Sunday, December 27, 2015

Maintaining Health During the Holidays: Coping with Food, Alcohol, Spending and more

Michele Happe MA

The holiday season is filled with expectations.  It is family time and a time for giving.  We are bombarded with ads showing happy healthy families together as well as pressure to buy expensive articles commencing with "black Friday" sales. 

Food is an  ever present focus of the holidays.  If you work in an office it is usually filled with sweets for the taking.  Parties and get togethers are expected.  This all can be very overwhelming for most of us and particularly for those suffering from issues like food and alcohol attachment.  I prefer the term attachment rather than addiction as I find it more accurately descriptive and less stigmatizing.

For those of us with attachment issues this time of year can be full of triggers.  Many who have these issues come from families where similar issues are present.  This is a time to recall all of those bad times we had with our families when we were children.  Perhaps dad was an over worker and wasn't around and mom was overwhelmed and unhappy to be alone with the children or worse.  Unhappy families have a much higher occurrence of all types of abuse.  These memories are likely to get triggered during the holidays. 

Keys to health during the holidays

Our health is not just about what we consume.  It is also about stress and our emotional and spiritual life.  If we are stressed we are much more likely to have trouble with food, alcohol and other triggers.  Our thinking needs to be watched and we need to take care not to fall for all the hype. 

Remember that the holidays are not every day from Thanksgiving until January 1.  If you are going to indulge keep it to 3 or 4 times not every day of that period.  Keep up with your healthy routine between the actual holidays.  Regular exercise, eating 6 small meals a day, and enough sleep are good guidelines to follow.  If you drink, remember that over drinking causes suffering for self and others so it really isn't all that much fun.  If you find that you cannot moderate drinking during the holidays get some help. 

Food Consumption

Most of us wake up on the holiday and starve until it is time to eat the holiday meal.  Then we gorge thinking that the starving justifies the gorging.  Try to eat regular healthy meals before the holiday meal and then watch portion sizes and enjoy every bite of delicious food.  Make your meal a meditation eating slowly and admiring the deliciousness of the food.  If you have food issues talk to your coach, counselor, or sponsor and commit ahead of time to what you intend to eat and how much.  In this way your can avoid guilt and can fully enjoy the food you are eating.  Make sure that you stay in touch with your coach so you can get back on track the next day.  Most food attachment issues involve guilt shame and secrecy which can lead to more eating.  Working with another brings everything into the light enabling more sanity where food is concerned.

Regarding food, most of us gain 1-2  lbs during the holidays....and those generally aren't healthy calories we are eating.  The problem is that those pounds tend to remain after the holidays are over.  So the cumulative effect can be very harmful over time.  

Be willing to take the consequence of overindulgence if you lose control and report that to your coach as well.  We all make mistakes when it comes to food issues since we cannot abstain completely and we need to learn moderation. When we slip we admit it to ourselves and another, forgive ourselves and move on. 

Alcohol Consumption

The suggestions for food apply to alcohol consumption as well.  Use mindfulness with regard to alcohol and commit to yourself and another how much you intend to drink.  If you have an addiction and are abstaining it is best to avoid places where others over drink.  During the holidays Alcoholics Anonymous has sober get togethers for those who are uncomfortable with family or who have no family where you can be safe in a sober environment.  If you don't go to AA stick with people you are safe with and let them know that your desire is to stay sober.  Bring a bottle of sparkling fruit juice to drink or stick to soda water with lime if you feel you need a glass in your hand.  Often when you have a glass of something people will not pressure you to drink with them.  Others often don't understand sobriety and are uncomfortable with the concept if they are drinking, even when they don't have a problem.  If you have a glass of something in your hand they are less likely to take notice. 

Shopping, Spending and Gifts

This is an area where there is an abundance of pressure on the TV, radio, and everywhere you go.  Many are experiencing very tight budgets and buying gifts for others can mean not being able to afford gas for the car or food.  If this is the case it is a good idea to pick names with family so that only one gift needs to be purchased.  Another option is home made items such as hand done cards or other craft projects like ornaments.  Even if you have plenty of funds, try to keep the spending in check as the holidays are for togetherness primarily and it is important to be balanced in giving so as not to make others feel guilty. 

If you are a compulsive shopper it is very important to work with another around commitments as to how much you will be spending.  Don't shop alone.  Take a buddy with you to be a witness to your commitments.  Debtors anonymous is a wonderful program that gives specific help with budgeting and spending behaviors.  They can be found online as well as in person meetings.

Finding Ease within the Chaos of Family Time

If you come from a difficult family it is most important that you take care of yourself during the holidays.  Emotional pain around family issues is usually intensified over the holidays.  One of the hardest things to do is to detach from family when it is truly necessary during the holidays.  If you feel that you need to attend a family event, try to make it for a short period of time like just the meal rather than all day.  Have and obligation that can gracefully take you away especially if the disfunction worsens as the day goes on.  Above all take care of yourself with your family and friends.
Loneliness is  an issue for some who may not feel connected to anyone close by.  If this is the case there are always food banks that need volunteers and food buffets for the homeless that you can volunteer for.  Giving in this way can be very rewarding and stave off loneliness.

On the other hand you might be an introvert like me and feel quite uncomfortable at parties and get togethers that involve lots of small talk.  It is ok to avoid these as long as you make polite apologies and thank them for the invite.  All of my friends know that I am an introvert so they are not hurt when I don't accept these invitations.   

If you come from a healthy happy family spread the love and make sure you let each of them know how much you appreciate them. Gratitude for this kind of good fortune is a huge contributor to overall happiness.   Hugs are very healing and small kindnesses go such a long way.  Tell those you love that you love and appreciate them.  That can be the best gift of all. 

Until next well