It’s the week after Thanksgiving. Holiday songs are blaring in the stores, you’ve probably eaten turkey-and-cranberry sandwiches for dinner at least three nights in a row, and on every street corner and magazine cover, messages of holiday cheer are warring with holiday warnings for your attention. “Six scrumptious pumpkin recipes!” grapples with “Watch what you eat!” and you’re supposed to look forward to parties while suspecting your friends, carolers, Santa’s reindeer, and Jack Frost of sabotaging your diet, fitness routine, and hard-earned self-positive attitude. So much for peace on earth, right?
It’s true that the holidays can be fraught with stress and peril. It’s a time that comes with a lot of built-in expectations for how we’re supposed to feel (joy! gratitude!) and behave (party! celebrate!), and being merry and bright 24/7 takes a toll. On top of that, you’re supposed to sync the holiday whirlwind with your regular schedule, finding time for nourishing meals and your fitness routine. Does your office becomes a winter wonderland of candy and cookies? There’s sure to be an article warning you of the dangers of indulging, or recommending the least damaging option for your waistline. Or maybe you have a well-meaning friend, co-worker, or family member who likes to remind you how many calories are in that delicious piece of peppermint bark. It’s not easy, but there are ways to insulate yourself from the holiday heckling.
The first thing to remember is that this is your holiday season. Your body, your schedule, your choices. If you want to skip an invitation and squeeze in a long run, that’s your right. If you want to have a large glass of eggnog… I doubt it will do any lasting damage (unless the alcohol content is high and you find yourself freestyling to Little Drummer Boy… which might actually make you the hit of the party). The way most people think of it, the holiday season is trench warfare on your body, and the first month of New Year’s resolutions is the cavalry charge. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Make manageable commitments to health, and keep your fitness goals in mind. Are you trying to make it to the gym four times a week? You might have to get creative (pre-work or lunchtime workouts), but you can still make your sessions. Or adjust your plan slightly: can you be active at home? One of my favorite ways to build up a sweat on busy days is high intensity interval training. A friend sent me to Bodyrock, which is a fantastic resource for moves and routines that will have you panting and sweating buckets in under 15 minutes. All you need is a round timer (I downloaded a free application for my phone). Some exercises call for weighted balls, duffel bags, or dip stations, but I’ve been able to MacGuyver most accessories from household items. If you’re staying active, it’s easier to silence all the voices (internal and external) nagging you about those festive cheese balls.
Personally, I build room for indulgences into my mentality. Rigid abstention simply doesn’t work for me. When it comes to food, I’m a sensualist; from smooth butternut squash soup to crispy fried shallots, I treasure taste and texture. I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically virtuous in not having dessert. But there are those who think it’s their business that you’ve had second helpings of cornbread stuffing. What makes it their business? Unless they’re your doctor… absolutely nothing. People love to lecture or advise. When I’m feeling charitable, I tell myself it’s based on good intentions. If I’m annoyed, I tell myself that they’re too insecure to enjoy a treat guilt-free, and they’re trying to share the guilt. But guilt is one present I won’t accept this year.
The best defense against a guilt onslaught is to simply not engage. Anyone asking “should you really be eating that?” doesn’t really care about the answer. They just want you to deal with the question. A gym that puts a “don’t look like Santa– work off that bowlful of jelly!” sign in its window just wants your foot in the door and your membership dues in the accounts. Don’t fall for the guilt. You know your body. You know that whether you had roasted kale and lentils for dinner, or three candy canes and a double serving of latkes, you are in charge, and you don’t need to answer to anyone. Treating yourself one night isn’t the end of the world. Having a gingerbread snack attack isn’t going to undermine all your workouts, healthy recipes, and year-round badassitude. This year, give yourself the gift of self-confidence.