Friday, December 7, 2012

Minimizing Holiday Stress

Christmas 2009
My mother has always been one of those holiday superwomen. She is the type with the perfectly wrapped packages, the fancy holiday tableware, and the beautifully iced sugar cookies.  I always know Christmas is around the corner when I open up my mother’s fridge and see a stack of butter, five pounds high, for cookie baking. This used to make me giddy with excitement, but now I can’t help visualizing that five pounds on my thighs.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore the holiday season.  It just seems like the older I get, the more stress I feel this time of year. As an adult, I suddenly have things like overcrowded grocery stores, credit card statements, airport delays, and extra calories swimming in my “cup of cheer”.  

Stress is a common trigger for weight gain.   This makes the holiday season a particularly difficult time for those of us struggling with weight issues.  To minimize stress during the holidays, I try to keep the following things in mind:

1. Do NOT pay attention to all of the random advice about how to “stay slim during the holidays”.  I used to eat this stuff up.  I would read every article on “avoiding holiday weight gain” that I could get my hands on.  Then I realized that the more I focused on the issue, the more stressed out I would get, and the more weight I would end up gaining.  The worst advice I ever heard was on a popular morning talk show.  The segment was showing “simple” ways to cut calories during the holidays.  One of the techniques was to just eat the filling from a slice of pie and to leave all the crust.  Seriously!  That kind of deprivation is just plain mean, and is certain to backfire.  I know from personal experience that if I forgo ice cream on my holiday pie, I end up spooning it straight out of the container, alone, at midnight.

2. Do not fear holiday weight gain.  Similar to #1 above, the more energy you spend thinking about holiday weight gain, the more stressed you will be.  I read an article in the Washington Post that said people think that they gain four times more than they actually do during the holidays.  It is a mental game.  The fitness and diet industries want you to think that you will gain a ton of weight during the holidays so that you will buy their weight loss products.  If you just stick with what has been working for you all year, and don’t try any crazy new methods or crash diets, you will most likely be just fine.

3. Stay active.  I have found that the best way to combat stress is by exercising.  Yes, yes I know, there isn’t any time.  The truth is, you need to be a little selfish, and find the time. The last three years I have purchased a one-week pass to use at the local gym when I go home for the holidays.  It provides an escape for me, and makes me feel more in control.  I was in charge of Christmas Eve dinner last year.  I prepped in the morning, went to the gym and ran off my frustrations, and then I came home and put everything together. It felt great!

4. Admit that nobody (including you) is perfect.  There is so much pressure to have everything perfectly “together” during the holidays.  The truth of the matter is, everyone feels overwhelmed at some point.  If we pretend everything is ok, when it isn’t, we will eventually explode (and eat an entire tray full of cookies). It is healthiest to acknowledge whatever emotions we are feeling, and deal with them from the get go.  

It is hard sometimes, with all of the pressure, to just sit back and be thankful.  But I am thankful. I am thankful that I am not the same unhealthy person that I was six Christmases ago, and I am thankful that I get to share my stories with you :). Now let's go enjoy this beautiful season!