“The Holidays.” For some people, this is a great time of year. For others, not so much.
In the States, this Thursday is Thanksgiving and the unofficial start to the holiday season. From my own personal experience, “the holidays” means I’m going to be tempted by overindulgence in food and drink, and feel stretched thin by commitments.
It drives me crazy. So I’m stopping the madness, for both my mental and physical health. I am, after all, trying to make myself better. And the better version of me doesn’t let the season dictate how I feel about me.
I asked some friends for how they maintain their mental and health goals around this time of year. I curated this list from their suggestions:
1. Drink lots of water
This is especially true if you plan to enjoy some extra adult beverages. My approach to this all year round is to have one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage. This keeps me from drinking too much beer or wine but also keeps me hydrated.
This practice especially helps me because I tend to eat more when I’m drinking. Filling the belly with water is also a good way to avoid overeating!
2. Don’t take a vacation from the gym/calorie tracking/portion control.
It’s really easy to take the “cheat meal” approach to holiday eating…except a cheat meal is just that: ONE meal. But a cheat meal can easily become a cheat DAY, then a cheat WEEK. Suddenly it’s too easy to say “fuck it” and let everything slide until New Year’s Day.
Or you can keep your gym schedule, your calorie tracking, and/or your portion sizes the same. I sometimes try to add in an extra workout to get the kinks out. You can’t out-train a bad diet, but adding in an extra workout (even if it’s simply a walk around the block!) helps me mentally.
And if you’re traveling without access to your usual gym/routine, it’s a great time to try out something new! If you’re a lifter, try some bodyweight routines. The Convict Conditioning book is built entirely around bodyweight exercises. So if you’re missing your machines or dumbbells, that’s one resource for a different workout.
3. Don’t lose sight of your goals.
This follows #2. Whatever your goals might be (maintain weight, remain as stress-free as possible, avoid family), make these your priority. If, for example, your goal is to remain within 1-2 pounds of your pre-holiday weight, then try to remember that before reaching for yet another beer.
That one is particularly hard for me. We enjoy our adult beverages, especially when socializing with my family. One of my cousins is a wine connoisseur, and I never want to miss out on what he brings. I merely have to enjoy it in smaller quantities. That way I avoid getting drunk AND ensuring my weight maintenance priority remains #1.
4. Make lighter versions of the holiday favorites.
If you’re going to indulge, then don’t make yourself feel bad about it. At the same time, this season only comes one time a year, so it’s okay to enjoy the food! You can reduce some of the calories without compromising on taste by subbing out a few ingredients. If a recipe calls for milk, use a non-fat version. Keep the bloat down by decreasing the salt by a few teaspoons—I promise you won’t be able to tell the difference. Better yet, use citrus in its place.
I’m making a green bean casserole for Thanksgiving this year, and it’s not going to be the Campbell’s version. I’m using cream instead of milk (which is actually richer, so I won’t need as much). But I’ll also use the lighter version of cream of mushrooms because it has less salt.
If you’re going to a potluck, don’t be afraid to be THAT guy and bring a vegetable plate. They’re cheap, premade, and will ensure that there is something full of fiber on the table.
5. Use shortcuts
Remember my no-bake cheesecake recipe from last week? The best thing about it, besides that it doesn’t require baking, is that you can use a pre-made crust. There is NO SHAME in taking this shortcut if it gifts you back a bit of time and sanity.
For my green bean casserole above, I’m using canned green beans. Because that’s a shortcut that doesn’t compromise the dish. I don’t have time to trim 8 cups of green beans, and I don’t feel bad about it, either!
Hell, if you’re responsible for hosting a food-focused event, pay a caterer! There are no rules that say you HAVE to cook.
Don’t have time to decorate your house? Let other people help! Everyone has that friend that loves decorating for the holidays (I’m not that friend, FYI). Let them come over and do it for you. Make them a hot cocoa for their efforts. Add brandy if they like it. Or do their holiday shopping for them in exchange, if that’s something you prefer to do.
Speaking of which: just buy it online. There is ZERO reason to subject yourself to the mall this holiday season. That is unless you want to enjoy the atmosphere/visit Santa/marvel at the decorations. Shoppers become so nasty at a time that is supposed to be about “good tidings to all men.” Give yourself and the poor retail workers a break and do your shopping online.
6. Take it ONE day at a time.
“The holidays” can feel like one long marathon of stress. Between family commitments, end-of-year work deadlines, holiday pageants, it can seem neverending. Remember that each day is just that: ONE day.
Did you know that 85% of what we worry about NEVER ACTUALLY HAPPENS? So why stress about it?
Instead, add in some extra “me time” if you need it (you probably will). Meditate, punch a pillow, pray. Whatever it is you need, don’t stop doing THAT.
7. Say no.
You do not have to be everywhere. You do not have to please everyone. You couldn’t even if you tried. So don’t.
You also do not need permission to decline invitations or to make yourself less available. This is true ALL THE TIME.
If you need help with saying no, here is a list of 49 ways to do it. My favorite from that list:
Don’t be afraid to say it twice.
Sometimes people don’t respect boundaries, or are used to people caving if they ask again. Just because someone is persistent, doesn’t mean you have to give in. Smile politely, and say no a second time, just more firmly than the first.
What do you do to avoid holiday madness?