I have a confession to make. I love December. In fact, I am head over heals, completely in love with the festive holiday season this month ushers in. These statements may come as a shock to anyone who has ever spent time with me during the cold winter months. I am notorious for being an epically-grumpy cynic during grey, frigid winter days. Simply stated, it is an understatement for me to stay that I hate winter. But in December, just can’t help getting caught up in the holiday hoopla.
It may sound cliche, but the thing I love most about the holidays is getting the chance to spend time with friends and family. As I have gotten older I have realized just how hard it is to see everyone with any semblance of regularity. In the past few years since graduating form college (the first time around) I have gone from seeing seeing friends on a daily basis to patting myself on the back for finally finding time to see someone for lunch. That’s why over the years I have come up with a set of holiday rules… maybe “guidelines” is more appropriate… to allow myself to enjoy the holidays – stress free.
1) Put the scale away.
Do it! Do it now! In my last post I talked about how I had a made myself a promise to stay away from the scale for one week after my Thanksgiving festivities were over. I ended up making it 6 days before I stepped on the scale and had discovered that I gained two pounds. Well, now I have to tell you that if I had waited just one more day I would have found that I had only gained .5 lbs from thanksgiving (damn you water weight!).
But, this whole Thanksgiving-scale-avoidance-exercise reminds me of a story from college. It was January of my junior year and I had just gotten back from winter break. Over the fall semester I had put on about 10 lbs (two words – pizza addiction). And, of course, my New Year’s resolution was to drop the weight I had gained. I had even brought my parent’s scale from home to my dorm. At first I would weigh myself occasionally but that quickly evolved into stress inducing daily weigh-ins. After realizing that obsessing over the scale was probably not healthy (OK, definitely not healthy) I asked one of my (thin, healthy) friends to hold onto the scale for me until I could bring it back home. Not one week later did my friend call me and say that since having my scale in her apartment, her and her roommate were obsessing over daily weigh-ins. These two friends told me that neither of them had ever owned a scale. After the semester was over and I had stopped obsessing over my weight loss and began focusing on a healthy diet and regular exercise, I went home for the summer and stepped on the scale. I had lost 20 lbs without weighing myself once.
It has been years since this incident and I have definitely learned to balance (insert cleaver pun here) my weight loss routine with occasional weigh-ins, healthy eating, exercise and mindfulness. But, I think the biggest thing I took away from this experience was to not place so much importance on one number. My friend and her roommate who were by all accounts healthy individuals began to obsess about their weights’ despite previously not caring what they weighed. I became happier and more focused on my health when the scale was out of my dorm and out of the picture. The idea of health is so intricate that as a society we regularly change it’s definition. To me, that means it is too intricate an idea to be determined by one number. So please, at least for the holidays, put the scale away and enjoy your family party.
2) Stop labeling foods as good or bad.
A few years back I was studying French and decided to I pick up the book, “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano . Believe it or not I was not actively on a diet at the time; I had become engrossed in the topic of culinary anthropology. The message I took away from this book is that other cultures don’t label foods as “good vs bad”, “healthy vs unhealthy”; this is diet industry fuel in the US. Food is nourishing. That is it, it’s not intrinsically good or bad. But, our behaviors and obsessions regarding food can certainly be unhealthy. There is no reason to cut food out of your diet unless you are doing so for legitimate heath reasons or ethical concerns. When we cut food out of our diets to stay healthy it encourages our brain to obsess over that food. I don’t know how many times in my life I have tried to completely forgo sugar. In the past I was successful for moths, but time and time again I would fall off the sugar-free wagon. And, when I would fail at maintaining my sugar sobriety I would feel guilty . But, I eventually learned. I stopped labeling sugar as bad and started enjoying a small sugary treat when the mood strikes. So, when you are at your company holiday party and you see that plate of cookies allow your self to indulge and enjoy them for what they are – a treat. This brings me to my next guideline.
3) Learn to schedule when, where, what you are going to eat.
You may want that tasty looking snicker-doodle your sister brought to your family party, but that doesn’t mean you need to have it right now. Recently, I have been reading, “The Thin Woman’s Brain” by Dilia Suriel. I love this book. Dilia often talks about delaying food gratification. You don’t need to eat something that your brain is craving just because it is telling you to eat. If you are not hungry enough to eat it now, just schedule a later time that you can enjoy that tasty morsel. Say for example, you are at your family Christmas party. It is time to eat and you see about 10 different things that you want to try. In the past you stuffed yourself on every last one of those ten things at dinner. You left the party with a stomach ache thinking “I may never need to eat again”. This year is going to be different. Before you even grab your plate, pick just a few things that you really want from that table and just eat those. Maybe do a quick ranking in your mind of which ones you want the most. If your family is anything like mine leftovers will be “forced” on you before you leave. At that time ask for the things that you decided to postpone for later enjoyment.
4) Enjoy yourself.
The holidays are just a small portion of your entire year. Stop guilting* yourself over what you eat and not being able to maintain a perfect diet. There is no such thing as perfect diet so treat yourself to what you want!
*Disclaimer: according to wordpress, “guilting” is not a word.