Healthy Holiday Hacks

how to enjoy all of the treats of the holiday season without feeling guilty or sabotaging yourself?

I used to simultaneously look forward to and dread Thanksgiving. I was always excited to get a day off, see my family, watch the parade, express gratitude for all of the things in my life, and of course EAT. But I also dreaded being in the presence of all of that delicious food and completely losing any sense of self control. I dreaded the outfit choice in the morning when you try to select something that looks good, but has enough space that it won’t cut off your circulation or muffin-top your hips later. I dreaded feeling more stuffed than that Butterball turkey and wishing I could float away on some strings like a float in the parade.

Can you feel how heavy those negative emotions are? How they seem to outweigh the good on a day whose literal core is about feeling grateful and fulfilled?

I had a moment of revelation a few years ago after Thanksgiving dinner when I was beating myself up over going H.A.M. on the dessert table. I was miserable, stuck inside my head, lamenting my decision to wear jeans, talking so much shit to myself in my head about not having any self-control, being a total pig, not being able to fit into my NYE outfit again this year, etc. etc. etc. And I realized: I didn’t enjoy a single bite. And I was being a selfish asshole isolating myself from my family. The complete antithesis of Thanksgiving.

So I came up with a few strategies that I employed for the first time last year to help me to be present with my family, with my food, and in my body, and it worked! I felt the happiest, most fulfilled, and most present with my family that I have ever felt, and they can be employed throughout the holiday season to make the time of year where we historically rain the most judgement down on ourselves, the time where we actually feel free to enjoy our lives (and food).

1.       How do you want to feel? Take time to write out the way you would like to feel on January 1.  Some key things I always go back to are: comfortable in my skin, strong and lean, filled up. If you have a daily meditation practice, incorporate these words and a visualization of yourself on January 1. If not, try to find some time each day to at least look at them. (Post-it on the bathroom mirror?) And then, when you have a big event like Thanksgiving or a holiday party or cookie exchange, do the exercise again. How do you want to feel the next day? Or even just 2 hours after the event?

2.       Make a plan based on those core desired feelings and what is most important to you. There are several steps to this planning thing:

-Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Starting the morning of the event, drink a ton of water. Drink so much water that you feel like you will float away. While you are at the event, be conscious of drinking water as well. For every one glass of alcohol, you should have two glasses of water.

-Don’t skip meals. Have a nutritious breakfast and eat like you would on a normal day leading up to the function. Do not fast to “store up” calories in your calorie bank. You will end up eating WAY more because you will be ravenously hungry. If you can have a protein-dense snack 1-2 hours before the event, it will keep you from picking at everything you see from the moment you arrive (my superfood shakes are my fav).

-What foods are you SO excited to have? What foods not so much? Do you look forward to your grandma’s pumpkin pie all year? Is stuffing your absolute favorite thing? Or can you just not go without that vintage wine that your mom stocks for special occasions? Get clear on a couple of things that you are so excited for and write out how much you will have that will still allow you to feel the way that you would like the next day. 2 glasses of wine? 1 slice of pie? Make your plan and stick to it. Visualize what you will do in that moment when you are amongst your family and serving yourself from the dessert bar. Picture what you will take and how much. Similarly, do you just not enjoy green bean casserole but normally serve it to yourself anyway? You don’t have to eat anything just because it is there. Get clear on what you HAVE to have and what you can do without.

-Let yourself enjoy it. Get present. Do not plop yourself down in front of the football game and mindlessly shovel food from your plate to your mouth. Sit at the table, and savor each bite. There is no point in eating the pie at all if you are going to scarf it down in 30 seconds and then feel bad and want more. Food is so delicious because God intended it to be a pleasurable experience… I don’t know about you, but I am grateful for that!

3.       Make your favorites healthier. If you know that there is a particular dish that you get weak in the knees for, why don’t you volunteer to make it this year and then search Pinterest for healthier ways to make it? Usually there are some hacks that will make it healthier but still taste equally as yummy. I have included a recipe here for bacon-wrapped butternut squash to get the juices flowing, but literally you could make this with any veggie.

4.       Take stock: are you feeling stressed? The holidays can cause a lot of feelings to come up. Are you stressed? Anxious? Overwhelmed? Take some time to think about what you can do to address those feelings before you attend an event or meal. Maybe getting a workout in or a walk around the block will help you clear your head and reduce your stress that way you won’t feel tempted to stress-eat.

5.       Whoops. You ate too much. Now what? It happens. Even with the best of intentions sometimes we realize we went a teensy bit overboard and are not feeling so great about it. Before you unleash the barrage of judgment upon yourself, have a laugh. Seriously, laugh it off. Recognize that you have made progress and that you will never be perfect. Also recognize that the guilt is worse for you than the calories. As my fab friend Sheila wrote in her blog about this topic: “our emotions actually have a direct physiological effect on our body’s ability to function optimally. Emotional stress puts physical stress on the body, causing it to hang out in 'fight or flight' mode, which shuts off or slows down all functions that are not directly related to survival… ahem, metabolism and digestion.” (Sheila is a total badass. You should definitely go read the full post here.) So there you have it. Wallowing in your guilt and shame is actually making the problem worse. So just find something to laugh at instead. I am sure there will be some silly holiday-themed Snapchat filters you can play with.

6.       Leave it on the day. You are a healthy person and your holiday season will be healthy. Repeat that mantra to yourself if you need to. Whatever your normal healthy habits and routines are, keep them through the holidays! Allow yourself to enjoy the special foods on the special days, but it doesn’t have to be every day. You don’t have to bring home the leftover pumpkin pie and eat it for a week. Leave the pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving Day, and then get back into your healthy routine the next day. It's more special that way anyway.

So there it is. My healthy holiday hacks all tied up in a bow. These are strategies to help us stay on track and not get shiny object syndrome when it comes to holiday feasts and treats, but often our relationship with food is fundamentally broken on a much deeper level, one that requires intensive work around self-love, self-worth, and healing. That type of work cannot be hacked. And these strategies may get you through the season, but you still may feel imprisoned in your own mental food jail if you don’t heal your mindset.

I know because I have been there. And that is why I am here now, to serve you in your healing process. If you are in your mental food jail and these hacks just aren’t cutting it for you, send me a message and we can discuss how coaching may help liberate you and give you the peace to finally feast on pumpkin pie and feel nothing but pleasure!