It would be a bit fraudulent for me to write to you about developing yet another health-supportive, weight-controlling habit while I digest the remains of the pecan-maple sticky buns, full-fat cheeses, syrupy, buttery sweet potatoes, bread and butter, sausage and pork roast I’ve served to my family today. While I wrap the last of the jars of herb tea I prepared as gifts for friends, I quaff the coffee I’ve laced with half-and-half. While I advise friends on all the merits of daily exercise, I’m spending every spare minute on my fanny, finishing up hand-made gifts.
Ah, the holidays, when good habits go bad.
But I do have a plan. I’ve chosen a date on my calendar — Monday, December 27, Back to Basics Day. On that day, all holiday slacking stops. I purge my house of holiday treats that found their way past my sensors. I mark my exercise “meetings” on my calendar, I add another 30 minutes per day to my regular exercise routine until the holiday weight creep is resolved. And I return to counting calories for one whole month. Every day for 30 days.
The deal is, I don’t have to sweat the holidays. I don’t have to make holiday food my enemy. I’m not quite as strict as usual. I even bought a bag of brown sugar and one of flour, and used them to make the holiday treats my husband’s father made for him every year. He loved them. It’s a bit of backsliding, alright. At the moment, we’re trying to get more done than we did last year in what seems like half the time. If we were trying to enforce our new way of eating in the middle of this, we would become very cranky people, indeed, or make our family cranky. Or both.
So we’re just giving it a small rest for a couple of weeks. No more. And on Back to Basics Day, we begin again. No impossible resolutions, no drama, nothing but a rededication to the healthy habits we work so hard to instill all year long: More vegetable-based foods, no bad fats, avoiding added sugar and refined grains, daily exercise.
There’s a strange psychology at play for me during this time. By having a clear end date in sight, the sweet foods have lost some of their power (although I still find that eating sweet food makes me want to eat more sweet food, and so I don’t eat it on an empty stomach, but only after my veggies and protein). I find the foods that in years past have served as guilty pleasures, food I might have snuck, or eaten when nobody was looking, are easier to manage if I know I may eat them without guilt. I know these foods taste good. I see other people enjoying them. I know I can have them if I want them. Maybe because I’ve given myself permission, I rarely want them. Or, I want them only when I’m hungry.
Knowing that on Back to Basics Day I’ll be putting in even more time at the gym, I’m more inclined to sneak in a few pushups or calf raises so I don’t lose all muscle tone in these couple of weeks off (amazing how much ground you can lose in two short weeks). I can feel my body looking forward to the gym. I can enjoy the time off without guilt, without feeling like a loser for not getting in the time right now. I do what I can, taking extra steps, climbing the stairs twice when once will do, finding exuses to walk just about anywhere. But soon I’ll get all the exercise I need.
Having a clear date in mind strips the guilt out of this time when keeping fitness and food habits in line is just too hard. Are you beating yourself up for your own imperfections? Stop, please, and put a big red X on your calendar. Decide what your Back to Basics Day will look like. Will you go back to your WeightWatchers class? Sign up for a new Kung Fu class? Start training for that Spring bike race? Will you count calories, portions, or cut out sugar for awhile? Make a plan. Write it down. Look forward to it.
Between now and then, I’ll be enjoying the holidays. I very much hope you will too.