If the holidays were exactly like the carols we sing, the season would be a happy, peaceful montage of cozying up by the fire and riding in a sleigh. Unfortunately, that’s not all it is. It’s also a lot of traveling, busy schedules, spending half of your bank account on gifts, and stress-eating the yule log (what even is a yule log, anyway!?). If we’re not prepared, the holidays can leave us feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, and just plain unhealthy. As a holistic health coach, I’m currently working with clients to prepare their minds, bodies, and habits so that the holidays can be as enjoyable, stress-free, and healthy as possible. Here are 10 rituals that I’ll be using myself to stay healthy through New Year’s Eve that can help you stay healthy too:
1. Ditching food rules
I used to have the idea in the back of my head that pumpkin pie, croissant rolls, mac n’ cheese, and all the other holiday dishes I loved were “bad.” Sure, it was a special occasion, but eating what I wanted at Thanksgiving or Christmas always felt like I had to make up for it later, or since it was a one-time thing, I’d binge until I was sick. Since then, I’ve learned that there’s no such thing as “bad” or “good” when it comes to diet: some foods have more nutritional value than others, but you’re not “bad” when you want to eat something with less nutritional value. When we put a moral value on foods, what’s meant to nourish us becomes associated with guilt.
De-mystifying holiday foods and permitting yourself to eat whatever you want helps you be more in better control of your food choices. This season, I will mindfully indulge, knowing I never limit or deprive myself, whether it’s the holidays or not. Therefore, I will choose to eat smaller portions and crave more nutritious foods because getting rid of food rules will stop the want-what-you-can’t-have allure that comes with labeling foods as “off-limits.”
2. Focusing on adding more veggies
Thanks to ditching food rules, you bet I will be enjoying mashed potatoes, cornbread, and pasta. But I also know that those foods just don’t make me feel good. After eating too much gluten, dairy, or sugar, I feel sluggish, uncomfortably bloated, and typically get stomach aches or headaches. To stay my healthiest self and enjoy this time with my family as much as possible, I’ll still eat whatever I want (totally guilt-free), but my focus for each meal will be on adding more veggies to the plate. Holiday side dishes like Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, and the salad that no one touches are filled with good-for-you nutrients that will make me feel energized and satisfied. I’ll fill up my plate with the nutrients my body needs, while still being able to enjoy the traditional holiday foods that I love.
3. Getting extra sleep
On holiday vacation, getting a lot of sleep is a given. I’m back in my childhood room, I’m wearing cozy AF pajamas, and I don’t have to wake up at 6:30am for work–the odds of good sleep are very much in my favor. Luckily for my health goals, that extra sleep is not just a perk of a national holiday; it can also help me stay healthy. Getting enough quality sleep is beneficial for many reasons, like improving mood and energy. Plus, sleep will help me make better food decisions. Cravings (especially sugar cravings) can be worsened by lack of sleep, so if you’re not getting a good 7-9 hours, that gingerbread cookie or pumpkin pie could sound a lot more appetizing. Bottom line: the holidays are a time of laughter and family, but I’m also using them as a time to rest and restore.
4. Moving my body every day
Traditionally, I was the 60-minute-workout-class-or-nothing kind of girl. Previous years, I stopped working out whenever I was traveling or my beloved exercise studios closed for the holidays. But this year is going to be different. Back in March, when the stay-at-home order hit and all gyms closed down, I was forced to fit in movement however I could, rather than depending on expensive workout classes. I started to notice I was actually listening to my body–not only about when to workout, but how (does my body need to burn some energy and dance around the living room, or does it need a relaxing yoga session?).
Now, movement is a part of my daily routine. I don’t do a workout class or yoga flow because I’m supposed to; I do it because it will make my mind and body feel good. And I wouldn’t want to give that feeling up, whether I’m in my normal routine or at my family’s house for Thanksgiving. Some days, that movement might look like an online workout class, while other days it will look like a walk with my mom or stretching on the floor while watching a Christmas movie. No matter what kind, movement has become a non-negotiable for helping me feel my best.
5. Having snacks before big meals
Another sad habit younger Josie used to have: during a day like Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve when I knew I’d be eating a lot of food, I’d barely eat anything earlier that day so I could go to the meal super hungry. Part of it was thinking that feeling ~famished~ would help me enjoy the meal more, but mostly it was to “save calories” that I could then spend on the indulgent dinner.
