Tips for Staying the Course during the Holidays

(And enjoying them too!)


Call me a humbug, a Grinch or a scrooge. I strongly dislike this time of year. People who are normally pleasant and high-functioning become angry, exasperated, aggravated and anxious during the holidays. We overeat, over drink and generally over-party. That’s what we are supposed to do. Correct? Wrong! But that’s what happens to a lot of us who succumb to familial, work or peer pressure to ‘celebrate’ until we bust.

But holiday celebrations don’t have to be synonymous with overindulging. We can focus instead on deepening relationships, meeting new people, sharing good experiences and enjoying family and friends. The holidays don’t have to be an excuse for not exercising and not eating well.

The way I learned to eliminate stress during the holidays is to do away with all the traditional rituals that make me crazy. I buy very few presents and NEVER send them on time for Christmas (I call them New Year’s gifts). It keeps me from standing in long lines at the post office. I attend very few parties and try to keep to my regular work and exercise routine. I don’t decorate and I don’t listen to Christmas music.

Paul Rosenzweig

There are many less extreme ways to stay focused, stay calm, stay healthy and enjoy the holidays with family and friends. I’ve asked a colleague and a few friends what they do this time of the year to stay the course.  Underlying all their suggestions is that being present or ‘mindful’ during any holiday scenario is what keeps them in control. Knowing yourself, your likes, dislikes and limitations is key to keeping on track. Planning ahead is another theme all practice. Not beating yourself up if you overindulge. You always get another chance to do it right.

Start With the Basics

Jana Lerbach is a personal trainer and yoga instructor who has found success from her own weight loss journey (she has kept about 45 pounds off for 15 years). She is very much aware of how social occasions may trigger stress eating and exercise neglect. Jana said she starts with basics. She does foam rolling (fascia release) and breathing exercises daily. She also aims for seven to nine hours of sleep every night. “It’s healing for the mind, body and soul. If I’m tired I compensate by eating. If I’m rested I’m less likely to make impetuous or not so good decisions during the holidays.”

Jana Lerbach

Jana also said that finding things in your life to be grateful about every day can help you become more relaxed and positive. “Thinking about or writing down things you are grateful for activates your parasympathetic nervous system which keeps you centered.” Jana also asks for support from either her husband or a friend before she goes to a holiday party. “I am more motivated if I have someone keeping me accountable.”

“I have conversations with myself all the time.” she said. “I ask myself ‘if I drink or eat more, how will that make me feel? I know that alcohol disrupts sleep and if I don’t sleep well I’m unbearable.”

Be Flexible

Monika Ringuette, who is a stay-at-home mom with two teenagers, lost 30 pounds a year and a half ago. She makes exercise and eating well a priority. “To stay in shape this holiday season, planning ahead and thinking big picture is key. I look at the week ahead and schedule time at the gym. Even if I travel I have a vacation work out planned. I also have learned how to be flexible and to adapt tin a positive way when unexpected things come up.” Monika has learned how to be mentally flexible and to always have a Plan B. “Most important, if all else fails that day, I’ll just let it go and get back to my routine as soon as I can.”

Monika Ringuette

Monika finds healthful eating is about balance. “During the holidays I still enjoy every minute of eating and drinking at parties. I never feel deprived. I just get a plate and take a taste of anything that looks really good to me. If I’m going out, I try to be mindful about the other meals I have that day. I go back to that “big picture” outlook about how I’ve eaten during the week.”

Pay It Forward

“Everyone knows we are going to eat during the holidays. Frankly, parties wouldn’t be any fun if you went planning to only have seltzer and eat celery sticks. But there are ways I plan ahead and stop the bloat,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a lawyer and author and founder of a homeland security consulting company. Paul, like Monika, plans ahead. “I pay the price first,” he explained. “I used to eat heavily at a party and tell myself I’ll make up for it tomorrow. That didn’t work for me. The better way is to know that a party event is coming up and plan for it.” Paul eats lightly and exercises the day before. “Then I don’t feel guilty eating at the party. I’ve also compensated for my pleasure in advance. I feel both virtuous and liberated.”

Tom Wiener

Tom Wiener, who is retired and recently lost more than 15 pounds through a moderate change in diet and exercise, said he does not use the holidays as an excuse to let himself go. “I am officially weight-conscious without being obsessive or prescriptive. I never feel it’s rude to turn down a refill on hard liquor or wine. I have a weakness for sweets, but I’ve trained myself to say no to a second dessert.”

“Saying no to food or drink that will tip the scale upward or put your mind into a blurry state shouldn’t be considered an act of virtue, just common sense,” said Tom.  “It’s corny to say, but I get high on just being with friends and family and enjoying their company and fellowship. Overindulging dulls that high, even if it’s tempting to think it enhances it.”

We all have to find our own way to make this season fun as well as healthy. None of us want to wake up January 1 only to realize we’ve gained 5 or even 10 pounds over the past six weeks. How we handle potentially stressful situations during the holidays is in our control. We all have choices,

If you’d like to contact Jana:

Pattie Cinelli is a health/fitness professional who writes about subjects on the leading edge of health and fitness thought. She has been writing her column for more than 25 years and welcomes column suggestions and fitness questions.

Pattie is a certified functional aging specialist who works with baby boomers. She will be moving her fitness business to the Delaware beach. Pattie offers private health/fitness evaluations and recommendations in person and affordable personal training sessions via Skype. You can contact Pattie at: