With Halloween in the rear-view mirror and Thanksgiving at the next exit, the holiday season is upon us. It is meant to be a joyous time of time-honored traditions, faith, and precious time with loved ones.
But for anyone who’s ever struggled with excess weight, negative body image, or poor self-esteem, it can also be a season of guilt and self-loathing. From that first bite of Halloween candy to the New Year’s celebration – there is so much pressure to indulge in treat after treat.
Welcome to what some refer to as the “Sugar Holidays.”
After decades of personal experience and working with many fabulous women from around the globe, I know first-hand that women are eager to embrace a happier, healthier life. And we want it right now. We expect a supermodel in the mirror the moment we start eating the “right” foods.
And then the Sugar Holidays overwhelm us. We must balance our quest for the “perfect” body with the desire to be the “perfect” guest or hostess. If Grandma spent all day preparing her fabulous fantasy fudge, it’s a lose-lose. If we savor one itty-bitty bite, we beat ourselves up for “lack of willpower.” If we turn it down, we feel like the grumpy holiday witch. How could we break Grandma’s heart after she worked so hard in the kitchen?
‘Tis the Season for Too Much Sugar
Let’s face it. Sugar is so blissful to eat. And once you eat that first delectable cookie, it’s almost impossible to resist the second. And the third. And so on. During the Sugar Holidays, this scenario cranks up way past 11. Here’s why:
- Sugar Is Available. A familiar line of thinking is that, once the holidays hit, we’re “toast” for two months. There are so many food-related activities with tons of sugar surrounding us at every turn. So between Halloween and New Year’s Eve, we’re practically swimming in sweetness.
- Sugar Is Instant Gratification. On top of the abundance of sugar, there’s also a heaping helping of holiday stress. We have to choose the right gifts, make travel reservations, get the house ready, and more – all on top of work, school, making time for our mates, and all the rest. When we’re stressed, we’re more impulsive. That often includes reaching for sugar – and when we’re navigating the sugarplum wonderland of the holidays, there’s even more sweet stress relief at every turn.
- Sugar Is Addictive. Did you know there’s actual research suggesting that the brain responds the same way to Oreo cookies as it does to cocaine? That’s because sugar activates the same “pleasure” chemicals that tell you “this is bliss!” So it’s not your imagination that it’s hard to resist sugary foods. It’s also why a high-sugar diet becomes the norm for so many of us. And when you’re surrounded by stress triggers and comforting sweets during the Sugar Holidays, it’s one of the most enabling environments you’ll find anywhere.
Holiday weight gain is something most of us are familiar with. But long-term, a high-sugar diet can also mess with your metabolism, your blood pressure, and your body’s ability to process fatty foods. We also experience guilt. We beat ourselves up for “giving in.” Why couldn’t we think of some polite way to turn down Grandma’s goodies? Holiday weight gain can also exacerbate feelings of hating our bodies and believing that we fall short of the “thin ideal” that comes to us from the media as well as our peers.
Embracing Holiday Health with the Gift of Self-Love
So how do we get it right? How do we balance what we know about the effects of too much sugar with the need to allow ourselves to partake in the occasional indulgence?
This is where the healing power of radical self-love comes in. It starts when you look in the mirror, recognize the beautiful spirit looking back at you and say, “I love you.” It continues when you appreciate the beautiful body in which your spirit resides. Radical self-love brings a new realization: it’s not about fitting somebody else’s idea of the perfect body. It’s about embracing the authentic person you already are, and becoming your own personal best.
When the Sugar Holidays roll around, the gift of radical self-love helps you cope with the abundance of holiday stress and seasonal sugar.
- Practice Mindfulness. Take a slow, deep breath and release the instant gratification mindset. Rome wasn’t built in a day! Give yourself the freedom to savor your journey one day at a time, one step at a time, even during the dizzy-busy holidays!!!
When you slow it down, your thinking becomes clearer. You become more patient with yourself and others. You remember that you have a choice to make, even when you’re in “impulse mode.” If you know ahead of time that a high-sugar event is coming, you balance things out by choosing a healthier meal in between the not-so-healthy goodies at the party. Remember, your warrior woman’s journey is a process – not a pill!
- Look for Sweetness Outside of Food. What do you love about your favorite holidays besides food? Maybe it’s catching up with relatives. Maybe it’s getting out the decorations. Or the bustle of the shopping center. Or watching football, for you sports fans. Maybe it’s the message of peace, hope, and love of your faith tradition.
Remember, life is sweet away from sweets. By immersing yourself in all of these other things, the food becomes a side-show instead of the main event!
- Embrace Forgiveness – For Yourself and Others! Finally, when you treat yourself to the gift of radical self-love, you’ll discover the healing power of forgiveness. And that happens when you let go of perfectionism. Believe it or not, you can enjoy Grandma’s holiday goodies and embrace a healthier life overall.
Isn’t that contradictory? No, not at all. You see, self-love means balance. It means establishing healthy habits, and giving yourself permission to indulge at the right times. One suggestion I often give people of all ages is to find the sweetness in life and to use sugar as an occasional add-on to savor and enjoy – and not an everyday comfort.
Don’t deny yourself the joy of participating in your favorite holiday traditions. And instead of beating yourself up with draconian resolutions to follow some joyless fad diet and punishing exercise regimen, start this New Year on a happier note.
Why not resolve to love yourself first? Why not embrace the process of taking care of your body, mind, and spirit? One thing I’ve learned is that we only really “arrive” when we die. So, as long as you’re alive, your journey continues. As long as your heart is still beating, it is never too late to accomplish your personal goals of a more positive body image, better health, and a happier outlook on life.
And that’s a gift that’ll last long after the decorations come down!