I spend a fair amount of time talking to my clients about The Pendulum. The idea goes like this: Think of your health (diet, exercise, level of happiness and general routines) as being a pendulum, constantly in motion, moved by the forces of life–work, family, love, loss, stress, celebration, travel, etc. Many of us have a tendency to view health in a reactionary way: you get sick, you take medicine. You gain weight, you diet. You overindulge, you abstain. In other words, we tend to let the pendulum swing drastically in one direction before reacting, and the reaction is usually to force the pendulum to the opposite extreme.
This strikes me as a particularly relevant analogy around the holidays. The poles of the pendulum are where new year’s resolutions are born. Feast, and then fast. Stop exercising while vowing to reform come January 1st. Be “bad” for a few weeks and promise to be “good” in the new year. What I tell my clients, any time of year, is that the goal is to lessen the swing of the pendulum, to let it reside more in the middle place, knowing that it will never be perfectly stopped at dead center–at least not for very long. Our bodies are incredibly adaptable, and they will allow for change in routine and diet more readily when they aren’t being forced from one extreme to another. The middle place is the solidly good place so often eclipsed by extreme highs and lows. Whole health is really about sustaining that solidly good feeling, in mind, body and spirit, so that you can achieve all that you want to.
Here is how I approach this season: In the weeks leading up to holiday feasting I make time to move my body most days. It may seem counterintuitive, but I focus more on yoga and moderate activity than really intense workouts. Working up a sweat with extended, rigorous cardiovascular activity is great, but it can also release an excess of Cortisol (stress hormone) in the body. The holidays can be stressful enough as they are, so I think of my yoga mat as an anchor–a place to steady, calm, breathe and reboot. This is a personal preference I have come to after years of trial and error. You may find a quick run to be the best reboot for you. Whatever you choose, just make time to move.
When it comes to my food around the feasting days I keep it varied, full of produce, and balanced–no need to stop eating chocolate for 2 weeks just because I’ll be making Buche de Noel on Christmas Eve. I partake in the festive food and drink of the season and know that a healthy meal is only a handful of kale away if I want it. Sometimes it’s as simple as eating “normally” for a day or two, to feel like yourself in your skin again.
Above all else I remind myself that this time of year is about celebration, connection, generosity of spirit, and giving thanks for all you are blessed with. Sharing in a day of cooking and eating with loved ones is nourishment itself. If you are lucky enough to even have an abundance on which to feast, you have much to be grateful for. Don’t let the calorie count overshadow that.
Here is my advice: trust yourself, resist the urge to moralize your choices or punish yourself, and remember that the many forces around the holidays may push the pendulum to swing a bit more than usual, but with a little attention and a gentle hand, you can keep it swinging sweetly in the middle place.