Don't take a holiday from your health
Mindful strategies you can use to keep as healthy as possible heading into 2022
The holiday season is upon us - a time where the majority of us default to all-or-nothing thinking with our health habits.
Feeling hopeless that we can’t make meaningful changes during December, or that 2022 will be our saviour, we cave into the egg nog, ginger snap cookies, and Bailey’s infused coffee with a mischievous joy.
There is a way to make our habits work for, rather than against us. And it can be the result of narrowing our focus towards a few key practices, rather than trying to do everything at once.
Without clarity around our habits, we slip into beliefs and actions of either doing nothing, or going all out.
But, here’s a PSA for you:
You can enjoy yourself while also caring for yourself
Now, you might be on the side of Larry David here, but please hear me out.
You can have the best of both worlds.
At no point do you have to abstain from all sugary snacks and the liquid courage altogether. You are allowed to indulge. With that said, you also can (and should…and must) care for your health.
Let’s dive into some strategies that you can use to continue to work on your health habits in a simple way.
This is going to be your anchor habit over the course of the holidays. Focus on how you eat as much as you do about what you eat. It doesn't sound like much, but mindful eating is one of the best skills you can build to cut back on calories, digest food better, reduce stress, and become more present.
Eating mindfully is accomplished from getting really good at a few practices:
Eat slowly: Take your time to eat food slowly by putting your fork down between bites, counting your bites, eating off smaller plates, smelling your food, and eating with loved ones - not with Netflix or other electronics to distract you.
Stop when 80% full (not stuffed): Put the fork down when you feel satisfied with your meal. Don't eat until you're stuffed, or over indulge. You can have the gingerbread cookie, just don't dive into the whole container!
Eat only when you are physically hungry: Before you eat, look at what’s going around you. Are you reaching for the treats simply because they are out on the counter, or maybe some of your family is eating them? Next, check in with yourself. Are you actually hungry or just craving? How are you feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically? It could be that you’re bored and looking for a distraction.
Change what’s around you
Building off the last point for eating mindfully, it’s important that you ensure your environment is set up for your success. With holiday baking in abundance, especially when our family and relatives are sending us the sugary treats, it’s easy to start crazing on snacks throughout the day.
This usually results in eating much more than we need. A great way to combat this is to simply time when you put the treats out. For example, opposed to having them out all day, everyday for the entire month, put a select few out after dinner for a light dessert.
Use approach-based goals
Saying “no” to foods, and trying to avoid certain behaviours takes a lot more mental energy than focusing on what you can say “yes” to. These are what we call approach-based goals. In a time where it’s easy for us to tell ourselves “stop eating that!" and, “next year I’ll be better!” a strategy that might prove more effective is setting realistic, healthy habits that you can commit to doing.
I will drink 3 litres of water every day
I will eat 2 servings of fruit and 3 servings of vegetables every day
I will have only one beer with dinner
I will go for a 10 minute walk after each meal
Notice how much more enticing these are to do. For some, this can be the mental shift that moves them away from the belief that healthy living is restrictive.
Start with one meal
When things seem a little too complicated, sometimes the best thing you can do is simplify. If you know that the holidays are going to be a time where you just naturally move less, and snack a bit more, don’t settle for doing nothing.
Focus on making one meal as healthy as you can. Then, everything else is fair game. Just be intentional and honest with yourself about this. You might just find that by focusing your energy on one thing over the holidays, it has a positive ripple effect out into other areas as well.
Build your base of nutrients
Calorie-rich and nutrient-sparse foods will seem to take over your life. This makes it crucial that you find ways to add as many calorie-light, nutrient-dense foods as possible.
Fruits: A wide variety of berries, pears, grapefruit, etc.
Vegetables: dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables
Lean protein: High-quality meats and fish (local if possible), and/or plant-based options like tempeh and tofu are fantastic
By adding in more foods higher in protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, you’ll give your body much needed resources for proper functioning. You might just find that your cravings for the sweets drops as you’ll be more satisfied from the whole foods!
Plan and prepare
If there’s one skill that seems to make the biggest difference in our success, it seems to be our ability to make time, and prepare our meals and exercise schedule well in advance.
Failing to do so tends to results in poor execution of the healthy habits you set out on building in the first place. Why? Because when we leave things until last minute, constantly putting out fires, we burn ourselves out.
Failing to plan is planning to fail.
There are also points when circumstances of life can take over even the best of plans. Shit hits the fan. Chaos ensues. Problems that we could never predict or expect slap us across the face.
Mike Tyson put it best:
“Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
So what matters is creating a plan, preparing what needs to be prepared in advance, and having some conditions in place in case something goes wrong or an unexpected obstacle appears.
Things that can help:
Schedule your workouts/daily exercise in advance (actually put it in your calendar)
Write down some healthy snacks and meals you can have everyday, no matter how busy you are. Then go and shop for them.
Fill up your water bottle the night before so you have it to drink right when you wake up
Batch cook a few meals for the week ahead. You’ll save hours of time and energy this way.
If everyone starts drinking the booze early and hard, then I will switch to non-alcoholic beverages or soda water. Note: You can make any “if, then” statement you see fit. Figure out what seems to be a common problem, and create a procedure to address it well in advance.
I hope these tips will help you keep healthy throughout the holiday season. Remember: It's still the holidays. You’re allowed to enjoy yourself! Just don't take a holiday away from your health.
Do what you can, even if it might seem small.
What to do next
Figure out what your limiting factor seems to be during the holidays. Some examples: Consuming too many sugary drinks. Sitting too much. Not eating enough healthy meals. Not enough exercise. Grazing on all of the holiday treats.
Pick one strategy I shared that you can use to help address this limiting factor. Commit to this one thing. If you feel like trying a couple more of the strategies, feel free to do so.
Enjoy yourself. Have fun. Relax. If you're intentional and honest with yourself and your behaviours over the holidays, you’ll be fine. You won’t be starting from a “clean slate” in 2022, and you’ll have already practiced healthy habits which you can build upon into the new year.
You won’t have to resolve anything, other than how you can continue to kick ass!