"MAKING HOLIDAY CHOICES WORK FOR YOU!" - Part II
As a single person living alone, I think it's important to recognize how the loneliness of the holidays can effect your eating. I have a few ideas for those who will not be having family gatherings.
It's important not to lose sight of the significance of the holidays, even if they cannot include all the festivities or family members you may be use to in the past. Ignoring the holiday because you may live alone is not a good idea. Just like in the diet mentality of denial, it can end up bothering you more than you want it to. If you have, in the past, gotten tangled up in the loneliness- leads-to-eating cycle, take the time now to prepare a different plan.
I have found simple ways to keep the holidays cheerful when I am alone. I do decorate my living space. Not usually more than a few items, but I do set out a few things that make me smile and several seasonal candle arrangements. I have at times gone out of my way to prepare a wonderful dinner and set the table with nice decorations even though it was only me to enjoy it. At other times, I have gone to a restaurant as a way to celebrate without having all the leftovers. One year I made a low carb meat and cheese tray and snacked while watching a few holiday films. It was my choice to make the best of the situation.
Isolation is not a good idea. If you prefer company and have no one close by, consider volunteer work during this time. Rocking babies in a hospital nursery, visiting the elderly in a nursing home, preparing food for the homeless can take away the feeling of being disconnected from people.
You can always throw a party! This can be any style and as simple or extravagant as you would like. One of the best parties I ever had included only 2 other people, a neighbor and a co-worker! I served Cornish game hens, broccoli spears wrapped in bacon and red peppers, curried deviled eggs and a great Merlot. They never knew or cared if it was low carb!
If loneliness hits you hard, take the self-nurturing initiative to reach out and talk to someone. This can be through an email list, a friend, co-worker or family member. Eating off plan is guaranteed to cause lethargy and angry feelings. It never made anyone feel better for more than 2 minutes and the consequences often are far worse than the original problem ever was. Try to find the balance between what you enjoy doing and keeping the holidays significant in some way. It can be a very rewarding and pleasant gift to yourself.
A few years ago I sat at a holiday dinner miserable and tense as I tried not to look at all the foods I would not be eating. I didn't want it to bother me so much, but it did. My resolve was strong and I knew the consequences of eating off my low carb plan. I had prepared myself beforehand and was determined to have a low carb holiday. There wasn't really anything high carb I was desperate to have, it was more that I just felt deprived. Like I was being tested and that in my mind this was all about my resisting certain foods. I was not enjoying the holiday at all.
I stayed true to my plan and was proud of myself for such determination to shine through the endless temptations placed before me. I was even smug in feeling great after the meal as other family members moaned and groaned over eating too much. As I drove home that evening I had the most overwhelming desire to stop at the store and grab "something". The struggle was mild at the holiday dinner compared to the roaring beast in my head now. I deserved some fun! And to me, food was fun and I was denied that fun part at this meal.
It doesn't matter if I succumbed or not. We often tend to think of the win or lose aspect of this struggle, but in reality it is the "struggle" we should be looking at. Just why did I go through all these mixed feelings about a meal? What importance did I place on this holiday meal and why? I was so focused on the food I could and couldn't have, that I didn't have a good time.
It isn't so easy to untangle all the associations we have about a holiday. So much of it is wrapped up in childhood memories, cultural and religious traditions and in the idea of celebrating. For us, often the food took center stage. It was a time of indulgence and comfort eating. Feasting.
For me, it was never the actual meal itself that I had trouble with, it was the all the opportunities before and after the holiday to eat that caused me the most trouble. Office treats and potlucks, friends giving boxes of candy, stores and restaurants swelling with special treats and foods not found any other time of year. Family members making their specialties. It was all there to sample. I really wanted to believe that a little bit wouldn't hurt. But I knew it would not stop at a taste or a bite, because I didn't really want to stop. I wanted the freedom of indulging. It would grow into a monster of a battle. But hey, the New Years Resolution would surely save me! Let go now and be saved by the magic of the eternal promise….I WILL NEVER DO THIS AGAIN, FOR TOMORROW I DIET!
This never worked. Each holiday I went through the same thing. Same determination to make it through a meal, diet-perfect and on plan and each year. I resented it. I decided that I needed to learn how to deal with this so that I could be happy and could enjoy the holiday and I could get through it all without the eternal food struggle. I wanted to relax and enjoy the time. Is it really possible?
We have all tried settling up rules for ourselves in the past, thinking it was the answer. I WILL NOT EAT THIS. Think about how much effort and thought went into what we wouldn't eat compared to relishing what we could eat? How many times did we just hope there was going to be enough of what we can eat available? Is there perhaps a hidden agenda with not planning? Letting there be an excuse to say "I HAD to eat this…there was nothing else!"
