Do you like the really summery picture I used for this holiday post? I thought it was fitting & also an important reminder that sunshine exists. Anyway, I’m here to bring to your attention that the holidays are a challenging time for healthy habits. What? You already knew that? RIGHT. Because everyone and their mom has been there, done that. It’s a super weird time of year, because you want (and should, if you ask me) celebrate via food, but feeling guilty or physically yuck because of it is the absolute worst. There are desserts of every shape, size, color & kind abundant in literally every place you go, and lots of family time with people who often don’t really see the point in making healthy eating choices or treating your body to exercise this time of year. That’s what January’s for, right? Eh, maybe. Or maybe not. There are a lot of people out there who either need to avoid certain foods for more immediate health purposes (like me), or who simply want to feel great & be kind to their bodies by feeding it nutrient-dense real food instead of wasting family celebration time feeling heavy & sleepy from highly processed, sugary treats (also like me). But when you’re in that camp, you kinda can’t escape the experience of feeling like you’re missing out on the merriment when everyone breaks into that homemade pie together and you just sit there adding a totally unintentional high-and-mighty vibe into the room because you’re too “healthy” to eat dessert with everyone else. Bleck. And quite frankly, a piece of pie may sound delicious! Plus, eating one won’t kill you.
So. Where’s the balance here? How can we have our cake and eat it, too? Well, I’ve given it a go. I’ve compiled a couple of my top tips on navigating these situations & I hope they help guide you (and me!) to having the happiest, healthiest–physically AND mentally–holidays you can imagine.
1. Come prepared.
This is maybe the best piece of advice to put in your back pocket–whether you’re traveling to stay with family, attending a holiday party or taking a family vacation, come prepared with food that will satisfy you & keep you on track with your goals. Staying with family far away from home, especially those who may not practice the same eating habits as you, can prove difficult and put you in some situations where you may not be happy with what’s available for you to eat. You can’t always count on local grocery stores carrying products you might want, which only adds another layer of trickiness. Breakfast (for me at least, since I’m a big fan of sweet breakfasts) is a biggy–I make sure to bring a bag of chia seeds to make chia pudding (nut milk is the only other necessary ingredient and is usually an easy find at any grocery store), a ziplock bag of protein powder, and any other things I may want to add to smoothies or the like. Even more importantly, having sweet treats/desserts you feel good eating is key to not feeling left out and/or dreaming of shoving a whole cake in your mouth. For me this means bringing sweet protein bars or snacks with clean ingredients on trips and always, always bringing a homemade dessert to parties that I can enjoy knowing exactly what I’m eating & that it’s gonna keep me feeling good in both body & mind.
2. Decide beforehand.
This is something that can be a great addition to the first tip: if you’d like to eat the piece of pie or cookie or slice of cake or what have you–and I’d even advise it if you can–decide beforehand. Decide what you’re gonna feel good eating, how much, maybe even when you’d like to eat it in the evening, anything that can ensure you feel amazing about deciding & executing some sweet, sweet treatin’ yo’self. On Thanksgiving I had decided I would stick to Paleo foods at the main meal but eat as much as I wanted, and then follow that up with a small piece of pie. Mostly just a small piece because the way my tastebuds have changed makes it impossible to eat a lot of something that sweet, and also because I knew my physical reaction to eating it wouldn’t be super fun. But you know what WAS super fun? Eating a piece of really great cherry pie. Because it wasn’t a last minute temptation or split-second decision, I didn’t have any guilt (which would be unnecessary anyway, I might add) nor did I spend all night wondering whether or not I was gonna have a piece, how it might make me feel, blah blah blah. We don’t have space in our brains for that! We’ve got better things to think about! All I’m trying to say is that making a game plan is a great way to bypass guilt or overwhelming decision-making.
3. Suggest group exercise.
The weirdest part about trying to get some exercise in during a family visit or vacation is that that the rest of your party may 1) feel bad about themselves because they’re not doing what you’re doing (even though they certainly shouldn’t), 2) be upset you’re choosing something they think is unimportant over spending time with them, or 3) give you a weird look because you care about your health & wellness all year-round, not just come January–which quite honestly probably relates back to reaction number 1. I suggest two things: the first is to sneak off and tell no one, which is viable though lame because hey, you could end up a source of motivation for your family. The second and more encouraged option is to make an event of it and bring the whole gang! Go on a hike, visit a nearby park & explore, go to a rock-climbing gym, take a yoga class, play outside in the snow even. You’ll all feel good because you got your bodies moving AND spent time enjoying each other’s company. Win win win win win.
4. Give yourself a break.
I saved the best for last. Really. More than anything, I think a major source of happiness this time of year is allowing yourself some room to breath and not bearing down on yourself too hard. If you’re anything like me, I can get a little too strict on the “rules” of healthy living and it only adds more stress into the equation, which is the enemy of health in the first place. Use this time to explore your limits, learn about yourself, and marinate in celebrating family, togetherness & love–you & your health are worth it. It’s important to note that at least for me, this doesn’t mean “hopping off the wagon” or abandoning healthy habits–I worked way too hard to establish them to throw them out the window! It simply means resting on those habits & my healthy pursuits, but stretching the definition of those things for a certain amount of time in order to satisfy a social, mental & emotional craving that is communal celebration & indulgence. So take a step back and see what happens! The results may surprise you.
How are you planning to conquer this holiday season? Search out that perfect balance–the one unique & personalized to you, your body & your goals. Tell me one goal you’ve got in the coming months down in the comments below! To allow yourself extra indulgence? To find room for healthy choices every day? To inspire family & friends? I can’t wait to hear about them.