The holiday season is not a black hole. It’s not the proverbial Vegas where anything goes and we’ll just pretend it didn’t happen. But we kinda pretend it is, don’t we? Things like nutrition, movement, and good connections often get pushed aside as we work really hard to enjoy the season. How’s that for paradox.
As if personal life wasn’t enough, five years of marriage to an entrepreneur + running my own business has taught me something else about holiday season: Mid-November through December is always a battle. There’s a lot to do week-to-week and that doesn’t just stop because we got the perfect snowfall or there are Christmas movies that need watching.
So things like nutrition are thrown off but the need to perform remains the same (or is perhaps even raised since available time decreases). Nutrition and human connection are vital assets of quality performance – giving you energy, focus, mental clarity, and stamina. Poor nutrition choices can not only leave you feeling “blah” but also set you up for being down & out in the aftermath. So how do we make this work?
Or perhaps the better question, how do we use the holiday season to our advantage – strengthening the relationships that keep us grounded, celebrating the big and small of the year, and throwing love and hope around like confetti? All of which serve us and our community in the long run but often get stifled by the poor habits that come out when family, food, and stuff enter the picture.
So how DO we make this work??
We prepare, my friend.
This post is going to be full of lists. And that’s because it’s going to be full of tools for you to take with you on your holiday vacation, your office party, your neighbor’s open house, New Year’s, and beyond.
To start, let’s set our intention for the holiday season:
- I will not overstimulate my mind + body with excessive decisions. I will prepare now so I can be present + engaged then.
- I will use this extra time with friends + family to foster deep connection. I will choose my people over food, comfort, activity, etc.
- If time with family is usually difficult: I will intentionally spend time with people who love + support me [from grocery shopping to laundry folding to a small holiday party] so I can go into family events anchored to truth even as the tensions rise.
Next list. Here’s what I know about the holidays:
[Getting a handle on the common pitfalls and weak points can help us know where to focus our energy for best results.]
- Nostalgia is exciting — and comfortable. We love comfortable and it very quickly becomes the unseen goal of the season if we are not careful.
- Food gets a lot of attention. Planning meals for 30 people for 4 days will do that! Unfortunately that leaves many people with guilt, shame, frustration instead of joy.
- Scarcity mindset runs rampant – holiday favorites from food to movies to activities, we want it all right now before it’s too late. It becomes an excuse to eat way past full – we lose our minds trying to take it all in [quick!].
- Family time dregs up all sorts of memories we want to forget driving us toward our usual numbing habits to stifle connection and sterilize the environment. Social media, sarcasm, overly competitive, food, drink, vegging out, passive aggression, perfectionism – we armor up and coast through at surface level.
It doesn’t have to be that way. So to help you I’ve compiled my best strategies for staying mindful and optimizing for connection during social gatherings. This is straight out of the nutrition portion of my coaching program where I help women establish a habit of moderation in all circumstances.
To begin, here are 6 ways to prepare for successful holiday gatherings:
- Picture the people you will see, think about how you want them to feel during the holidays, and especially after they spend time with you. Hold that image in your mind and compare it to eating your favorite dessert or dish – mentally remind yourself that people > food.
- Practice mindful meditation – take 10-20 minutes to focus in on your breath, letting thoughts and emotions pass you by. Tuning in to the present will help bring awareness to your decisions and your behavior — your best shot at avoiding old habit pathways. If you’re new to mindful meditation, the free app Headspace has a 10 day intro. Apps Calm and Insight Timer also have lots of free + short meditations.
- Prepare a few meaningful questions to ask the people you sit with at dinner or while you’re sitting around or playing games. Especially during meals, having a conversation about an adventure you want to take in the new year or a habit you want to develop can help everyone stay more present and eat slower. Now you’re getting real connection AND you’re more likely to stop eating when you feel satisfied.
- Meditate on an abundance mantra as you drive to your event. “I am satisfied”, “I have enough”, “My life is full of blessings”. Focusing your attention on contentment and satisfaction can help you stay sober-minded about food or other habits you have when you’re feeling rushed or not enough.
- Alternatively, play a game in the car of naming as many things you’re truly, deeply grateful for as you can. Go 2-4 layers deeper than “my car” or “my family.” Get really specific and say WHY.
- Finally, and this is really practical, if it’s an evening event – like a work party or neighborhood party – eat a small meal beforehand. A bowl of soup or chili to take the edge off your hunger. It will be easier to be selective about what you choose to eat if you’ve already gotten some protein + fat in your system. [Also, drink plenty of water.]
To wrap up our holiday lists, here are 6 ways to stay mindful while you are at your holiday gatherings:
- If you have a past of restrictive dieting, don’t tell yourself an outright “no” about anything. You are more likely to hyperfocus on it. Instead, I’ve got a couple of guidelines to help you enjoy in moderation:
- Neghar Fonooni’s 1st bite rule: Every bite should be as good as the first. As soon as it no longer does, choose to be done. (This means you are paying attention to + tasting every bite). This goes for all kinds of food or drink.
- Jill Coleman’s 3-bite rule: When it comes to dessert, take 3 bites and move on. Skip the part where you say “I could never do that!” I promise you can. It will take practice, of course, but you’re bound to have plenty of opportunities in the next few weeks.
- Avoid filling your plate full, even for meals. Take small portions and take a break between helpings. Give yourself space to start digesting and make a mindful decision about what you will eat. Remember: it might feel like this is the only time you can eat mashed potatoes, but it really isn’t. You can make them (or buy them) any day of the week.
- Make a personal game of telling as many people as you can 1-2 things you like about them specifically or why you are thankful for them.
- Lastly, remember that the mind plays tricks (not on purpose…): we have a harder time saying “no” to colorful food – use it to your advantage with vegetables and beware with Christmas cookies. Also, your brain will try to tell you that food (or Instagram) will help you feel less awkward/lonely/uncomfortable. It won’t.
These strategies are designed to pull your attention into the present moment to maximize human connection while minimizing poor nutrition choices. If you can increase the quality of your holiday gatherings, you will return to your work engaged, inspired, and ready to face new problems.
I so deeply hope your holiday season is filled to the brim with connection and meaning. But I know that is hard to come by so these strategies are my gift to you so you can have moments that are filled to the brim. May this be a time when you forego assumptions or putting on a face that garners praise in exchange for real human connection that will take you further into the New Year than anything else.