How to have a "healthy-ish" holiday season
Let’s face it, in this month of December, you may catch a cold or find yourself inadvertently eating a slice of (non-organic) cheesecake at an office party! Life happens. We’re all imperfect. The future is uncertain. You may become discouraged by circumstances, overwhelmed by an unexpected challenge or drained by choices that zap you of your physical or emotional health.
So no promises today. No “three tips for a tinsel-perfect holiday.” Nope. Instead, I am offering you some ideas on how to have a healthy-ish holiday season, with reasonable, actionable strategies for getting through December and early January intact, and happy and healthy…ish.
So, let's cut to the chase. There's no time to waste. Here are the "ish-es" I recommend:
Like Alice in Wonderland, you will find foods at every turn with the (imaginary) label “Eat me.” Cookies, cakes, alcohol, chocolate. Name your temptation; it will be there. How might we avoid indulging or over-indulging?
1. Look for food at your next gathering that has the potential to nourish. For me, this means I'll choose deviled eggs over pie, fresh veggies over cookies, etc. When we actually nourish our bodies with real food first, we will be less likely to ply ourselves later with empty calories that do us no good.
2. Take a cue from friends who have food sensitivities. Whether they are gluten or lactose-intolerant, allergic to food dyes or nuts, I’ve noticed that certain friends have no problem saying “no” to a variety of foods that they know that will cause them digestive discomfort, skin rashes, or worse. I don’t have an allergy to sugar, but I adopt the mindset of a person who does. That means, that no matter how lovely a dessert looks, I must say “no” to it. Sweets are simply not an option. Desserts are suddenly off the table. Try it sometime! See if it helps strengthen your resolve.
Bonus tip: If you can’t bring yourself to imagine that you have an allergy to sugar, consider this very real fact. Sugar ages us. Do you want to stay wrinkle-free, and look 10 years younger? Avoid the sweet stuff. There is science to back up this bold statement. Sugar, in the bloodstream, attaches to proteins to form new molecules called “advanced glycation end products.” The abbreviate is AGEs and it lives up to the acronym! The AGEs molecules damage proteins that keep skin firm and elastic. The more sugar we eat, the more wrinkled and sagging our skin will appear. So, while I don’t truly have a sugar allergy, I have developed a serious sugar aversion! Maybe this information will do the same for you.
Just like with food choices, we need to carefully pick how we spend our time this month. How can we choose what matters most? You probably have invitations to all kinds of social, work, and school functions. And then there are the items that we add to our own to-do lists in this season--everything from cookie baking, to home decorating, to hosting any of the aforementioned gatherings. How do we whittle down our list to what we cherish?
1. As much as possible, hold onto the best; let go of the rest. Take a page from the “The life-changing magic of tidying up" by Marie Kondo. I've never read the book, actually, but I get the concept. The author suggests de-cluttering by only holding on to items that truly bring joy. So, keep up the traditions/events/to-do’s that you love and let go of those you do not. I don’t bake cookies because I’m not into it. (If my husband or kids want cookies, they can bake them, themselves.) But I DO love making Christmas cards. I’m not the most craft-y person on the planet, but I am enthusiastic. And I like giving people something I’ve made myself. So that's why my dining room table looks like this....
2. Mix and match/multi-task. I like the new minimalist fashion trend. It's about giving away clothing you don't wear, and keeping only a few choice pieces that you can mix and match. It's freeing and fun. My take, in terms of the holidays, is to first pare down the to-do list, and then get to mixing and matching! Throw a party where guests help with cookie-baking or tree-decorating! Invite a friend or your mom to join you Christmas shopping. Get creative and you may be surprised by the new-found joy these chores can bring!
Bonus tip: Sometimes when I am preparing to take a trip, the thought suddenly strikes me “In ten days, I will be on that plane, whether I’m ready or not.” In other words, take comfort in the fact that the holidays will come, regardless if every last card is mailed and present bought. So breathe deep and leave a few unimportant things undone. It will all be okay.
But what if our goal is not to just survive but to thrive during this season? What can take us over the top?
1. Presence over presents. The best gifts you can give people this season have to do with personal connections. Your presence is more important than any presents under the tree. Read stories to your children, as usual. Don’t shortchange them because it got late and rush them off to bed. Grab some books and snuggle. Work can wait. So can the emails you still need to send out. Your attention and time are a perfect gift, every. time.
2. Embrace today, the “now.” The present is a gift. Don’t let the flurry of activity preparing for the future make you miss the moment. The present is called "present" for a reason.
Bonus: Nurture awareness of the spirit of the season. Play music that moves you. Attend a “Messiah” concert. Go to a holy place/space, a church, the synagogue. Give to others. If you neglect this piece, the season will undoubtedly feel hollow. But if you embrace the meaning of the season in its complex beauty, you will truly flourish.
Let me know if you apply some of these ideas and tips this December. Here's to an imperfect, yet beautiful, healthy-ish season!
Hilda Labrada Gore is the host and producer of the Wise Traditions podcast. It is sponsored by the Weston A. Price Foundation for wise traditions in food, farming, and the healing arts! Hilda is also an integrative nutrition health coach and a fitness professional, the Director of Communications, and the DC Metro Regional Director for Body & Soul Fitness. In addition, she leads the contemporary music service for National Presbyterian Church. She lives in D.C. with her husband, Mitch, their children, and their cat and dog.