‘PILLOWY mounds of mashed potatoes... Butter drenched dressing... Tiny onions, swimming in a sea of cream sauce. Aaaaaahhhhhh."
These words no doubt elicit the pavlovian dog in all of us, and Uncle Phil did say it best when he levelled that he couldn't give up his favourite holiday foods cold turkey. Undoubtedly, wintertime is the season for (over)indulgence and December takes the cake when it comes to calorie racketeering. Not only do we fill our figurative plates with pastries, sweets, and spirits, but we are also yanked away from routine and normal commitments, only to have them replaced with gatherings, cash register lines, and lazy days off. These weeks can be stressful and rushed, and once peace arrives we feel we deserve a break -- and we do, but how you decide to spend and manage both your rushed and relaxation time will determine whether or not you exit the holidays with a sense of satisfaction and self-control, or a new notch on your belt.
Stay rooted in routine:
I realize this time of year is an opportunity for us to step back from our everyday commitments, but whether it's an early morning workout or a simple, healthy breakfast with the newspaper, the things that keep you going on a day to day basis during the rest of the year are the things that can provide you normalcy during the holidays. If you find yourself stressing about holiday life, slow things down and take even just a half-hour to re-gather your thoughts and yourself during an activity that is meant to benefit you. Even though it may seem as though you're momentarily falling behind, your productive side will thank you in the long run.
Enjoy SOME food and drink. SOME:
This is NOT the time to initiate a new, positive change in your diet and unfortunately, when December rolls around, our friends and family can be our biggest foe if we don't understand WHY everyone is forcing food down our gullets. Assuming you are not friends with the guys from Epic Mealtime, comfort food is socially necessary and creates a weird, unique bond between people -- and why should we remove that aspect of the holidays? For the extremists out there, this may come at a bit of a shock, but if my fitness/health goals stand between me and one or two of my mother's chocolate peanut butter balls, then I don't want to be fit. The key to success is acknowledging you may take in a few extra unhealthy calories over the next few weeks. Exercising restraint and knowing that this (small) indulgence must be offset by some form of activity will leave you and your loved ones satisfied that everyone is bonding through nostalgic holiday fare as opposed to angrily and repeatedly refusing to eat even a small piece of grandma's cherry pie. Again, if your favourite holiday treat is cocktail weenies wrapped in bacon and drenched in butter and maple syrup -- it's time to reassess more than just your December eating habits.
Burn off those calories with the ones you love:
'Tis the season to be together, and those great people that gave you all that great food probably need to sweat a little bit too. Replacing sedentary family activities with games or outings that get you active will ensure that everyone is happy and healthy come new-years. Cold-snaps aside, walking, tobogganing, skating, skiing, heck -- snowshoeing -- are fun ways to bond over something other than crib and the fire log on TV. Even indoor activities such as doing the dishes, cleaning the house or more active/engaging board games can help boost that merry-metabolism. For some reason, there are always more kids around during the holidays; horse around with them for a while and you'll both be tuckered out in no time.
If you made it through this article and all the verbal food-porn without running to the kitchen for a snack -- you have demonstrated this common-sense approach to holiday balance. If you manage to maintain your pre-December stress diet, and exercise levels all month; I applaud you. If you're ready to admit bolstering your relationship with friends and family with some food and relaxation means you will have to offset the excess at some point with some hard work, then you're ready to enjoy the holidays realistically.
Tim Shantz is a certified athletic therapist and personal trainer.