This time of year, the ubiquitous “ho..." /> This time of year, the ubiquitous “ho..." />

This Holiday Season, Make Nourishing Your Spirit the Priority

Gingerbread men on cooling rackThis time of year, the ubiquitous “holiday season,” I notice several themes in the media and on people’s minds: giving thanks for what we have, spending time with those who are important to us, great shopping bargains, and watching our waistlines. I have numerous thoughts about all of these, and I’ll share them with you here.

Our American puritanical roots laid the foundation for our current holiday season, which starts with Thanksgiving preparations and extends through New Year’s Day. Thanksgiving dinner is composed mainly of “New World” foods—that is, foods that, at the time of the original Thanksgiving holiday, were available only on what was to become American soil, such as turkey, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, pumpkin, and cranberries. Over the years, we’ve tinkered with recipes and added all kinds of ingredients, but the traditional fare has its origins in foods native to the northeastern United States. Christmas dinners in the U.S. are based mostly on the Christmas dinners that have been traditional in England since the late 19th century, made up of combinations of meat, fruit, nuts, bread, and sweets.

Given the Christian persuasion of the Pilgrims, Christmas is still considered a big part of the season, even though our increasingly diverse population celebrates holidays other than Christmas or recognizes Christmas in a secular rather than religious spirit, enjoying the Pagan elements of lights and trees and the tradition of gift giving without much thought to their origins.

A common denominator to all of the festivities is food. Special foods speak to the specialness of the season, bringing people together in a spirit of celebration outside the norms of everyday life. Food is an essential part of the holidays.

And while newspapers, magazines, and cyberspace are rife with recipes, they also are filled with articles on portion size, tactics for moderating holiday eating, and weight control. Television talk-show hosts tell us that the average American gains a certain number of pounds over the holidays. (I’ve heard several different numbers. Feel free to research this further online and find a number that suits you.) I walk into my gym, and on the whiteboard is a proclamation that we gain some crazy amount of weight over the holidays and an offer for a personal training package. (OK, full disclosure: This was at my former gym, which went out of business. I’ve not seen this at my current gym!)

This brings me to the “shopping bargains” part of my story: The holidays are a time of consumption; consumption not only of food and goods, but also of ideas. Companies produce and market food and goods such as clothing, video games, and toys, but also magazines, diet products, and services such as weight-loss programs. Weight control has become a national pastime. Savvy folks capitalize on the notion that we gain “X” amount of weight over the holidays by selling us the antidote.

So we hear conflicting messages: Eat! Make this decadent recipe! Buy this precooked, refined, processed item that will save you time in the kitchen! Watch your portions! Don’t gain weight! You will gain weight, so diet and exercise it off!

It seems to me that what I believe to be the intention of holiday celebrations—to break bread with friends and loved ones, to share warmth and cheer in a season of cold and dark—gets lost in a frenzy of consuming, controlling, and repairing. I believe that problem is not that we have so much food around during this time of year that we are bound to overdo it, but that we often lose connection to ourselves in the midst of the frenzy. We purchase and eat foods that are designed to stimulate the pleasure receptors in our brains (it’s more complicated than that, so I ask that neuroscientists reading this cut me some holiday slack!), we ignore our hunger and satiety signals and eat in response to external rather than internal cues, and we restrict our food intake to “save calories” for parties and big meals so we’re overly hungry by the time we get there and then do, in fact, overeat.

So what I am practicing and preaching is this: Enjoy holiday eating! Don’t view it as either a vacation from ordinary restraint or a monster to be feared and fought. Eat things you truly like, and savor and enjoy them. Listen to your body, and don’t eat if you’re not hungry unless what’s there is truly delicious, you really want to have it, and it’s socially appropriate to eat it (by “socially appropriate,” I mean that it’s part of a shared experience with others and involves no shame or hiding). Prepare meals involving foods that are wholesome and minimally processed, yet rich with significance of the holiday.

Notice your thoughts, such as: “I won’t have another chance to have this until next year,” or, “I’ll just eat as much as I want now and start a diet on Jan. 2,” or, “I shouldn’t really enjoy this too much,” or, “I have to watch every bite I put in my mouth.” Participate in enough, but not too much, celebrating. Balance time with others with time for yourself. Take breaks from events filled with people and noise; pause, be quiet, listen inside, and pay attention to what you need.

Let the meaning of the season, along with your body’s needs for nourishment and movement, be the guiding principles for holiday eating. In so doing, may you nourish your spirit as well. Best wishes to all of you!

