energy (as most of us do), this knowledge only goes so far when faced with a plate of Pecan Diamonds (make with lots of love and butter by my Dad) or our family’s traditional Christmas Eve feast of Baked Stuffed Haddock and homemade apple pie…not to mention everything in between!
I love food. I also, like you, have the human tendency to indulge in sweets – this is extremely satisfying for the dopamine receptors in the brain, hence why we are tricked to think it feels so good! So, rather than adopting an “all or nothing” mentality during the holidays, I like to develop a plan; a plan that feels sustainable, non-restrictive, keeps me feeling and being my best, and leaves room for spontaneity (very important!).
My advice: Take 10-20 minutes to intentionally set some healthy boundaries for yourself. WRITE THEM DOWN. If we launch into the Holiday Season without a plan, chances are good that we will give into our cravings. There is no doubt that we will be faced with opportunities to indulge in mouth-watering food and drink (for those who work in an office, the holiday treats may be staring you in the face almost daily!). BUT, when we put a plan in place, we are more likely to be intentional with our choices and align them with our goals. (The other scenario being having no plan at all and being subject to impromptu decision-making, in which case dopamine will likely win.)
Whether or not you want to develop a game plan, below are 9 ideas to get the ball rolling. Keep in mind, your plan should feel sustainable and aligned with your goals and values. Don’t set yourself up for failure by making your plan too unrealistic, make sure it feels like something you can commit to (most of the time).
1. Schedule healthy days. Intentionally reserve (yes, mark them on your calendar) a few days each week for no sweets, alcohol and/or any other “crutch” you may be unintentionally leaning on. On these days, commit to prioritizing your health in other ways as well, such as moving more or packing yourself a healthy lunch. On the remaining days leave yourself open to spontaneity.
A note about sugar: The more we eat it, the more we crave it. Research shows that sugar is addictive (in addition to having many other detrimental effects on human health); the effects of having dessert do not end with the last bite…you’ll be more likely to crave dessert the following evening so the sooner you can curb your nightly dessert routine the better!
2. Decide ahead of time. If going out to eat, make a plan prior to your date to order water with your meal, stick to just one drink, or avoid dessert. (Remember, your plan should be goal and value specific – decide what feels right to you.) If you go out without a plan, your chances of following the cues of your dinner date are more than likely (they order a drink, so will you). The same goes for catered meals at work or office treats. Decide ahead of time whether you’re going to participate to set yourself up for success!
3. Stay active. This is a no brainer, but chances are if you’re feeling heavy and fatigued from last night’s feast or extended happy hour you’ll be less likely to keep moving. This is why having a plan helps. Set a goal to exercise 3 to 5 days per week and track it. Our brains like the gratification of checking something off a list – again, gratifying for those feel-good receptors. Check out these great Goal Tracking Apps to get started!
4. Boost your veggies. Most of us can stand to do this all year, but it can be especially helpful during the Holidays. Vegetables are nutrient dense, low in calories, and high in volume (fiber and water). They help us feel satisfied and full, and the good news is we don’t have to limit how much we eat! Try to fill half of your plate with raw or steamed veggies. Going to a party? Bring something light and green; check out our deliciously satisfying, mouthwatering salad recipes for ideas!
5. Be accountable to a friend. Turns out, coming up with goals is more effective when we are accountable to a friend. A study by Dominican University found that people who had written goals accomplished significantly more than those with unwritten goals. But even more striking, those who shared their commitments with a supportive friend (in this case via email) had greater progress than those who did not, while those who shared goals and weekly progress reports accomplished significantly more than those who had both unwritten and written goals. Thus, it pays to be accountable; develop your Holiday Health Plan with a friend and check up on each other. I recommend a shared google sheet, this way you two can keep tabs on each other’s progress.
6. Cut back on caffeine. Yup, you heard me. It’s probably true that during the Holidays you are taking some extra time off work – the perfect opportunity to curb your coffee addiction! Drinking caffeine can lead to energy crashes and cravings, as well as false sense of energy, and a tendency to over-extend ourselves. If you’re taking the day off from work, experiment with a no-caffeine day (better yet, multiple). See how it goes. Allow yourself to connect with and observe your natural energy levels and cycles. Use this as an opportunity to better understand your body and mind with and without caffeine. If you find you’re extremely tired and “useless” (for lack of a better word) without it, take this as a sign that it is time to prioritize some serious R & R!
Which leads to my last 3 tips…
7. Prioritize Rest & Relaxation. So often the frenzy of the Holidays creates added stress, but it does not have to. Workloads lighten and there is more time for reflection (if we intentionally allow it). Relaxation can be challenging for many; we live in a culture that values speeding up, efficiency, and always doing (hence, our caffeine addictions). Take the Holidays as an opportunity to slow down and value what’s truly important – human connection, relationships, and enjoying the moments that make up our life.
8. De-stress. Relaxation and stress management are not necessarily one in the same. For some of us sitting quietly with our thoughts can be far from relaxing! If you have a stress relief practice like meditation, yoga, or mindful breathing, do your best to prioritize this. If you don’t have a practice, there are numerous studies surrounding the benefits of meditation and mindfulness, not just on stress levels, but on developing a more compassionate, kind, and optimistic outlook (learn more).
9. Do something for your health every day. Self-care is under-rated! Some of my favorite practices include: meditation, 3 gratitudes, writing down intentions and goals, drinking lemon water in the morning, and giving yourself a gift (a yoga class, massage, hot bath, an extra hour of sleep, a dinner date with friends, a glass of red wine). No matter how big or small, daily self-care can reconnect you with yourself and help you show up as your best.
Don’t wait until the New Year to set a resolution for your health, plan to do something every day to honor your body and honor yourself, you won’t regret it.
Happy Holidays – Stay healthy, stay vibrant, and indulge in life and love!
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Allie Andrews is the Founder and Program Director at OmBody Health. She is a Certified Health Coach and self-care advocate and author. Allie and her team have been transforming employee wellbeing since 2014. Learn more.