The Christmas Hangover

a tired, Christmas pooch

I’m rebooting a past holiday post, as its a great reminder for when this time of year gets overwhelming. Its easy to eat and eat out of sheer exhaustion, so I hope this helps.  Enjoy!

Flashback to the Thanksgiving before committed to losing 100 pounds in 1 year.  This was an unusual time of insight for me.  Not only was I ready to get gutsy and make some major life changes (read more at Eat to Thrive), but I could see myself from outside myself.  Such eye-openers are a gift because they don’t happen all the time, but, when they do come, I try to sit up and take notice.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I snuggled into the corner of the couch with a cool, ceramic bowl of cereal cradled in my hands.  This wasn’t just any cereal bowl.  It was the biggest bowl I could find; large enough to hold leftover mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving dinner.   As I balanced the heavy bowl in my left hand — making sure no milk spilled over the edge — I held an extra-large spoon in my right.  I dunked that spoon three inches deep into the cereal, lifted out a heap of granola and rice flakes, stretched my mouth wide, and shoveled it in.  I plunged again.  And again.  And again.  I snarfed that bowlful in minutes, stuffing mouthfuls as fast as I could chew and swallow.

As I tipped the bowl to my lips to sip the last puddle of sweet milk, I saw my reflection; not in the bottom of the bowl, but inside my mind.  I saw myself, and I was sad.  I wanted that cereal to make me feel better.  I set the bowl down and, not for the first time, felt a familiar bloated feeling expand my stomach into a cereal baby.  I tried to get still.  I asked myself, Why am I so sad?  Once I made space to ask the question, the answer was right there.  Everyone at work – plus most of my family — had the week off, but I was still working every day.  I wanted time off, too.  What about me?

That day, I wrote myself a reminder for next year:  It read:  “Ask for Thanksgiving week off (Remember cereal snarfing last year?)”

That act – of noticing my pain and finding a way to change things – sparked a new holiday tradition for me.  Now, before the holidays get too hectic, I take time to reflect on how I want the season to look.  This is a new skill for me.  I always thought I had to endure the holidays, like I had no say in how they played out.  I braced for the stress:  running extra errands, scrunching parties into schedules, stretching the Christmas budget, and — worst of all — muddling through the hollow letdown of the day-after-Christmas Hangover (Not necessarily alcohol-induced, more like “expectation induced.”)  It never occurred to me that I have a choice in how the holidays roll.  Turns out, I do.  It just takes a few, simple questions, thoughtfully answered in a quiet space before all the holly and jolly begin.

To that end, I’d like to share with you my simple reflection routine for the holidays.  I use the following questions to frame my intentions.  Things don’t always go as planned, but that’s o.k.  Knowing my intentions lowers stress.  Feeling centered matters most.  That way, when surprises pop up, I don’t create a story in my head that I’m helpless or pushed; I just adapt to find another way towards my intentions.  O.K.  Here’s my holiday reflection routine, plus my intentions from this year…

In Early November:

  • What tradition(s) do I look forward to?  What tradition(s) would I like to let go of?
    • I like gathering around the table, full of family, goodies, and random chatter.  I’d like to let go of the pressure to find that perfect present, and just enjoy my time with each person.
  • How do I want to feel during the holidays?  What activities fuel this feeling?  What activities take from it?
    • I want to feel relaxed.  I’m going to hang some extra twinkle lights in my home, so things feel cheery as the nights get darker earlier.  I’d like to ditch trying to make it to every community Christmas event, and just focus on one favorite — maybe the showing of White Christmas at a local art house theater (Where we come dressed up, sounds like fun.)
  • Gift buying – how do I want to feel, standing in line at the store or clicking through the Check Out online?
    • I want to be happy enough to give the cashier a smile and complement him/her.  I want to not feel burdened by money, so I will make some homemade gifts this year (go to Christmas Treats that Won’t Make Me Fat? for hubby’s Cranberry Walnut Bread recipe.)  I want to feel smart and efficient by being picky about online shopping, so I will do some research before rushing over to Ebay.
  • Gift giving – after all the presents have been unwrapped, and all the “thank you’s” said, what thoughts do I want running through my mind?
    • I want to still have something to look forward to.  I hate feeling bloated in my body and my mind.  Maybe go showshoeing or sledding that evening?

After Christmas

(The day after Christmas is a juicy time for reflection, since that hangover feeling still stings strong.)

  • What did I like best about this year’s holiday season?  How can I do that again next year?
    • Last year, I sure enjoyed connecting with my brother who visited from Chicago.  Next year, if he can’t make it, maybe I could skype him or play some online game with him.  Or maybe we could levy a bet on a Steeler’s game.  I’d love to visit him in Chicago someday.
  • If I were Santa Claus, what would I do on the day after Christmas, after delivering billions of presents all around the world in 24 hours?  Can I make time/space to do that for me now?
    • I would get a haircut and schedule a deep, soothing massage.

Feel free to change up these questions and make them work for you.  Also, be sure to print out your answers and keep them in a safe place for next year’s reflection.

Before I finish, you may wonder, How does all this relate to losing weight?  First, consider the fact that stress (especially six weeks of it during the shortest days of the year) almost guarantees weight gain (read more at Chronic Stress and Weight Gain).  Also, planning ahead can mitigate some of my mindless munching because I’m more present, more centered.  There’s nothing like a party platter to shortcut my best intentions, especially when I didn’t have time to eat dinner because I had to stop at the post office to mail gifts.  Lastly, there’s a happy spillover effect from creating intentions and watching how they change my reactions to circumstances.  Intentions are like built-in homing beacons.  They become reference points to help me track where I’m at on my mental map.  Experiencing that level of control – even the extent to which I let myself get out-of-control – can fuel my self-esteem and store up some seriously good ju-ju for the coming year.

Shelby writes sassy, inspiring stories of weight loss.  Shelby lives in Missoula, Montana where she works out at The Women’s Club Health and Fitness Center.  

1 Comment

Filed under Principles

One response to “The Christmas Hangover

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