However, not only is limiting foods depriving your body of crucial nutrients, but if you’re hungry and blood sugar is low, you won’t be able to make decisions based on what your body really wants (not to mention the punch hits a lot quicker). Instead, I’ll be eating at least two meals pre-feast that are filled with protein, fiber, and healthy fats to prevent hunger and low blood sugar later in the day. I will also fit in some additional nutrients like carrots, celery, or leafy greens when I know the next meal would be less nutrient-dense (looking at you, Christmas-Eve fettuccine!).
6. Keeping up with a daily probiotic
Being the health nut that I am, I have the most stereotypical amount of supplements (they take up multiple shelves). I always put adaptogens in my coffee, love experimenting with Chinese and Ayurvedic herbs, and have never met an all-natural label that I didn’t like. However, I’m not planning on lugging around massive pill cases and supplement bottles while traveling. Instead, I’ll be packing the one non-negotiable supplement that will help me stay healthy through the holidays: a probiotic. Probiotics help keep your gut healthy, which basically keeps the rest of your body healthy too: the gut is connected to the brain, the immune system, and even your skin. If you’re looking for a one-stop-shop for a healthy body, the gut is it. Taking a probiotic also helps me digest better, reduces bloat, and keeps me, um, regular. It’s worth the luggage room.
7. Practicing intuitive eating
Holiday meals are proof that we don’t just eat to survive or because something tastes good; we eat for enjoyment, social connection, ritual, and celebration. Instead of scarfing down food (as tempting as that is!), I’m focusing on using mealtime as a mindfulness practice. Whether it’s Thanksgiving dinner or a plate of Christmas cookies on the counter while you’re working from home, practice eating intuitively. Notice the smells and tastes of the food, take time to thoroughly chew, and feel thankful for the nourishment you’re receiving (’tis the season!). Notice how your body is feeling and stop when you’re no longer hungry. I try to practice intuitive eating all the time, but the holidays require extra focus to make meals sacred, mindful, and intentional.
8. Making time for myself
To my family (and most families), the holiday season usually looks like the McCallisters before a vacation: rushed, busy, and crowded. I have a big family, and we always like to fill the holidays with lots of togetherness, parties, and traditions. The holiday season in 2020 will look a little different: it will just be my parents and siblings instead of cousins, aunts, and uncles. We’ll also be staying at home instead of running around the city or traveling to see family. While I’m most excited to finally be with my loved ones again (I’ve been quarantined in LA for way too long!), I am also going to give myself time to be alone. Whether that means going on walks in the mornings or taking a bath before bed, making time for self-care (even during times when I’m not focusing on myself) will help keep stress levels low and improve how connected I feel to my body.
9. Cooking for my family
In my opinion, it’s possible to make every traditional holiday dish healthier. Even replacing conventional butter with organic butter reduces some of the added chemicals and toxins, or adding chopped spinach to the sauce can boost nutrients. Healthy cooking doesn’t have to sacrifice taste, and trying to eat healthier does not have to mean you forego your favorite foods.
To me, healthy cooking is one way I show love. Call me weird, but making a quinoa dish for my dad or getting my lamb-chop-and-bourbon-loving grandma to eat some leafy greens makes me feel so happy. In my mind, cooking healthy dishes is like giving the people I love and want to live as long as possible the nutrients that help them do that. The fact that I get to eat those nutrients and delicious dishes too is just a bonus. Not sure where to start? Check out these plant-based Thanksgiving recipes that even your most critical aunt will love.
10. Being open to new traditions
I know I’m sounding like a broken Bing Crosby record at this point, but this holiday season is not going to look like holiday seasons of Christmas past. While that means missing out on a lot of happy traditions, it also means we have the opportunity to take a look at traditions that are no longer bringing us joy: rushed holiday shopping, expensive wishlists, and busy schedules.
I also think it will be interesting to see what new traditions you can try out this year that might carry into next: taking a walk after dinner, baking pumpkin bread with your sister, playing in the snow, or a cooking a dish that’s so good, you’ll want to bring to every future Thanksgiving. With the removal of old traditions we’ve kept without question for years, we have the opportunity to incorporate new traditions that are not only good for our souls, but good for our bodies too. I’ll be taking this season to find some new worthwhile traditions, and I hope you will too!