The holiday season has historically been a time when many of us decide that it’s not worth the effort to maintain healthy habits. Typically, this is the time when most resolve to begin again after New Year’s eve. I’ve done this so many times in my own life, I definitely get it. But what if there is a way to really enjoy the holidays without completely trashing everything you’ve been working toward? Well, there is!
Why you should fight for your healthy habits
Okay, I realize that fighting for your healthy habits doesn’t sound like a fun holiday activity. Just hear me out. You’ve worked hard to create those habits, even if they are still fairly new or you’re not that great at being consistent with them yet. I talk about the standard we set for ourselves all the time. It’s not external and it’s not about what we will accept or decline in our lives on a surface level. It’s about what we’re teaching our brains and minds. Yes, the brain and the mind are different.
The brain is an organ that controls things like cravings and food addictions because the brain is where your body’s reward system lives. It releases those feel-good chemicals when it thinks you are doing something good like feeding the body. Your mind, on the other hand, is your ability to stand back and think about your brain. The mind allows you to override your brain when it signals a craving. Your determination and reasoning live in your mind. You can read more about this in my blog post, Can You Train Your Brain to Crave Healthy Things?
So when we fight to stick with a healthy habit, we’re training our brains to reward healthy things which results in a good physical response. We’re also teaching our minds that our determination pays off, which results in a good mental and emotional response. Each time we quit, we lower the standard for both our brains and minds. Then, subconsciously, we will begin to expect less and less from ourselves.
Enjoy the holidays and maintain healthy habits
You’ve probably heard a lot of these tips before but I want to invite you to read my take on them. I believe very strongly in the importance of overall wellness. That means I’m not hyper-focused on your physical health. Honestly, I don’t really care what your body looks like when the holidays are over. I care about what your spiritual, mental, emotional, relational, and physical health as a whole comes out looking like on January 1st. I don’t want you to have to recover from anything after the holidays. It shouldn’t feel like you’ve narrowly survived physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, or in any other way.
This is the first tip on my list because I believe the holidays are not inherently stressful, we make them stressful. We create a financial burden by believing we have to go all out on everything. We create the emotional burden by believing we can’t say no to anyone or anything. Then there’s the physical burden we create by ditching exercise because we feel like we don’t have time and then eating all the food we see in the name of enjoyment. When we already know neither of those things will result in us feeling good.
Set your intentions
Now that you’ve been reminded that the holidays don’t have to be stressful, let’s talk about how that’s possible. First, you don’t have to do anything. Remember that. Remember what the holidays are actually about. Unrealistic expectations aren’t it. Overspending and creating a financial burden on your marriage — not what Christmas is about. The perfect outfit to wear to your living room (or your family’s living room) — not what Thanksgiving is about. Are gifts and presentations fun parts of the holidays? Sure! I’m not saying don’t participate. I’m just saying, don’t over-participate at the expense of your overall wellness. Set your intentions for participation and giving ahead of time and stick to them.
When it comes to food and the holidays, decide what lines up with your goals. You’ve probably heard other fitness pros say that Thanksgiving and Christmas are each just one day. Indulging for two months straight is what gets you in a slump. I agree with that, for the most part. But I do think it’s kind of sad to ignore the fun and delicious things of the season. That’s where setting your intentions with food comes in handy.
The nutrition program I studied really opened my eyes to balance and intuitive eating. (For access to that program, click on the photo below for info) You can create a balance in your diet that makes maintenance easy and also allows for relatively easy weight loss as needed. Through this program, I learned the importance of avoiding extremes.
For example, I’ve already set my intentions for food this holiday season because I’m not changing them from my normal intentions. 80% of the time I make sure I’m considering what my body actually needs to function optimally. 20% of the time I enjoy the not-so-healthy or helpful options. I will do the same with holiday meals and snacks. If you are following more strict eating habits and prefer to strictly maintain that through the holidays, then set those intentions and stick with them. Maybe you have been exercising and want to maintain the routine you’ve created. Set that intention. If you want to do a series of shorter, less frequent workouts just to get through the busy season, set that intention. Whatever your goals are, set intentions that line up with that.
Make a plan
Now it’s time to make sure your behavior lines up with your intentions. Having a plan of attack doesn’t have to be a meticulous, foolproof map of behavior. You just need a simple guide to follow. Consider these things based on your goals:
- How will you approach holiday snacks and meals?
- How will you prepare yourself for opportunities to get off your chosen course?
- When will you do your workouts and how often?
- What workouts will you do? (Consider planning short, efficient workouts)
- How will you deal with naysayers at holiday gatherings? Those people who make you feel like your healthy habits are silly.
Just a side note: I’m offering a Free Holiday Survival Group on Facebook from December 1st through January 1st to help with all the things listed above. I’ll also be recording time-saving and efficient workouts each week that will help you get through the busy season. We’re going to have fun with holiday-themed games, weekly drawings for Christmas gifts from me, and shopping and stress management tips. If you want to join, click here and click “going” on the Facebook event.
Whatever you do, don’t stop exercising
Reduce the length and maybe even the frequency of your workouts if you need to, but don’t stop doing them! Exercise gives you the exact tools you need to survive the holidays. We sometimes see exercise as a hinderance, something we should probably do but can get by without.
It’s so tempting for exercise to be the first thing you put off when you’re feeling busy. Instead, this holiday season, make it the first thing you do and you will see a notable difference in the way you approach every day, no matter how stressful the circumstances. Again, jump in my Free Holiday Survival Group for quick and super efficient workouts to do throughout the month. 20 minutes of hard work is all it takes to shift your mindset and feel good all day!
If you’ve created a habit of regular exercise, the holidays is not the time to ditch that habit. It’s the time to use it to fight feelings of stress, generate more energy, a happier mood, a speedier metabolism, and easier recovery from the foods you do decide to indulge in.
Skip the shame
I keep mentioning that the most important thing for you to do in this situation is what aligns with your goals. That means that no one else’s approach or expectations should have any bearing on the way that you feel about yourself or your approach. Their feelings and actions are not your responsibility, so don’t take them on. Worry ’bout your own self, as I always tell my husband.
On the same note, don’t be so hard on yourself and so dead set on your goals that you feel shame and guilt when you don’t follow through as you intended. No single day, week, or even month will ruin the rest of your days, weeks, or months unless you allow them to. When you don’t follow through, the worst thing you can do is live in that guilt. The most important thing you can do is begin again, the very next moment after you realize you are not happy with the action you took or did not take. You have zero control over the things that have passed. Do the next right thing for you and feel good about the control you have over your next action.
Go all out
Go all out with joy, gratitude, giving love, sharing memories, and being present with loved ones. That is how you really enjoy the holidays. Define how your healthy habits fit contribute to your long-term happiness and act accordingly. Forget the things that won’t matter as soon as the last person goes home. As we go through this holiday season, I pray that we’ll all keep our focus on the most important things and remember what and why we’re celebrating.