Growing up each winter we made our way out west to Butte, Montana from Toledo, Ohio. My two sisters and I loved this tradition. We’d spend a week with my dad’s side of the family—cool aunts and uncles, spunky younger cousins and strong-willed Irish grandparents. Montana meant lots of laughter and adventure in the form of 4-wheeling, down-hill skiing and hotel hot tubbing.
It also meant cookies, divinity fudge and heaps of homemade treats of all types that my aunt Peggy and grandma Eileen had made in preparation of our visit.
My sisters and I loved our time in Montana. Peggy and our other aunts and uncles had a wonderful way of making us feel so totally loved and adored. Time with them was always fiery and fun. The hugs, the happy tears and the shrieks of joy upon our arrival made us feel completely at home.
My dad thought it was important for us to see the great expanse of our beautiful country, so rather than fly, we’d make the long, cold drive to Montana. On the road we’d talk about all the things we were going to do once we got there. The yummy treats would also be on my mind, not so much as a child, but definitely as a late teen and in my early 20's. My focus? Not which ones I was going to eat first. No, instead I’d worry about how I was going to find the willpower to stay away from them, which was physically impossible. Night and day my aunt would keep a plate full of treats on the kitchen counter and anytime it started to run low she would direct one of us to run out to the freezer in the garage to reload. It was a whole freezer full of pure deliciousness.
There were days I downed at least 20 sweets. I’d opt for the sweets and then skimp on dinner. Is this such an awful thing? No—I didn’t have to go to the hospital. But there was definitely psychological and physical damage, pounds and pounds of it.
The combination of ingredients was addicting to my individual body chemistry. The sugar and gluten behaved like was poison in my system—a delicious, tantalizing, addicting poison. No wonder I couldn't stop eating them. Or thinking about them. Which led to self-directed disappointment and disgust. I didn't want to gain 7 pounds each time I went to Montana. But I didn't have the willpower to stay away. Trying to ignore the treats as I walked past them multiple times a day failed miserably. Even telling my sisters that I was only going to have 1 a day didn’t work either.
I’ve always been a cheery life enthusiast, but my thoughts became very negative. What’s wrong with me? Why can't I stay away? Whose body is this? I hated what I saw and what I did. I’d go into the kitchen and find a favorite, pop it into my mouth and walk out of the room feeling icky with myself. And then I’d do it again. I felt horrible and jealous of anyone who seemed to not be addicted. Like my dad who bizarrely didn’t (and still doesn't) like chocolate—not even the dark chocolate.
Is this all too familiar? Whether it’s multiple cookies you're trying to ignore or a few bottles of red wine, the following functional wellness tips will help you make it through the holidays with your self-esteem intact.
1. Flip the script.
Reframe the role you assign to food. Ask yourself, am I making this holiday more about food than about anything else? Decide that the holiday is no longer an excuse to eat anything you want or an excuse to totally disregard your health. Take out a piece of paper and write down what you want the holiday to be about. Be specific. Good Will and Peace are lovely thoughts, but if you’re not going to do anything about achieving those ideals during this particular time frame write down something else. Once you know what you want the holiday to truly be about, take an action each day that supports your true desires.
2. Splurge on the good stuff.
Eat food that floods your body with nutrients, energy and zest. Foods that leave you feeling stronger and sexier. Foods that make you a better listener and guest. Vegetables, healthy fats, lean proteins and dark chocolate are all worthy of you, of being eaten by you. Don’t skimp on these! Eat enough and you won't have room for the cheap, processed foods that put you in a zoned-out funk and force you to unbutton your jeans.
3. Phone a friend.
Connect frequently with someone who knows your health goals and struggles. Why? You may try to convince yourself that you’ll hurt the host's feelings if you don't ask for seconds. That you need to try every dessert even though deep down you know the host won't notice. Your buddy knows your vision, knows how bad you want it and will remind you of the big picture.
4. Challenge a kid to a race around the block before a big meal.
Why? You’re going to LOVE how you feel afterwards. Powerful, in-control, alive. You won’t need to rely on multiple servings of food to fill your emotional needs because the sprint will have boosted your spirits and you’ll be more focused on the conversation around the table rather than the food that sits on the table.
5. Physically get away from your negative triggers.
Get out of the kitchen and get out of your head. If the kitchen is too dangerous, don't hang out in it. Go outside. Take a walk. Connect to your surroundings. Breathe in the fresh air. Find some beauty. Whatever you do, don't get stuck sitting next to the plate of milk chocolates (and whatever other questionable ingredients they contain). If you do, move to a different location.
Follow these 5 steps and you’ll come out on the other side stronger, happier and healthier. And if you want to splurge, splurge on an organic green smoothie. Or new Ugg slippers. But don't splurge on sugar poison. And definitely don't splurge on disgust and disappointment. It’s time to quit that club.
Want to be healthy for the holidays?