Oh the holidays—a time for joy, and a time for stress. From office parties to last minute shopping, the holidays can be taxing to some. But the stress I observe the most in people passing through my health practice revolves around their discipline, or lack thereof, for moderation when it comes to indulging in the temptations waiting at the banquet table (or bar) during the holiday season.

I fully understand this stress, as I’ve been there plenty of times myself. Abstinence is not always an easy option, though; especially if you wish to keep your friends. I mean how do you refuse food and drink during these merriest of times? Frankly, your holiday diet will have little meaning to most party hosts, let alone other guests who can’t understand why you won’t try even one of those little powdered cookies. And what merit will it have for you, anyway, when the eggnog comes a-calling? No matter how you slice it, the pressure will be on.

But for you, the body you’ve worked on so hard over the summer does matter, and as we all know, a moment on the lips…

I am, therefore, going to share with you a couple possible solutions to this common holiday problem, which should help ease the stresses involved in choosing between your palate and your physique.

Solution #1: Utmost Discipline

The first is practicing the utmost moderation and discipline. It is simply saying, “No”—no to the cookies, no to the second cocktail, no to the extra plate of food—which will require a Herculean stoutness, as temptations have a way of preoccupying one’s mind. But if you are firm in your convictions, of what you are striving for, then you can focus on that, and it should help you overcome most persuasions.

To master the mind in this capacity, I suggest writing down fifty to one hundred ways in which practicing restraint can help you achieve your goals. Whether that goal is to maintain your figure or to preserve vitality, whatever we want badly enough (our values) has a way of keeping us on purpose, despite temptations. And by putting pen to paper, not only will you establish it firmly in your mind, but the process of writing has a profound ability to make things happen. Some have said that nothing exists until it is written down.

Although this first option of practicing discipline is by far the more boring of the two, in some regards it may be the best for your health. And in the big picture, practicing discipline is the best approach toward mastering your life. But it is also the more immediately difficult of the two options, and if you can’t seem to hold yourself to it, then you’ll want to try option number two.

Solution #2: Moderation & Exercise

The second potential solution is for you to sustain your exercise regimen throughout the holiday season. Although continuing to exercise will not counter the effects of eating too much sugar or drinking too much alcohol, it will most certainly help you preserve two important factors: your figure and the habit of exercising.

I find that the single most detrimental behavior during the holidays is allowing oneself to get too busy to exercise. Put simply: You can’t have your Christmas cake and eat it too. In other words, you cannot both drop your discipline at the banquet table, and the gym, and not expect to suffer the consequences. The reason so many people resort to the New Year’s “weight-loss resolution” is that they feel guilty over giving in to all their indulgences over the holidays. Why waste time with another unresolved New Year’s fantasy? If you must give in, then simply stick to your workout regimen. I assure you that, at the very least, it will subdue some of the guilt that has people stressing the most over the holidays—that they are undoing what they’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Listen, I have lived a life of excess, as well as an undisciplined life. I remember the self-defeating thoughts that followed the few weeks of giving in to my indulgences. It becomes a vicious cycle—feel like dirt, beat yourself up, indulge in defeat, feel more like dirt, and so on. I personally do not advocate complete abstinence, because I believe that this frame of mind has the highest probability of leading to binge and purge behavior—not the best habit for one’s health.

I am much more supportive of the moderation-is-best mentality, as well as maintaining health habits whenever possible, particularly when one area may get challenged, like during the holidays.

3 Choices…

So, ultimately, you have three choices: Practice the utmost discipline, and put not one cookie crumb to mouth, practice moderation and continue to exercise diligently throughout the holidays, or do neither and stress out. For my money, I’d enjoy the holidays in full-but-modest-fashion, and simply work out regularly the way I always do (but not more), so that when the festivities are over, I am still in my groove, and I don’t have to fantasize about all the weight I am going to lose in the New Year. Happy Holidays.

3 Responses to Keep it Real: A Holiday Stress Secret

  1. Marc says:

    Great article Dr. Nick. May I say that the hardest thing is #1. It requires a lot to be very disciplined. Writing down your goals will help. And you’re right, when you know your long-term goals, you tend to become more aware of what you need to do ‘now’ to get them.

  2. Me says:

    I loathe the holidays as a single 40 something with elderly, ill family members – it feels so hollow and I’d rather go to sleep and wake up and have it over. Christ is lost in Christmas to me. Wish I felt the Spirit – but I don’t.

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