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jen

    November 27th, 2012 at 12:53 PM

    So true!There is frenzy and then there is also the red alerts going off.Its not just the “indulge now” season but also the “watch out” season.What this does is leave us hanging there in between the two.And let me tell you,from all these years of listening to both the sides,it really isn’t pleasant being there in between.

    You have sent some real good advice to all your readers and I don’t think it could have been put across in a way any better.Thanks for the article.

  • paige HUdson

    November 27th, 2012 at 4:30 PM

    Nurturing the spirit and the soul is generally the LAST thing on my mind during the holidays! Typically I am the crazy woman running around at the last minute trying to pull it all together in terms of gifts and decorations, and don’t even slow down to take it all in until it is over and done. I am sure that I would feel so much better about it all if I could find a way to stop and appreciate it a little more than I currently do but. . . I just never feel like there’s time. So much to fit into such a small space of time, that it has totally sucked all of the fun out of it for me!

  • Paula

    November 28th, 2012 at 3:54 AM

    Thank you so much for this article. . . I really needed that!
    I am in a line of work that requires me to entertain and be at events constantly between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and that usually does wreck the weight watching for an entire month!
    Seriously there have been years when I get so down on myself for all of the indulging that I forget to step back and enjoy the opportunities to mingle and grow that I am being given.
    Now I am a little more focused and concientious, making sure that I still exercise even on days when I know that I will have to entertain at a herty meal. And I amke an effort to control what I eat- enjoy it, but not too much.
    Hopefully this will work a little better for me this year than it has in years past.

  • amanda

    November 28th, 2012 at 11:09 AM

    well paying attention to what you eat and what you do is certainly important,but just like with everything else,too much can be too bad.watching out itself becomes an issue then.its not difficult but following a balanced lifestyle will never get you into these problems.

    and yes,the festive season is not about shopping or eating,it is about finding inner peace and sharing joy with others,in whatever way you can imagine.don’t let others hold back your thoughts,just do what makes you happy and this will be the best festive season!

  • R.T

    November 28th, 2012 at 6:58 PM

    Being bombarded with message from all around,is it really practical to escape from all of it without having to lock yourself up indoors and shitting out all media exposure?I don’t think so!

    But is it practical to follow a few steps an maintain a fine balance to avoid falling on to either side and then being mad at yourself? Yes and it sounds like a much better idea!

  • Turner

    November 29th, 2012 at 1:17 AM

    This fixation with food whenever something important is around is just appalling..Why does everything – every festival, every get together, every congregation have to be with food at the focus? if we pay attention to the things that are really important, if we teach our children the real significance of Christmas for example rather than spending time on elaborate preparations, teaching them the true thoughts about necessities is all we need would be a much better choice.

    We have been so influenced by things around us that we quickly become a part of the orchestra and whenever we hear festival, all that comes to our mind is shopping or food or something else, not the real meaning or significance of the festival itself!

  • Deborah Klinger, M.A., LMFT, CEDS

    November 29th, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments!
    Jen, I hope you can find a more pleasant “in between,” in which you can truly enjoy what you “give out” (spending, doing for others, exercising, working) and what you “take in” (food, things you’ve purchased, time with others who are important to you).
    Paige, I believe that if we tend to ourselves first, we have lots more energy to do the stuff that needs to be done, and are much better able to distinguish between what’s enough and what’s too much- both in terms of food, and of doing.
    Paula, I encourage you to listen to your body during this time– give it the movement it needs, feed it when it’s hungry and stop eating when it tells you it’s satisfied, even at events and functions that involve lavish meals. Our bodies know how much they need; we just need to learn to listen.
    Amanda, good advice! And best wishes for a very festive holiday season.
    R.T., I agree– we can’t, and shouldn’t, try to shield ourselves entirely from exposure to the media. I find it helpful to think of our minds like flashlights in a storage closet– there’s all manner of stuff in there, but what we see is where we shine the light. It’s a matter of where we focus our attention: we can focus it on media messages, or on anger toward ourselves, or on what’s truly best for us.
    Turner, I think that food is an integral and important part of holiday celebrations. But it’s important to make it no more or less a focus than is appropriate. If we already have a relaxed, healthy relationship with food, it’s easy to do. If our relationship with food is troubled, then food will be a source of struggle over the holidays.
    Happy Holidays to all of you!

  • Lorraine

    November 29th, 2012 at 4:01 PM

    Never easy to stay focused when you’re being told what to do through mass media. It’s nothing short of mind control. And although we cannot get away from it completely, a little thinking can Easily help is weed out the unnecessary and let us focus on things that are really important, like speeding time with family and friends,like giving more time to connect and rejoice than to shop.

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