Sunday, December 18, 2011

Countdown to Ironman, Week 27: Have a Plan for the Holidays

Do you feel at the mercy of the holidays? As if it is inevitable that stress, travel, inactivity, bad food choices, and overindulgence are simply going to fall on you like a load of bricks that you can't do anything about?

Having a plan for the holidays can make the difference between dreading them (and the inevitable aftermath: most Americans gain a couple of pounds of weight each year, and most of that is gained during the holidays) and enjoying them (complete with some of grandma's holiday fudge and a candy cane or two).

Here's my plan for the holidays, feel free to share any tips you have for de-stressing and boosting health during the holidays.

Stress: Stress during the holidays often comes from a clash between expectations and reality. Expectation: a big pile of presents under the tree. Reality: Paychecks for many are shorter this year and we have to stretch them farther. Food alone has eaten up 10% more of our yearly budget than it did last year.

Cure: Set the stage for expectations that match your available reality. When our kids were little, we told them that Santa brought one (yes, that's ONE) toy to every boy and girl. So that has been their holiday expectation every year: one present. Yes, even in today's overconsumptive society, this is possible! We also give them a book on Christmas eve. That's it, the extent of my Christmas shopping is one gift for each child and a stocking stuffer for my hubby.  For relatives, we give gifts of animals via Heifer Project or of microfinance via This removes the stress of finding a sweater that will never be worn by an aunt that you don't know well enough to shop for.

Stress: Travel. No doubt about it, holiday travel is stressful.

Cure: We try to mitigate the stress and often danger of traveling at busy times by going at off-times, visiting relatives in the week before Christmas instead of on the actual day itself. The kids really love to have a mellow "just family" Christmas at home with no expectations other than staying in our pajamas all day. We have been quick to see the wisdom in this, and now enjoy a relatively stress-free holiday.

Stress: Inactivity. You're at the relatives house, you don't have your familiar fitness equipment or routines. It's easy to sit around all day yakking and staring at a TV screen.

Cure: Don't be afraid to be the Exercise Wacko of your family. Let's face it, every family needs an eccentric or two, why not step forward and fill those shoes? The easiest cure: bring your running shoes and head out the door for some routes that are out of your routine. Or go to a local high school track and run enough intervals to burn off a plate of pumpkin pie. Engage the active family members in a holiday hike, or a walk around the blocks with the best holiday light displays. I have also been known to bring my bike and trainer and set it up in the living room along with my laptop, headphones, and a DVD or two.

Stress: Overindulgence

Cure: Remember that the first bite is the best. An old friend used to joke around about having the "first and most satisfying" bite or sip of something. But there's big wisdom in that. Try this: open an ice cold Coke. Take a sip. Savor it. Now take a few more. By the 10th sip, it's really just not that good, is it? Try it with a cookie or some fudge or anything else. You'll see that it's true. So take that first sip or bike or two and throw the rest away. Yep, you heard me, starving children in China be damned, throw it away! I hereby give you permission to waste or discard food (surreptiously if need be) this holiday season. Think of this motto: Waste, not Waist. I'm not saying don't enjoy it. By all means, do. But when it truly stops being enjoyable (which is usually sooner than you think), just don't eat another bite.

I was discussing this with a friend yesterday who has been eating paleo this year and we both realized that on Thanksgiving, we didn't overeat. We ate a reasonable plate of food with a little bit of everything, but found we didn't need to take seconds or thirds. We were satisfied, a state that many people find it hard to achieve. Practice Satiation. It gets easier.


Marv said...

The family eccentric: pretty much decribes my holiday family role.

I definitely do not like to travel on holidays. Peace on earth rather than stress in this mess, is what I am seeking to have out of this holiday experience.

We generally have the meal at our house and put the food up quickly. It is control thing, I suppose. By having it at my house I can more easily control the types of foods we have. However, inactivity spawns stress for me, and I will eat in response to that stress.

Tracy said...

I've done that. If I have a craving or a temptation I just can't fight. I have that first bite and throw the rest away. I've actually walked out of a store and thrown away a "treat" with one small bite taken out of it, right into that garbage can that sits right outside the store door! Okay, I don't do it often, but I HAVE done it!

Also - hosting on Christmas day makes it easy to plan a menu I'll eat. That's my control!

Robin said...

That's a great point about hosting means being in control of the foods. I will have to haul my usual cooler of foods along (especially since the kids are allergic to cow's milk and I usually bring goat's milk for them).

Marv, I love this: Peace on earth rather than stress in this mess. I will repeat as necessary!!