Consider this statistic: New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed 16 states now have obesity rates of 35% or higher. That’s an increase of four states … in just a year. (NPR)
And this data: According to the new APA survey, 2 in 5 of the 3,000 adults surveyed gained more weight than they intended over the last year, at an average of 29 pounds per person. Ten percent said they gained more than 50 pounds. (Healthline)
Just in case those aren’t shocking enough for you, consider this: the winter holidays are upon us.
Many of us tend to gain weight over the holidays (which now seem to run from the end of October through the beginning of January) in addition to a very common a few pounds of seasonal winter weight.
We are, it seems, not totally out of touch with our bodies’ signals to prepare for colder weather. “Winter is coming,” indeed.
October to January can already feel like one long holiday, full of “all the bad choices.”
- October: Buy the candy before Halloween, and if you’re lucky, you actually have some left for Halloween. Got leftover candy? Might as well eat that—can’t put orange and black wrappers in Christmas stockings.
- November: a triple whammy of “what the heck, it’s only one meal” and guilt from “I made this just for you—why aren’t you eating it?” and leftover pie for breakfast.
- December: more food. Lots of sweets. Lots of alcohol.
- New Year’s Eve: more alcohol. And more food.
- New Year’s Day: I’ll start tomorrow … or when the leftovers are gone … or ….
As I’ve mentioned before on my blog, waiting for someday/some day to start is not a great strategy if you want to get healthy. It’s a holiDAY, not a holiweek/holimonth/holiquarter.
Time to get strategic
“I’m not going to eat any sugar or drink any alcohol, and I’m going to limit myself to only healthy foods.”
That plan is based on a deprivation mindset, and I’ll bet you it’s not going to work.
When clients tell me that’s their plan, I gently suggest that they try instead to find a middle path between (over)indulging and total restriction.
I invite you to consider the following: and as always, take what works for you and leave the rest! We’re all bio-individual, and what works for one may not work for another.
Tactics for surviving the holidays without packing on the pounds
Take a few deep breaths first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and every time you switch locations or tasks.
Or start a breathing practice: I highly recommend Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 breath and Mark Divine’s box breathing—both of which are incredibly relaxing. Neither take more than a few minutes and both can be done anywhere, even while sitting in traffic or waiting for a delayed flight.
Stay well-hydrated, whatever that looks like for you—you’ll know when you’ve found your sweet spot by how you feel! Many clients report feeling more energetic, and less “foggy” in addition to having an increase in bowel movements and even losing a few pounds.
If you have no idea where to start, try building up to 8 x 8-oz glasses of water or take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2—and drink that many ounces of water. Everyone’s different, so you may want to increase or decrease from there.
And remember: it’s an experiment!
When I say “water,” what I mean is:
- Water: still or sparkling, unsweetened, possibly flavored with pieces of whole fruit and/or some herbs—citrus, melons, cucumbers, pineapples, berries, mint, basil, parsley….
- Herbal tea: anything without caffeine, hot or iced
A few beverages that don’t significantly help hydration levels or have almost no nutrition for the number of calories you get:
- Anything caffeinated (especially not those fancy desserts masquerading as coffee)
- Alcohol (any type of alcohol lowers your inhibitions—and you may find yourself eating a whole lot more than you would if you’d skipped or at least moderated your intake)
- Soft drinks
- Sports drinks
For many of us, the holidays are a chance to stay up late and sleep in—try going to bed early AND sleeping in! There is evidence that our bodies fare better when we go to bed and get up at more or less the same time every day.
Avoid FOMO (the fear of missing out): rather than living like you’ll never have the chance to party again, approach the holidays with a little JOMO (the joy of missing out). And believe that you will have more time with the people and in the places you love. (Because if you’re staying healthy over the holidays and the rest of the year, you will!)
Get up off that couch and move your body—gently if you’re usually sedentary!
The holidays are a chance to add in some extra movement rather than physical activity altogether. Consider doing some deep cleaning of the house and make that into a form of exercise (think: Mrs. Doubtfire vacuuming).
Start a new fitness routine, keep up or bump up an existing one. Have you been curious about yoga? Spinning? HIIT? Here’s a chance to try it out: if you like it, find a way to work it into your regular routine; if you don’t, be glad you no longer have to wonder about it.
Spend some time developing a gratitude practice: the simplest one I know is to write down three things you’re grateful for every morning and that evening, write three things that went well that day.
Be fully present with your loved ones and with your meals—and be grateful for every moment and every meal you have.
One ritual our family has at the holiday table is to name one person or thing we’re grateful to for getting this meal to our plates. Children are especially good at this and may just surprise you with “butterflies” and other pollinators and “earthworms” in addition to the more staid answers such as “farmers” and “Grandma!”
