How to Stay Healthy During the Holidays
By Faith Along The Way
We’re right in the throes of those weeks of the year where eating anything and everything “because it’s the holidays” is not only acceptable, but it’s encouraged. To avoid Granny’s pumpkin pie or noodle casserole might get you a few eye rolls or, worse yet, negative comments. Combine that with the overabundance of food EVERYWHERE and the “tis the season” mentality, and it becomes almost impossible to stay focused on our goals or even HAVE goals.
There are three big psychological and physical things happening to our mindsets during the happiest time of the year:
Situational Eating: It’s Thanksgiving so we stuff ourselves like turkeys because that’s what we’re “supposed” to do. It’s Christmas party time and those scrumptious bakery treats are only available once per year so we start shoveling them in- not to mention the CHEER of the season. On Christmas our tradition for 40 years is to eat double-stuffed French Toast for breakfast, Mac & Cheese Casserole for lunch and sweet potato casserole with rolls and creamy green bean casserole for dinner followed by Aunt Sally’s pecan pie. We don’t even think about whether we enjoy these foods or they’re our favorites- we just eat- because- well it’s what we’re supposed to do and everyone’s doing it.
Fear of Missing Out (FoMo): This is that sneaky thing that happens when we feel like others are having more fun. It’s a desire to stay connected to what others are doing- a fear of regret if we don’t particpate. It’s the fear of making the wrong decision if we say no. We turn into little kids and convince ourselves that if “everyone else is doing it” that we should be to. We fear that we won’t be accepted or worse that we’re truly missing an experience by choosing not to indulge in a certain food. It sounds ridiculous to read, but it’s true when we begin to become mindful about our behaviors.
Stress: Stress makes us crave like crazy. We’re sleep deprived, have too much on our plates, have 5,000 events to attend over the course of the month, church play costumes to make, food to cook… the list goes on. Study after study shows that stressed out people eat more junk food. Why? High cortisol levels (from stress), in combination with high insulin levels are likely responsible. STRESS plus eating starchy, sugary foods also seems to impact our ghrelin levels which is a powerful hunger hormone. Interestingly, these foods really are “comfort foods” in that they SEEM to counteract stress as they inhibit brain activity that allows us to FEEL stressed. Because we “feel” better we crave more and more of these foods.
So what in the world are we supposed to do when it seems so many forces are working against us?
- Awareness: Understand your emotions, tendencies and mindset around food. When you feel a craving coming on or find yourself about to enter a “situation”- be aware of it. Acknowledge it. Don’t just react, but make choices. I would never suggest white-knuckling it through the holiday season, but mindless eating is also not the solution. Allow yourself to CHOOSE your treats rather than falling into one of these psychological traps.
- Choice: Piggy backing on #1- when we become aware we are able to make choices. We aren’t so blindsided on January 1st that we’ve spent the last month eating on autopilot. When we make choices each and every day and at each event we take responsibility. We think before we act. Our choices will not and should not be perfect all the time, but they are choices nonetheless.
- Grace: You can eat a piece of (fill in the blank) and everything will be ok. Got stuck in one of the mindsets mentioned above? So what! Guilt over food only increases our stress and makes us feel more helpless. Shrug it off, eat a great breakfast, get your walk or workout in and jump right back into your life. Life is too short to allow a hunk of sugar to determine your self-worth for a week. Does God want food to rule your life? Not one bit. Does He love you less for over-eating for a meal, a day, a week or a month? Absolutely not. I’m not talking about having a “whatever” attitude, but focus on progress rather than perfection. Every. Single Day.
- Pray: Don’t think that your holiday eating habits are too trival to give to God. So many women walk around not fulfilling their full potential because they harbor guilt or feelings of inadequacy because they don’t “have it all together” when it comes to food. That’s the Devil doing his dirty work in your heart. Pray that God will help you with all of the above- that He will help you to see what’s important throughout this season and prioritize Him above all else. If food is an idol for you then go ahead and surrender that to Him. If you feel guilt ridden over one piece of pie or that food is controlling your life then give it to God. Let. It. Go.
Now- let’s all have a fabulous holiday season. Let’s embrace the true reason for the season and focus on spending special moments with family and friends rather than getting so caught up in all of the food we ARE or AREN’T eating. Here’s to a season of cheer for you and yours!!!