Planning to set priorities is a positive experience. It's much different than making promises and rules of what you are and are not going to eat. The old saying "if you fail to plan, you plan to fail" is so true with low carbers. It's time to take real life approaches to holiday eating. It is time to stop dreading the temptations and obsessing over them! Instead, discover what you CAN do to make it work for you. We suggest that you start with a very simple but very important concept:
What is the most important thing(s) I want to experience during this holiday?
It could be anything. It could be several things. Write them all down. Let the ideas just come to you. Then look closely at what you could let go of at this time in order to make it easier on yourself. Don't fall into the trap of making strict rules; just guide yourself gently into a workable plan. Think of what you can do this holiday season that will bring you relief instead of stress. Can someone else do the baking this year? Can you prepare lower carb versions of favorite foods? Can you opt out of the cookie exchange this year? Can you be honest with yourself about you what you can and what you cannot handle? Are you eating more high fat content foods during this time to keep you appetite manageable? Do you have low carb snacks available at all times?
Then write down all the known situations you will participate in. Office parties? Potlucks? Family baking sessions? More than one meal for each holiday due to family situations? Are you in charge of cooking or is someone else? Again, what can you do to help yourself through these situations? Can you pinpoint what situations cause you too much stress and find a way to alter the outcome? We are not giving you direct answers; we are guiding you into finding these possibilities yourself. Self discovery is the object!
Balancing a holiday is not as difficult as it may seem if you are honest with yourself. I know that I cannot handle chaos well. Too much commotion from large family gatherings can make me tense. Recognizing this in myself, I often retreat a little too some place quiet, another room, a walk down the driveway for some fresh air or find a quiet corner and talk to just one person for awhile. Look at your situation and what may bring stress and actively plan out some alternatives.
I know that the majority of holiday foods my family prepares are low carb. Plenty of meats, vegetables and salad. I am never without options. However, when I am invited to another home or office party, I do inquire about the menu. If the menu is too high in carb and there are not enough options, I make a decision to eat before hand if it is inappropriate to offer to bring a dish to share. There have been some situations I did not feel I could handle well and opted not to go. But be careful with this type of decision. Participation is important in life, but you always have the option to make a wise choice about it. The event I decided against was a holiday bake sale and unfortunately I was in a stressful period in my life. I recognize that tempting myself was not a challenge to test out, but a near guarantee to set myself up to fail.
In many families there are certain holidays where traditional foods are an important part of the celebration. I discovered a long time ago, refusing to partake in some of them was a denial of my own pleasure in participating in the rituals of my family and heritage. However, I had to be gut-level honest with myself when choosing which foods were true parts of the celebration or ritual and limit the amount or find an equivalent. I am also careful not to apply this to every single holiday situation, only the ones most important to me and the family. Whenever I can make a lower carb version, I opt for it. When I cannot, I take a couple of bites and leave the rest. This attitude of allowing what you can manage without a struggle makes it much easier to ignore the foods that are really just indulgence and not necessary to your health.
Relaxing and Enjoying Festivities
This is a little trickier. Holidays can be so stressful and demanding that the stress level is higher than the enjoyment level. Often we have such an overwhelming desire to just let go and enjoy ourselves. AND WE SHOULD! This is a perfect time to break the connection of eating to reduce stress and try out some new non-food activities.
One of the most underrated activities is sleeping a little more. Give up some television time to sleeping. Walk around the block everyday. It's the little things that just give you a little breathing time alone. Do what you enjoy and be selfish about it. Taking the time to nurture yourself will go a long way to help reduce stress. The less stressed you are, the easier it is to be connected to your low carb plan and your goals.
Have you ever thought of introducing a new tradition to your holiday? A candlelight reading of a favorite story or religious text? A family skate party? A picture puzzle night? An annual family scrap book contribution? There are many ideas that you can bring to your own situation and take away the focus on food. Make this a non-food event by serving only beverages. You may even want to eliminate other excess food related traditions and replace them with activities.
If the holidays in the past have become nothing more than chaos and stress filled endurance tests, it is time to re-evaluate the importance and significance of what the holiday means to you and what you want out of the experience. You can change your priorities and develop strategies to eliminate all the excess that can surround a holiday and instead place a priority on healthier alternatives that can become a part of your low carb lifestyle. Stop the crazy cycles that are making each holiday a battle to stay on a diet or a falling off the wagon episode. Holidays are a real life situation that can be enjoyable and meaningful if you seek it. Your attitude and willingness to work through the variety of situations surrounding holiday time help you develop skills that are an asset to your low carb lifestyle. Happy Holidays!