Holidays are a balancing act

ImageThe winter holidays are here. I am certain of this fact because it is cold outside and I have run into scads of folks wearing holiday apparel, tattling on themselves for over indulgences of the festive food kind.

Whether you celebrate Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, Bodhi Day, Las Posadas, Ayyam-i-Ha, St. Lucia’s Day or Festivus, winter holidays come laden with overflowing tables, memories of delicious food past and a longing for the heightened metabolic rates of youth. 

As much as we look forward to them, the holidays can be stressful for those wanting to end the season wearing the same size in which they began it. 

I think the first rule of the holidays should be to ditch the guilt associated with eating a cookie…or eleven. Stress is not good for the waistline and the holidays are brief. If you adopt a few seasonal eating strategies, the New Year will find you goodie-sated without any need of dietary resolutions.

One such strategy is to make a list and check it more than twice. It may seem tedious, but writing down and reviewing your daily food intake makes you far less likely to start or continue an eating spree. Without documentation, we tend to underestimate our consumption and give ourselves permission for more and more.

With naughty and nice lists being tallied, sneaking treats should be out of the question. Yummy holiday indulgences chewed furtively in secret don’t impart any of the pleasure they are intended to provide, yet still contain all the calories. Snacks snuck never satisfy and leave a shameful aftertaste. If you are going to eat something special, prepare your plate beautifully and brazenly. Announce your intent to enjoy your most favorite foodstuff. Tell your friends, family and especially yourself that you will accept no splurge-related guilt and that you are definitely not required to share. Once your place is set, savor – let me repeat that – savor the flavor of your most special food. Enjoy every moment of mastication. Feel free to eat any decadent dish, but remember the first two to three bites of any sweet or savory relay the most taste satisfaction to your palate. Bites four and above are lesser flavor experiences. Think smaller portions and larger pleasure.

Make a holiday eating wish list and accept no substitutes. Plan your daily meals to responsibly include every traditional taste you crave and you will be less likely to be pulled off course by unworthy alternatives. If I am hungry for Russian tea cakes, no amount of fudge, divinity or even frosted shortbread cookies will satisfy me. Hold out for the best and leave behind the rest.

Before you mindlessly pluck that congealed gob of toasted marshmallow from atop the cold yams and pop it into your mouth, ask yourself, “Am I hungry?” Just taking the time to ask this most simple of questions can diffuse the fat bomb of unconscious eating. When you have had your fill, move away from the table, or clear and store the leftovers that may otherwise tempt you to overeat. 

When I do get in binge mode, I think of Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman playing cone-headed visitors to earth, guzzling beer and pouring whole bags of potato chips into their gaping mouths in an effort to fit in with earthlings. If you remember this Saturday Night Live sketch, you will understand how tough it is to continue to “consume massive quantities” when your eating and drinking habits begin to resemble those of the Coneheads.

Make your days more meaningful. Did the event that inspired the winter holiday that owns your allegiance require twelve courses, five deserts and bowls of candy and nuts set about every room? If your holiday preparations lean toward excess without regard for origin, it might be time to plan a new – less consumptive – celebratory experience.

Don’t be afraid to create new traditions. Someday your whole-grain vegetarian pizza could be the most treasured treat of generations to come. All legacies begin somewhere. Why not craft a family heritage rich in meaning and health and less saturated with fats and sugars?   

Redefine treats for yourself and those you love. I always enjoyed my grandmother paying attention to me as much if not more than I did her heavenly meringues. Does love have to come coated in sugar, chocolate or salt? I’m pretty certain time spent doing anything together can impart a longer-lasting sensation of love than anything we consume.

Anyway you look at it, the holidays are a balancing act. You must balance the food you take in with the exercise you put out. It really is not a problem if you want to indulge in a high-calorie treat, as long as you burn off those additional calories in a timely manner.  

One last holiday wellness strategy is to think about others and act on your thoughts. You will more deeply appreciate all that you have when you give of your time and energy to help those who have less. Every winter I try to find some anonymous way of gathering items needed by others and seeing that they are distributed. Though not the motivational basis of my giving, I find that a belly satisfied by sharing does not shout about its own desires. 

 

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