Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Trouble with the Holidays

Today's complete lack of health-consciousness inspired me to think about the fact that the holidays seem to be everyone's toughest time of year for staying on track with healthy foods and fitness. What I realized is that, at least for me, the problem is not any one thing but, rather, the combination of too many bad-for-you temptations and functions. On their own, these unhealthy choices wouldn't cause such issues, but they team up to attack us during the holidays.

My main struggles during the holidays seem to be the following:

Holiday parties. Between friends, family, work, and neighbors, most of us attend at least one or two parties. Today alone, I attended two parties: the staff luncheon at my work and holiday dinner with my cheerleaders. Now, parties are an issue for me because a) I'm a social eater (well, not clinically or anything, but self-diagnosed), and b) everyone brings their favorite (unhealthy, because who wants to eat whole-wheat muffins or steamed broccoli at a holiday party?) dish. Combine those two and even my best efforts to "behave" result in two helpings of pasta (lunch today) and ordering that spinach-artichoke dip we didn't really need (dinner tonight).

Increase in sugar and processed foods. 85% of the time, I avoid anything processed, and my sugar intake remains relatively low. But during the holidays, my friends or students give me homemade treats or little bags of candy; my mom's house is stocked with my favorite cookies; my desire for red and green M&Ms somehow becomes irresistible.

Decrease in the good foods. Because I'm snacking at holiday parties and munching on sugary sweets, I don't feel inclined to eat my usual healthy snacks of fruits, yogurt, or whole grains. For dinner, I'm more tired and less excited about fighting the crowds at the grocery store and end up making do with whatever I have at home, which usually means breakfast-for-dinner or some kind of pasta. Not exactly what I would call a well-rounded, balanced diet.

Less exercise. Due to the holiday parties, increased traffic, and Christmas errands, I find myself getting home later and later. Tonight, for example, our holiday dinner got me home at 9:30. Looking at the next few days, I'll feel lucky if I can get in a short workout each day. And holiday travel contributes to lack of exercise, too. When Terry and I go to Paris and London, I highly doubt we'll brave the cold for a run each day, though maybe we can squeeze in some strength training.

So if you put it all together, the holidays take a toll on your health. I think it's important to do what we can to combat holiday pitfalls, but it would take a person much stronger than myself to actually just not eat the unhealthy foods. Ha! What a concept!

A few tactics I use to try to outsmart the two-parties-and-a-partridge-in-a-pear-tree days:

  • Chug water like it's my job. I have two 32-ounce water bottles that I try to finish before I get home each day, plus I drink more water and milk at home. It gives me energy, fills me up a bit, and keeps me hydrated for all the baking.
  • Plan ahead. I had two parties today, so I knew I wouldn't be able to work out. Instead, I worked out yesterday and plan to work out tomorrow. It's best for me if I actually schedule time (sure, I write it down) to make sure it happens.
  • Force down the healthy stuff. Today I grabbed a big container of blueberries for work and forced myself to eat about a cup in between munching on chocolates-covered pretzels. At least I can say I ate a serving of fruit.
  • Avoid the "it's the holidays!" mentality. Yes, there are reasons to celebrate, and yes, everyone else is eating, but that doesn't mean I have to go crazy. Today's staff luncheon provided a full table of desserts, but I forced myself to choose only three (small!) pieces to sample. If it wasn't amazing, I didn't finish it. And I skipped my usual three cookies for dessert. Pacing myself really seems to help.
I will say, however, that I have every intention of devouring at least one pastry per day in Paris. Everything in moderation, except French pastries. I can't wait to sample a croissant and pain au chocolat! 


  1. You and me both! I definitely agree with you the the key is to avoid the "but it's the HOIDAYS!" mentality. It's a slippery slope! First, it's "but it's Thanksgiving," then it's "but it's Christmas," and then "New Years" ... and what about the weeks in between? Those seem to be come "throw away" weeks, too. This year, I've decided to actively reject the "it's the holidays" mentality and it's doing wonders! Of course there are days when I do slip up and down an entire bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips at 11pm... but the pains that develop in my head and stomach keep me in line for a while after. (:

  2. @extrafirmtofubelly.com I know! I always try to remind myself that I won't feel good after eating a ton of batter or cookies. Good to know I'm not the only one!

  3. I usually bring a bottle of water to work and everywhere else, but got lazy the past couple days. You reminded/inspired me to bring it with me today.

  4. @drumfool So glad to hear I made a difference! It took me a long time to make drinking water part of my routine, but I'm so glad I did. :-)