People think the holidays have to be unhealthy.
Or if they are to be healthy, then you have to sacrifice so much pleasure in order to make them so, that you can’t really enjoy them!
Being a psychologist who supports people with their eating, physical activity, weight, and body image, I know how these concerns can be a dark cloud over what we would ideally love to be a happy time, enjoyed with loved ones, yummy food, and maybe even a nice location to take us away from our everyday worries …
The first thing I want you to know is that if you don’t find Christmas (or any other holiday period) the Brady Bunch postcard experience that we are told it should be, you are far from alone. Speaking with my clients and Facebook support group members recently, here are some of my community’s not-so-happy-healthy-holiday experiences*:
I get worried about all the parties – what am I going to wear? Then worried about actually going – like what will I eat … and what will others think when they see me eating?
I find Christmas a really lonely time. I have my son with me for half the day and then I spend the rest of it alone as my family is all overseas. There’s not much to do on Christmas when you’re on your own as everything is closed, so not much to distract myself … apart from food, of course!
I usually host the family gathering and cater way too much food. I massively overeat to the point of discomfort and also tend to drink too much wine. Stuff always comes up with family, and it’s not a fun time for me. Basically I spend the day masking … trying to be happy and festive for my guests, but hiding my pain. The next couple of days are usually spent in pain as my IBS protests against my poor food choices. I usually end the whole thing completely exhausted, having gained weight, and thinking ‘I’ve done it again’.
So if you struggle during the holidays to be constantly happy, perfectly healthy, or even in the ‘holiday spirit’, I want you to know.
While some of my clients LOVE Christmas, it’s safe to say that others find it a struggle to stay happy and healthy (at least at the same time), and others still downright dread the holiday season …
But, it doesn’t have to be that way.
I used to struggle with feeling as though I had to choose between health and happiness during holiday times … and I no longer feel that way at all.
To show you a real life example of a happy healthy holiday, let me share with you my recent trip to Italy!
For my first overseas trip in over five years, I went to a friend’s wedding which was in a villa outside of Rome, then off to another villa in Tuscany (yes, I know, life is tough!), and finally to the Amalfi coast before flying home. And here’s how I had a happy, and a healthy, holiday …
While I ate and drank FREELY at the wedding, my intuitive eating (and drinking) compass remained with me. This means that, while I enjoyed all of the pizza, pasta, and prosciutto there was on offer, I balanced it with a nutritious breakky every morning, and the combination worked just fine for my body, and even surprised my team, who witness me eating the same lunch every day back at the office!
This cake and champagne are a symbol of love and celebration (not ‘
I had the best time at the second villa, reconnecting with good old friends and meeting some truly wonderful new ones. And, while there was a pool party every day (yes, EVERY DAY!), I partied in a way that honoured my values of caring for my body, which involved ‘back dooring**’ from some of the pool parties and creating other ways to have fun***.
The groom and I (two loud clothing aficionados!)
I knew that the various villas would be food and drink heavy affairs, so I booked four nights to myself at the Amalfi coast to unwind. While some people didn’t understand me taking this time for myself (‘you are missing seeing the birthplace of the Renaissance to go to the beach?’), I knew it was the right thing for me. It was a way to honour my inner introvert, do some much needed reflection and journaling, and relax in a way that grounds me and restores my energy. And I was fortunate enough to able to do it all while surrounded by the most unbelievably breathtaking sights.
A solo trip down to Fiordo di Furore … what a beautiful beach!
I also moved my body every day. I went on long sightseeing walks with friends, some blissful solo runs through the countryside, and even made makeshift exercise rooms in my little Airbnbs. While some would say I was wasting time with movement that could have been spent in museums, I decided I’d rather see those museums another time, and really enjoyed the completely free time to move my body without any distractions.
My makeshift movement area (ironically in the Airbnb’s ‘smoking room’!)
Did it require me thinking about how to have a happy and healthy holiday? It did – rather than just let it happen, I had to plan for an enjoyable time in a way that was also good for my body.
Did I have to listen to myself? I absolutely did – we’re probably not conditioned to have super healthy holidays, so it meant I had to prioritise what mattered to me over what is ‘normally’ done at times.
Was it perfect? Of course not – being single I felt lonely at times, and being a creature of habit I simultaneously thrived on and rued the newness of everything. I was in Italy, after all, not heaven****.
But, I had the best time ever, and it re-confirmed what I have been on an ongoing journey of discovering …
You CAN have happy healthy holidays!
Of course, you may not do it the way I did it (in fact, you probably wouldn’t!), but what I want you to know is that you can do it in a way that is right for you!
I don’t want you to feel as though holiday periods are times where you have to choose between being happy and being healthy, I want you to feel as though you can have both. Because you really can, and when you do, you’ll end up having a happier time and a healthier time – you’ll enjoy it even more as the dark cloud will have disappeared, leaving only the sunshine of a happy and healthy holiday.
I will write to you again soon, to share more details on how you can have happy healthy holidays, especially as we head into the Christmas period, and as always, I’d love to hear your experiences about having happy healthy holidays (any struggles, successes, or stories you’d like to share!).
Yours in having happy & healthy holidays,
*To protect my community members’ confidentiality and for the purposes of this blog, some of these comments have been edited slightly.
**A term I learned from my new UK mates, which means to disappear quietly without saying goodnight! Mostly this went unnoticed, although it did once result in my door getting banged on by a Negroni-fueled fiery Italian groom … all part of the fun 😉
***Another friend who was also health conscious and I decided we’d create some non-partying fun … and we hired a Lambo! While this would NOT be recommended for every party you attend (unless you hate your bank account – this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that my friend and I saved up for for six months!), oh my, was it F-U-N, and I personally can’t think of much better a reason to keep a drink out of my hand! 😳😉😁
Do you hate the colour of my lime green Lamborghini … sorry, I can’t hear you over the obnoxiously loud engine 😉
****Although one could argue that they’re pretty close! ☺