How to handle the holidays

The holiday season is truly the most wonderful time of the year.  Family.  Friends.  Food.

More food.

Even more food.

Did I mention the food? I did? Okay.  Just making sure you didn’t miss it.

Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, it seems gorgeously good food follows you everywhere you turn.  It can be a taste of heaven, but when you’ve struggled with your relationship with food, the indulgences can be more like a gateway to hell. If you don’t keep track of the extra treats, you will have extra gifts wrapped in pounds and inches by the time the ball drops in Times Square.

Finding a balance with food during the holidays is tough.  Do I treat myself and try to maintain self-control, or do I stay away from all holiday events until it’s safe to eat flaxseed brownies and not get a side eye?  I know how easy it is to fall (or nose dive) into overeating during the holiday season.  This year has been especially difficult to stay the course because I am honestly the happiest I have ever been in my adult life. You see, even though I have been on this health and fitness journey for years, it can still be really hard to break the habit of using food to celebrate.  Some days it is easy to stay on track, and others seem nearly impossible.  Some days I win.  Some days it’s ugly. Whew!  It is exhausting.

On top of your own inward battled, you have your family and friends.  They will truly mean well when they say go ahead and eat all the cake, it’s the holidays! Don’t worry about the gym, it’s the holidays and you deserve a day off.  Yes, you should loosen the buckle and enjoy a some holiday treats, and maybe an extra rest day or two, but at the end of the day, YOU are the one who will have to deal with the aftermath of your holiday decisions.

Listen – it’s okay to know your weaknesses.  Use your strong moments to plan around them.  People will judge you if you are trying to be healthy during the holiday, and they will certainly judge you if you gain weight.  So, do what’s best for you and your health!

Through many years of trial and error, here is what I have found works for me:

Treat yourself… while keeping track.

Do treat yourself to some of your favorite treats at holiday gatherings. Keeping track can be helpful, too. I use My Fitness Pal.  Even if it’s a ridiculously high number of snacks (you’ll be surprised how quickly the calories will add up) write it down or make a log of it.  Then, make a plan (and stick to it) to burn off the excess.  For example, on Thanksgiving I went about 1500 calories OVER my usual 1500 calories daily intake goal (which was very easy to do with an adult beverage, gumbo, potato salad and dessert).  I made a promise to burn the excess calories before the weekend was over.  I surprised myself when I actually did it!  It was NOT FUN but I was proud of myself for sticking to it. However, if you don’t it’s okay! Make a plan to get in some extra steps throughout the next few weeks.

However, if you know eating a certain foods will send you over the edge, don’t eat it.  Politely decline and move on to something you can handle.  There is no weakness in knowing your pitfalls.  Sometimes saying no is the strongest thing you can do.  I am learning that more and more every day.

BYOF:  Bring your own food.

If you’re not so sure about your willpower, bring alternative healthy treats that will help fill your plate. Don’t worry if other people don’t like it or don’t eat it.  It’s not about them.  It’s about you staying on track and doing what’s best for you.  You can’t count on anyone else to do that for you.  Also during Thanksgiving this year, I made the low-carb/ low-calorie cauliflower mac and cheese.  It was good, and I opted to eat a good helping of that instead of the traditional mac and cheese.  No one else ate it, but that’s okay!  I felt good about myself and my plan, and that’s what really matters.

The most important lesson… Don’t beat yourself up.

For some of us, picking up extra pounds during the holiday season can be very dangerous territory.  Before I started this journey years ago, those extra holiday pounds stuck around all year long. In turn, I self-medicated with more food.  By the next holiday season, I would be up another 10 or 20 pounds.  Before I knew it, years of beating up on myself and bad eating choices weighed 267 pounds.

The problem wasn’t gaining weight during the holidays.  It happens!  The problem was how I handled the aftermath.  Today, if the scale budges in the wrong direction, I try not to beat myself up too much.  Instead, I assess where I may have gone off path, if at all, and make a plan to address it – and stick to it.  The sticking to it is the hardest part, but it is soooo worth it when the New Year starts and you’re not too far off from where you were at the start of the holiday season.