The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

Thanksgiving Dinner

Andy Williams sang, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year….” The holiday season ushered in by Thanksgiving is wonderful in so many ways: family gatherings, festive meals, joyous music, and fun family traditions. It is for many, though, the most difficult time of the year.

The holidays season puts a lot of stress on us. The continued emphasis on consumerism around Christmas and Hanukkah is not only stressful as we try to get the perfect gifts, but it also puts pressure on our financial situation. There is also the potential conflict that arises in families–you know that crazy uncle who always brings up politics! We may also be worried about meeting year-end goals. It is just a very intense time of the year.

I have blogged in the past about how to try to approach the holidays–and Thanksgiving, in particular–in a more healthy way. Last year, we had the added issue of families preparing smaller feasts given the isolation and reduced gatherings necessitated by COVID-19; for many, that is less of an concern this time around. For most people, this final part of the secular year becomes a battle against overeating; it is exacerbated by an extra busy schedule which might make finding time to exercise and get enough sleep challenging.

There are two key factors that I keep in mind as the holidays near.

1. Plan, plan, plan. Typically, my wife and I plan our menus out a week in advance. We know what we are going to have for each meal, create the shopping list accordingly, and thus avoid (mostly) purchasing foods that are less healthful. I plan as well for those days when I know there will be a lot of food around (Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, football games, holiday parties, etc.) so that I eat moderately the rest of the day; at the “event,” I do my best to drink lots of water and set simple rules for myself like “fill the plate one time only” or “skip the sides and save for dessert,” so that I do not gorge myself. As an aside, try to limit alcohol intake as it is dehydrating and often lessens our resolve to follow our rules. I also take a look at my week and day in advance to figure out when I will be able to work out; I am a personal trainer and I also teach fitness classes so this is a little easier for me, but there are days when I have to simply block out the time to make it happen. This time of the year calls for planning.

2. Be kind and forgiving to yourself (and others). It is almost inevitable that we will have a “bad” day. We may go into that holiday party with the best of intentions, totally prepared and planful, only to take one look at the baked salami, pecan pie, and spinach/artichoke dip and it’s all over. It happens to almost every one of us, including me. I do not beat myself up over it; I do not consider myself a failure. I am only human. Instead, I get back on track the very next morning. In the long run, one bad day is not going to ruin our health. What will be harmful is getting upset at ourselves, giving up, and turning one bad day into a bad week, month, or year. Recognize that there are times when we come up short; that is OK, and we just look forward. Be kind to yourself.

Finally, remember that this time of the year is not about obsessing about our eating habits and exercise. This should be a concern (not obsession) all year round. Take into consideration the special circumstances of the holiday season, but do not get overwhelmed. After all, with the gatherings, music, tradition, and treats–no matter what holiday(s) you celebrate or do not–it is really a most wonderful time of the year!