5 top hacks to prevent sabotaging your health this holiday season
Are you ready for what lies ahead this festive party season? It’s a crazy time, I know. You’re trying to get your business and career goals set for 2019, while making room for all the invites you’ve received as well as planning your own family stuff. The FOMO is real! And you don’t want to disappoint.
All of this pressure and temptation to eat, drink and be merry during what can be a very stressful time often results in us neglecting our health. We push through, we make do, we fear disappointing others or being judged for not taking part. We want to have a good time, but we get to the inevitable point where we are actually grimacing beneath the smiles after the umpteenth roast turkey dinner! This has a high cost to our health and can really damage the way we end this year and start the next (fatigued, anxious, bloated, burnt out, overwhelmed, toxic—you name it!)
The good news is that you can still participate in the festivities but in a way that is more balanced and allows you to look after yourself and maintain your health. Research shows how impactful high leverage points can be (small efforts for big changes in behaviour), so follow these 5 top hacks to feel cleaner, leaner, and more energised!
HACK #1 | Plan outdoor activities and indoor sports into your holiday timetable
If you know you are going to lots of parties and visiting family across the whole season, then a great hack is to move more. You can do this by making movement and physical activities a condition of getting together with people.
Don’t wait for other people to make the suggestion though. We can only control what we can control. We cannot control or change the actions of others, so you need to be the one to raise your hand and take the lead on this.
Here are some ideas to get you started. Create some of your own with your friends and family, then get scheduling!
Ten Pin Bowling
Actual ski slope!
HACK #2 | Swap and substitute
This one is for applying to the food that you will buy and eat over the season. Here you have a lot more control, and because you know it’s coming you can plan in advance (unlike a last-minute party you tag along to as a friend of a friend).
With a few simple swaps and substitutes you can shed a lot of unnecessary dense calories. This is not a diet. It’s not restriction. The aim is balance and moderation. You can still partake in the fun but also take care of you at the same time by incorporating some highly nutritious and delicious foods that will boost your energy, mood, and immunity. After all, it’s a stressful enough time as it is; look after yourself and you will be able to better look after your guests and enjoy your time together.
Here are a few ideas to get you going, and you can Google some extras to add to your menu too!
Swap… For… Benefit
Roasted white potatoes Roasted purple potatoes Higher in antioxidants
Milk chocolate Dark chocolate Half the sugar amount
Iceberg lettuce Cos Lettuce More vitamins and minerals
‘low fat’ muesli Porridge Oats Less sugar
Deli ham Sliced turkey Higher protein, lower calories
Tonic water Sparkling water Lower sugar
Cream Greek Yoghurt Protein and lower in saturated fat
Cheese and crackers Cheese and Apple Slices Fewer carbs
HACK #3 | Use Checks and Balances
For situations where you have little or no control over what you eat (Christmas parties, dinner at friends, Boxing Day with Auntie Jane) you can perform a skill I call Checks and Balances. It’s useful because it ensures you don’t completely blow out or binge, and helps you keep mental track of your food intake over the week. In fact, it’s a fantastic way to increase the habit of mindful eating!
It’s in two parts, and here’s how it works:
Here’s how you set up; you’re at a work Christmas party where the food is very carb and fat heavy (chips, cakes, pies, pastas, etc). You do a scan of the room and a) you pick up the smaller plate to put your food onto; b) you find the green where you can and fill up half your plate (even if it’s just carrot sticks); then c) you go wholemeal and brown on the starches.
Here’s the real skill: make a conscious decision about which ‘treat’ food you will enjoy (because you agree it’s not healthy to have them all!) If you decide to have the chips, you consciously and happily forgo the cake. If you decide to have an alcoholic drink on arrival, you consciously and happily have water with dinner. If you decide to have the roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding, you consciously and happily forgo dessert (or choose the fruit option).
You can apply this throughout your week too, for example; “I had pudding yesterday, so I won’t today,” or, “I only drank water yesterday, so I will have one glass of wine today.” The most important thing about it is that you are mindful (it’s not a diet) and that you perform your Checks and Balances consciously and happily.
HACK #4 | Obligation is not a requirement
Not disappointing others comes at the cost of disappointing yourself. You hear the voice inside you scream as your hand goes to the plate “You don’t want this why did you take it? Now you have to eat it otherwise it’ll be rude!” I get it. The fear of disappointing dear old Nanna by refusing a second one of her homemade mince pies is real. It’s easier to avoid confrontation. It feels safer to avoid being judged.
But is it though? Is this how a successful person behaves, caving under the pressure of other people’s expectations? How does future you feel about it?
Be an adult and take responsibility for your choices. Peer pressure is something we should have left behind at school. This kind of people pleasing at the detriment to your own health is not useful and does NOT serve you. If a person is going to judge you for saying no that is THEIR issue, not yours. Accept your own stuff, but don’t dig yourself a grave of self-sabotage and shame by appeasing other people’s stuff. This will require conscious effort and is just like building a muscle—practice will make it stronger.
HACK #5 | Ask your future self how they feel about it
Short term gratification often trumps long term gain. It’s why change is so hard. Our brains were wired for this. ACT NOW OR DIE.
It can be hard to fight, but one way to build the muscle of discipline is to have a conversation with your future self. It’s an incredibly powerful exercise, but before we get into that, it’s key to build some awareness about how this battle in our brain works.
Did you know the primary source of fuel for the brain is glucose? So, of course you light up when it sees the chocolates on the coffee table. It’s quick energy! The brain also prefers to conserve energy for our survival because it makes the reptilian flight or fight mechanism easy to activate.
But as intelligent beings living in an era of too much stuff, it is of much greater benefit not to be ruled by our 500-million-year-old reptilian brain. The part that tells you “this is bad for you,” is your cortex. It’s much younger (5 times younger) but is responsible for the miracle of being human. It’s the home of rational thought, and it’s got a big part to play in why we are the dominant species on Earth.
To exercise our higher rational brain, before you decide about something, picture your future self in your head, and have a quick conversation with them about it.
“How do you feel about this?”
“What will happen if I do this?”
“Does this choice take us to where we want to be?”
These are powerful questions that your future self (also your core self or your gut instinct) will know the answers to. Use this higher self as your guide and, and along with the other 5 hacks, you will surely prevent sabotaging your health this holiday season!
By Hayley Smith, creator and head coach of Haylstorm Fitness