By Kiarma Webster, MSW, LCSW
We are surrounded by images of the holiday season that promote, encourage and normalize abundance and excess. No wonder so many of us have become accustomed to the idea that the holidays are a time when it’s okay to overdo it. This one time of the year, we spend too much, eat too much and drink too much. But the holidays don’t have to be about excess. You still can have a great time and enjoy the holiday season without overdoing it. Not only will you enjoy your holidays, but your January and February will be less stressful and guilt-free.
Moderate Your Spending
Planning is the key to maintaining control over your holiday spending. Make a list of all of the people for whom you plan to give a gift and assign a dollar amount to each gift. Take advantage of coupons and sales. Internet-savvy shoppers enjoy comparing gift prices online.
Credit cards make it easy to overspend while doing holiday shopping. Some people keep their holiday spending money in the same account that they use to pay their monthly expenses. Mixing holiday funds with your general household account can also lead to problems by making it tempting to spend bill money on holiday shopping. A good alternative is to load the amount you intend to spend on gifts a low-fee, prepaid debit card. Once your card is empty, your shopping is over.
“Secret Santa” and holiday grab bags have been popular in the workplace, but did you know lots of families use them also? If you have a large extended family, consider organizing a family holiday gift exchange. Instead of buying a gift for each family member, each person buys one gift with a set dollar limit for one family member. My aunt had another great system for curbing spending on gifts for family members. In odd-numbered years she bought Christmas gifts for her brothers, and in even-numbered years she bought gifts for her sisters. It worked beautifully.
Be creative in your gift-giving. Many people enjoy receiving handmade gifts. They can be inexpensive to make, and assembling them can be a fun activity and a great way to spend time with younger family members. Consider making a gift of your time. A certificate for one afternoon of babysitting would be invaluable to a mother of young children. A certificate for one home-cooked meal would warm the heart of almost anyone.
Eating and Drinking in Moderation
While eating and drinking are traditional parts of holiday celebrations, many people find themselves overindulging in food and alcohol during this season. Have realistic expectations for yourself. Instead of adopting an extreme stance like “I’m not going to eat ANY holiday sweets,” take a more moderate approach by allowing yourself to indulge in small amounts of your favorite treats. Try an appetizer-size portion instead of a huge helping of your favorites. Attempting to deprive yourself can leave you feeling frustrated and usually leads to overindulging. Enjoy, but be mindful of the content and calories of the foods you choose. Instead of trying to lose weight during the holidays, focus on maintaining your current weight. Continue your exercise routine during the holiday season.
Beware of emotional eating. The holidays are an emotional time for most. When flooded with feelings of sadness, grief, dissatisfaction or anxiety, some people turn to food for comfort. If you feel down during the holidays, seek comfort in friends and people who care about you, not food. Certain foods may make us feel nostalgic and remind us of holidays from our past. Go ahead, enjoy those foods and make that special recipe. Share your memories and your special food with the people around you. The more you share, the less you will eat.
With food being the focus of so many of the holiday celebrations we enjoy, how can we participate in these events without feeling pressured to overindulge or feeling like a Grinch for declining that special treat that your loved one toiled for hours to prepare? Once again, planning can be our best defense. Eat a healthy snack before arriving at the party (or cookie exchange). You can make better choices about how much to eat when you aren’t hungry. If food is served buffet style, leave that area after you eat. Socialize with the partygoers as far away from the food as possible so you won’t be tempted to nibble. If you are a holiday traveler, pick up healthy portable snacks at the grocery store to take with you on your trip. That way you won’t be tempted by the unhealthy and expensive fast food spots in the airport or along the roadside. If you are doing the cooking, consider modifying your recipes. The internet is full of lighter versions of your holiday favorites.
During the holiday season there is an increase in alcohol-related accidents and deaths. People who rarely drink are affected more intensely and often have a lower tolerance. They may underestimate their level of intoxication. Problem drinkers feel less inhibited at parties where large arrays of alcoholic beverages are available.
If you serve alcohol at your holiday celebration, make sure you also include a variety of non-alcoholic beverages and food. Help your guests travel safely by not allowing drunk guests to drive and stop serving alcohol at least one hour before the party ends.
If you're a guest, don't bring a bottle of alcohol as a present. Instead, consider bringing an array of teas, hot chocolate, cider and coffee mixes. That way you know a variety of non-alcoholic drinks will be easily available.
Limiting yourself to one drink can make a difference in your calorie intake too. By putting down that extra glass of wine you will save yourself about 200 calories. Consider this: if you drink a glass of wine before dinner, another glass with dinner and a sweet wine for dessert, that’s more than 400 calories in addition to the meal.