I know that I am not the only person that struggles to stay on the beam during the holidays. With all the parties and the leftovers and the sugar, the expectations and emotional hangovers (and real hangovers for some), it is a miracle that any of us stay even remotely sane, let alone follow any sort of dependably predictable meal or exercise plan.
Staying healthy over the holidays without being deprived of the emotional connection to food is a tricky problem. For many of us, there is a strong, if not direct, correlation between certain memories of certain feelings and the comfort that we received in those moments from ice cream (or chocolate or mashed potatoes, etc. etc.). We paint a pretty strong picture in our brains that can leave us in a place of feeling left out or deprived if we aren’t careful. And the more deprived you are, perceived or otherwise, the easier it is to fall way off and end up in a place that you don’t want to be come the first of January.
I know that this is a busy time of the year, so I am going to keep this post fairly brief. Here are some quick pointers to help you stay on track during the holiday season; refer to it as you need, sort of like a tool box in moments where you feel like you could use some extra support:
1. Community: Community is one of the most important places to turn during the holidays. Get together with likeminded individuals and check in with each other. Accountability in both exercise and diet yields much better results than trying to go at it alone. You also get the added bonus of an intimate connection with another human being, which in and of itself could lessen food cravings ((Often times, when we overeat or use food as something besides fuel, a craving for connection can be the true trigger.)
2. Sleep: Get the right amount of sleep. There is tons of research that shows that a lack of sleep causes the upregulation of hormones that cause you to reach out for comfort foods, such as simple carbs and fats. With all the parties and commitments, staying honest about what you need to do to take care of yourself is essential. Even a one-hour reduction in the amount of sleep you’re getting per night can have deleterious effects on your weight and slow your metabolism. Get those zzz’s! For more info read our sleep post.
3. Emotional Intelligence: Emotionally intelligent behavior, such as mindfulness while you are eating (not being in front of the television or your phone), kindness towards yourself, flexibility instead of rigidity and the ability to say no when you feel overtaxed are hugely important to maintaining your waistline…and your sanity. Allow yourself to indulge but try to taste every bite of food that goes into your mouth. Feel the texture on your tongue. Engage with the people who are around you. The more in tune you can be with yourself and why you are eating and how it is making you feel (or not), the better. If you can, keep a journal. Find the places that are difficult for you and then prepare yourself in advance. And, remember, you’re health is the number one priority. If you are feeling stressed and overdrawn, you have the right to say no!
4. Stress Reduction: One of the most challenging parts about the holidays, and one of the most negatively impactful human emotions, is the amount of stress that is associated with this time of year. Reducing stress through meditation, breathing practices and daily exercise will help mitigate some of the impact that stress hormones have on your body. It’s important to remember that we are in this for the long haul. What felt like such a huge disaster today might be a flicker of a memory a few years from now. Try to keep things in perspective, and stay present in the moment. Check out our last blog post for five stress management tools.
One last point before I go to do some Christmas shopping on Amazon. Nutritional psychiatry is an up and coming field that explores the neurological effects of sugar/fat/processed foods and the relationship to gut health. 95% of your serotonin is produced in the large intestine, so it really is true that we are what we eat (in this case, in the emotional sense). The more we eat these comfort foods, the more we have the ability to change our gut health in a negative way, and the more likely we are to become depressed and anxious, which then feeds back into the emotional eating cycle. I will write on depth about this topic in my next blog post because there is much more than this to discuss, but for now, I want to leave you with a couple of key points.
· Be gentle with yourself. Mindfully indulge but make sure that you are getting the emotional connection from where it really counts: your community
· Create safe spaces that are free of junk…junk food, junk people, and emotional junk. Retreat when you need to.
· Breathe and remember to stay grateful.
· Remember that a vital life is a marathon, not a sprint. If you overindulge in the moment, that does not mean that you have been entirely derailed and that you should throw up your hands and quit. Treat yourself the way you would a child or an animal that you adore and gently ease yourself back onto the beam.
We are here to support you and have got your backs! Happy holidays to everyone, and thank you for being such an integral part of our lives. We have much to be grateful for.
This post brought to you by RedBird teacher and nutrition expert Lauren Badell, who has her degree in Dietetics from the University of Texas. Lauren knows that abs are made in the kitchen and that the marriage of nutrition and fitness has the ability to transform lives and bodies. She loves to share her knowledge of nutrition sciences with the RedBird community, almost as much as she loves to salsa dance, run around Lady Bird lake and cook DELICIOUS and health treats for her friends and family.