This time of year, I hear the message loud and clear: “I’ll get back to being healthy after the holidays.” Of course, everyone has their own way of saying it, but basically, people just want to let go, eat what they want, and not think about it until January when they swear they will “be good” again.
But this is a script, as I call it. Just as play writers design their scenes, with characters doing whatever they write them to do, you are your own playwright and you can rewrite the script you wrote yourself a long time ago, the one that is similar to what I explained above. So, before, your script was to try really hard to eat well and exercise, maybe even do a cleanse in the fall. But, uh oh, here comes Thanksgiving. What to do? Well, you don’t want to not enjoy yourself. What’s worse, you don’t want to have to explain yourself to those relatives you see twice a year—the ones who DON’T try to eat well and exercise, EVER. So, you decide to fall off the wagon for Thanksgiving, and since Christmas/Eid/Hannukah/Kwanza is next and holiday parties in between, well, why don’t you just stay off the wagon until the New Year?
But you’ve worked too hard to get to this defeated place. You don’t need to fall off the wagon—maybe you’ll drag your feet on the ground a little bit, but then get them back in the wagon. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, not so much because of the food, but because family is around and we reflect upon the things we’re grateful for. This is powerful to do in a large group, and it’s fun to hear how the kids’ gratitude evolves over the years. What the heck, it’s fun to hear how the adults’ does too.
Here is my rewritten script: If I’m hosting, I make sure to prepare a lot of vegetables. If I’m not, I volunteer to bring a few vegetable dishes. I keep to the rule of 75% of my plate being vegetables (mostly green), but I allow that other 25% to be whatever it is I want on the table, whether it’s turkey and stuffing or butter-laden potatoes. I eat it very slowly, savoring each delicious bite. I may even put my fork down between each bite. The benefit of Thanksgiving dinner is that it’s usually eaten earlier in the day (as we should eat all our big meals), so by the time bedtime rolls around, I’m nicely digested. I also allow myself a small piece of pie or two that equal a small piece. I eat it very slowly, again, savoring the flavors. And then it’s over. Restaurant closed. No picking or snacking afterwards. And as people are packing up to leave, I give away the foods that don’t serve me, which are the ones that people usually want to take, and keep the vegetables that most people would rather, sadly, leave. Better for me!
The next day, the holiday is over—back to my healthy ways, fondly remembering that delicious piece of pumpkin pie (and my memory is crystal clear since I took my time and savored every bite).
If and when a holiday party comes around, I use the same strategy, though, often the food at these such occasions aren’t so great, so I don’t bother with the ones that famously look good, but taste average at best. I just keep this awareness and stay away from the dessert table, which is the biggest culprit in putting on a pretty face, but not following through with taste. I’d rather imagine a delicious sweet treat than blow my healthy habits on a piece of unworthy junk. If, however, you are at a particularly unique holiday party where the food is fabulous, have it and enjoy it, without filling up. Eat slowly and mindfully, stopping before you’re full, and remembering that the next day is a new day again. You’re still firmly on the wagon. And you feel great for it, mentally and physically.
I also use targets to help me through this season. I’ve been almost completely sugar free (which means no refined sugars) for the last three weeks. My target is Thanksgiving, when I know I’ll have a small slice of pumpkin and apple pie. If it’s not sweets for you, maybe it’s mashed potatoes or biscuits. So, enjoy them. And the next day, they’re gone (that’s the trick you need to take care of), and you set your next target. Allowing yourself the things on occasion that you like that may not always be so healthy is a strategy. Deprivation doesn’t work. But, little allowances do, keeping in mind that you are treating your body well so that it serves you well now and in the future.
It’s really about the big picture. And as much as I think we should live in the moment, when it comes to food, I can’t disagree more. Of course, live in the moment as you are mindfully eating, but when you make your choices of what you’re going to put in your mouth, it’s necessary to think, “Will this serve me?” “Will I feel sick tomorrow?” “Will this put on the five pounds I tried so hard to lose last month?” “Is it worth it?” And, looking even further into the future, keeping the cells of your body healthy so that they don’t develop disease and illness. This awareness alone is enough to keep you on the right track.
I’m at the age where my peers’ health is starting to fade because of the bad habits they chose. It seems everyone knows someone with cancer, diabetes (Type 2), or heart disease, if not many. These are all lifestyle influenced diseases. Sure, we may have been dealt the bad gene, but that doesn’t mean we have to turn it on. It’s my goal to make sure my “bad” genes stay in the “off” position. I’m not a believer in disease as a destiny of old age.
So, this holiday season, enjoy yourself. See your enjoyment as single instances in the bigger picture and make sure to honor your body, only making choices that truly make you feel good. Don’t give in to the old script. It’s your book to write (and revise), so make it a good one.