What do the holidays look like for you? Does it represent family? food? fun? anxiety? tradition? depression? spending too much? hot cocoa and sleigh rides? If I am honest, my holidays have been a bit of a mixed bag. They are joy and family AND I have also experienced elevated levels of depression and anxiety. On my health journey, I have learned to make not only physical changes that set me up for success but also how to partner them with mental patterns that have healed me holistically. In this giant pot of emotions and food temptations and stressors, here is how I stay my healthiest during the holidays.
Setting Emotional Boundaries
One of the easiest kind of triggers to set off emotional eating is...you guessed it...emotional triggers. In my life and in the lives of many of my clients, I have found that being around family reawakens patterns of behavior that we have spent all-year (or the last 10 years) trying to overcome. Setting boundaries with food is extremely important, but before we dive into that, I want to recognize the destruction that can come from not preparing emotionally. Here are some of the ways I recommend setting emotional boundaries with friends and families.
- Understand your needs and honor them
- Do a check of your expectations: are they realistic? Have you communicated them with the people who you have expectations of? Adjust accordingly
- Be willing to leave situations that make you compromise your mental or physical health. Have an exit plan
- Be kind, but don't shy away from being assertive with your needs
- Know you don’t have to explain yourself (“No” is enough. Period.)
- Use “I” statements and speak from your needs (not “their” faults)
- Take time for yourself
- Learn to recognize when a boundary has been crossed in the moment (instead of on the car ride home). This way, you can address what has happened
Setting Boundaries With Food
Boundaries with food! I know. I AM that person that is going to bring this up during the most sugar-filled time of the year. Have you ever thought about how we look forward to January 1st with this expectation that we are suddenly going to be a new person who is great at sticking to a diet or lifestyle? And then we spend the month of December acting as this anti-ideal person and we feel sluggish and tired and blah and January 1st becomes this horrific day where we have to suddenly make a full turn around in our lives? No, you didn’t think about that? Is it just me?
When I say “setting boundaries with food” I am not talking about toxic diet culture. I am not going to sit here and shame you for anything or even make a specific recommendation of what you can or can’t eat. What setting boundaries does mean is that you are not going to give away all of your power to food for the sake of tradition.
Are you lactose intolerant but you decide to eat cheese anyway? Or you KNOW gluten will give you a headache and brain fog but “it’s a family recipe”. That is what I am talking about. If you have committed to living a healthy life for yourself, healing your body from pain or depression does not look like quitting just because it’s a holiday. Food should not have the power to make you sick and you want to know the worst part? When it comes to things you know make you sick, you are the only person who is giving food that power.
As you approach the holidays, here are a few tips on how to navigate them while staying in the driver’s seat:
- Hungry? Eat foods that fuel you first
- Know what the foods that fuel you are! For me (and probably for most of you), this is lean proteins and steamed veggies
- Stay hydrated
- Feeling anxious about having to eat out? Pack an easy snack in your bag for parties, or if it’s a restaurant, plan ahead for what you might order and what you might need to bring with you
- Don’t be afraid to eat ahead of time so that you know you can eat what is being prepared
- Learn to make recipes that are exciting to you! You don’t have to act deprived because you can’t have your aunts four-layer chocolate cake. Thanks to Pinterest, you can find practically any recipe you could ever want
- Learn how to make celebrating about more than food
The holidays are often tied closely to certain foods and tastes. My extended family used to have a whole recipe book dedicated just to what we would make for Christmas. But something happened. Throughout the years, we each began to experience our own health traumas and we learned that having holidays revolve around what we were eating just wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Know what it is you need when it comes to your food and hold this as a priority. I promise New Year’s Eve will still happen even if you don’t have half a bottle of champagne.
Setting Social Boundaries
The last area of my life I learned to bio-hack for my health during the holidays was my social boundaries. It is too easy to become stressed out and over-committed during this time of year and do you know what also is too easy? Emotional eating, getting sick and ending up in debt. Here are my tips for setting social and financial boundaries:
- Set a budget and stick to it. Period
- Start collecting people’s presents throughout the year when items are on sale
- Give gifts that give back
- Give gifts that cost your time, not your finances
- Learn to say no to parties
- Prioritize the people who REALLY matter
- Ask yourself: what do I need? If you need to rest, rest. If you need to reschedule, reschedule. I promise it won’t be the end of the world
- Create traditions that make you feel empowered like an end of the year hike with your closest friends
- Take time to give back. Practicing gratitude and even self-sacrifice for a cause you believe in will actually boost your mood and your health
These are just some of the ways I have learned to structure my holidays so that I can be free to live in health and stay present. What would help you do the same? If this is something you struggle with, pull one or two boundaries from each category and start there. It will be a growing process, I am sure of it, but give yourself grace! If you are trying and are determined to keep trying until you get it, that is the best present you can give yourself. I hope this month is one that encourages you and builds you up.