If you still want some tactics around the food you put in your mouth, here are my thoughts.
Whatever your chosen eating style, from plant-based to carnivore, there are a few basic principles of healthy eating that I teach my clients:
- Eat when you’re physically hungry (if you don’t know what that means, check out the series on emotional eating that I wrote for We Love Ann Arbor! It starts with the May 2021 column and goes on from there.
- Focus on whole foods…
- Cooked from scratch…
- Eaten in moderate portions…
- With mindfulness and gratitude.
If you know you’re going to be eating out a lot and that your preferred options will be limited, you still have an opportunity to make good choices:
- Eat a healthy meal or snack before you go—if you really tune into your level of fullness, it may keep you from overeating foods you would normally skip. And if you can’t resist, at least you’ll have already done something good for you!
- BYOF: if you are adhering to a specific eating style for health reasons (celiac disease, allergies to dairy, etc.) rather than out of preference, consider bringing your own food along.
- Choose to indulge: if you regularly eat healthy, one meal is not going to derail you. It’s only when we make the poor choices meal after meal, day after day that disease creeps up on us. Yup, this a health coach telling you to eat the pie à la mode and enjoy every dang bite of it. One piece, one scoop, slowly, and with lots of mmmoans of pleasure.
A note about BYOF: bringing your own food can come across as rude if mishandled, so contact your host ahead of time, explain that you will be bringing your own food as a way of not inconveniencing them, and then be subtle about it. This is not the time to wave your flag and try to convert others.
More food for thought
Change can be stressful
Travel, changes of scenery, company, diet and lifestyle during the holidays can all be stressful. And when we are stressed—whether physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or energetically—our body’s stress response is the same: we can go into flight, flight, or freeze mode.
In that state, all non-essential functions (from digestion to reproduction to growing healthy muscles, skin, hair, and nails) cease.
So stress relief—whatever that looks like for you other than numbing devices, like food and drink—is a must during the holidays. Spend some time figuring out what works for you, and try to fit it in daily.
It might be physical activity, time with (or away from) others, reading, writing, a cup of tea….
The flip side
Taking yourself out of your daily routine can also provide a positive stimulus.
When my daughter was little, I was always amazed at how, after visiting Grandma’s house, she’d suddenly reach a new developmental milestone: rolling over, sitting up, walking, talking all seemed to start after her daily routine was disturbed.
(This is not an endorsement of overstimulating our children or ourselves! These visits were relatively few and far between.)
Are you stuck in the muck of the daily grind? The holidays can provide a jolt that opens up new opportunities:
- Is there a new way of moving that you’ve been thinking of trying? Replace your current routine (or your state of couch-potato-ness) with a new workout and see what happens. It can be as simple as a walk around the block after a meal or as complex as a new fitness routine you’ve heard about.
- Do you not have time for meditation, journaling, reading, play with your family and friends during a normal work week? Try adding a new element to your day and see how it goes.
- Have you been trying to break a “bad” habit? Putting yourself in a new situation can help! Not having the familiar parameters of people and place and schedule can remove the temptation to follow our normal not-so-healthy practices such as smoking or eating/drinking to excess.
The important thing is to think carefully about your holiday behavior after the holidays as well as before:
- What habits or routines dropped off your radar—and could stay that way once the holidays are over?
- What practices did you begin that you might want to keep in your daily routine after you’re back at home/work?
The holidays can be a time of mindless pleasure (which is, let’s be honest, not a bad thing sometimes). And they can also serve as a great time to experiment.
If you’re truly mindful, you can make some fascinating observations about yourself—both your day-to-day self and your off-duty self.
- Do you tend to be incredibly rigid, not allowing the holidays to budge your routines? How do you feel about that? How do others feel around you?
- Are you a “weekend warrior” who does fine with day-to-day routines but tosses them out the window and undoes a lot of steady progress by partying too hard during weekends and holidays? How does the all-or-nothing approach work for you? How doesn’t it serve you?
- Are you terrible at making better choices irrespective of whether it’s the holidays or not? What sort of an effect does that have on your health over time?
- Can you find a middle path, somewhere between rigidity and complete lack of control?
However you spend your holidays, may they (and you) be merry, healthy, and bright!
WLAA health columnist Liza Baker is a health coach and employee wellness consultant, cookbook author, blogger, podcaster, and COO of a busy family of four spread across the country—and the globe. Liza lives in an empty nest in Ann Arbor and is passionate about health and happiness, education and empowerment, SOLE/SOUL food and social justice.