Feast or Famine for the Holidays
Am I mistaken, or does the holiday season seem to equate as much to turkeys, jingle bells, and evergreen wreaths as pre-holiday diets, cleanses, and exercise programs in order to make room for holiday indulgence?
All or nothing. Gaining holiday weight. Overindulging. Excess in everything paired with restriction and deprivation to counter the "fun."
Halloween morning when I went for a run, the app I used to track my speed and time (#personalgoalz) reminded me that I need to equate my exercise with my candy intake.
You know what this awakens inside of me???
My inner Hulk.
My exercise and my candy intake have nothing to do with one another. My goal is to move through life with awareness when it comes to food and movement. I do not move my body to allow myself to indulge more, nor do I indulge in excess food because I know later I'll burn it off.
This is the madness that fuels disordered relationships with food and body, and it is perpetuated by the beauty and fitness industry marketed to us throughout the day.
This run happened right after I taught sunrise yoga, and the philoshopy I chose to share, so inspired by conversations of the previous day, is based around one of the yogic philosophies I love the most: Brahmacharya.
You see, the day before, I overheard a conversation in the grocery store in which a parent was talking about the Halloween Fairy she employs to keep her kid from eating the Halloween candy she collects Trick or Treating. The candy gets turned in to the Halloween Fariy, and the Halloween Fairy grants the child a gift in return.
"It's more expensive this way, but it keeps her from eating the candy. Only thing is, I feel like I can't throw it away, so I hoard it for myself and... then I end up eating it all."
I dig this woman's ingenuity and creative parenting tactics.
Do you, girl!
I'm not a parent, so I in no way have any idea how I would deal with small spawn and Halloween candy. I know what I think I would do, but I also have enough experience with kids to know that the best-laid plans typically go out the window, and you're left scrambling for any sense of your ideals and plans and schemes.
So this isn't a conversation about the first part of her story.
It's about the second part.
The part where she hoards the candy and eats it all.
What I find interesting is that she fears for her daughter's health when it comes to sugar in candy form, but when it comes to her own health: she is way more laissez-faire.
As adults, it seems like we're all walking this tightrope of over-nutrition and under-nutrition, and as a result, our bodies suffer—not in weight gain or loss or any outward physical sense (though that could be a side effect), but the internal environment of our bodies get horribly out of whack.
I took part in my own conversation (I'm not always just lurking around town hiding behind bushes and racks of spinach to get blog inspo) with a woman about how hectic it gets around the holidays. She's an insurance adjuster, and she was commenting that this is the worst time of the year, and how it only gets worse as the holidays grow closer.
"This time of the year is really hard for so many people."
Dang. That's a harsh truth.
Why's it gotta be all stressful and the WORST time of the year?
In a world where we're already overworked and overtired, we tack on parties, expectations for giving awesome gifts, and plenty of excess food (oh, and LOTS of family time... which is usually pretty stressful in itself).
Instead of a season of joy and festivity and caring, we're walking (running) around stressed to the max and nearly at our individual boiling point.
What if we could shift away from this "all or nothing" mindset and instead practice a little yoga off the mat with a mental shift:
“In yogic thought, there is a moment in time when we reach the perfect limit of what we are engaged in. It is this moment of 'just enough' that we need to recognize. Past that point, we begin our descent into excess.” -Deborah Adele, The Yamas and Niyamas
Have you ever sat down with a bag of chips or a package of cookies? Maybe a pint of ice cream, or even just an amazing home-cooked meal. The first bite is glorious. Delicious. Decadent.
It's so dang delicious... you keep eating and eating. Before you know it, your stomach is completely full, distended, uncomfortable… and you realize you've gone too far.
I mean, Thanksgiving is the PERFECT example of this complete lack of awareness.
Then comes the guilt. The shame.
This isn't what you planned for your perfect diet! The cycle perpetuates as you beat yourself up and swear to do better next time.
We wonder why we can't stop. What is broken in us?
The question isn't why we can't stop. Why we are bad for acting in this way. What's wrong with us.
There is nothing wrong with you.
In fact, you are a majestic storyteller, and that brain of yours is equipped to keep you in homeostasis—physically and mentally. You can create whatever stories and tales in your noggin to justify any choice or action you make:
it's how we're programmed.
Besides, what soothes holiday stress more than excess food and wine? And what soothes anxiety about excess food and wine more than exercising and restricting to reestablish some semblance of control!?
It's a wibbly wobbly balance we attempt to maintain.
Don't get me wrong—we ARE here to enjoy life. We only get to do this once, and we have every opportunity to enjoy it. Pleasure. Indulgence. Fun. Love.
Especially around the holidays.
So how do we know when we're living life fully or when we're stepping into excess?
Very simply? It's a feeling, and you will know.
You know. I know you do.
We have to learn how to act as our own translator, discerning between what we truly need and the stories our brains are spinning.
If we are fully present in the moment, enjoying and feeling pleasure, we are in the true moment of "just enough."
If we are feeling physical discomfort, distention, and fueling the mental stories we tell ourselves, we've stepped into excess.
I can do this with anything, I'm very skilled at it. I'm the queen of self-talk.
Are you, too?
I can tell any story to get the result I think I want. I can both overeat and indulge and say it is necessary or I deserve it (over-nutrition), and I can restrict and deprive and control and say it's to combat non-excess (undernutrition).
I can work out HARD, run and lift weights and be a beast and say I must in order to prepare for impending food festivals, AND I can be lazy and do nothing on the couch and say my body needs to rest.
Which is true?
Honestly, like any instance in which there are two sides to the story: the truth is usually somewhere in the middle.
In this scenario, the truth and the peace reside not in over-nutrition or over-exercising or undernutrition or couch potato-ing it, but, instead, the truth and peace (and joy) live in eating intuitively and with mindful awareness, finding joyful movement, and honoring that body of yours.
In yoga, this is called Brahmacharya, or non-excess.
Sounds really nice, right?
But also... infuriatingly frustrating, obvious, and unactionable.
How can you actually begin practicing this, especially with the holidays and all the associated decadence swooping in like a dog wearing a sweater and a scarf on a scooter whipping through the streets of Paris (this pillow is courtesy of my mother and it is more than likely the most perfect pillow ever made and is also physical proof that she is the cutest human)!?
Making Brahmacharya actionable: This is where some of my favorite scripts come into play.
I call them scripts, because they are phrases I can repeat to myself that ground me back in this world and pull me out of my story. Back when I was an actress, I was always lamenting how much easier life would be if I had a script for life. Rather than always having to figure it out as I go.... couldn't I just have someone write my own dialogue!?
So, I created some of my own scripts.
Here are two of my scripts for practicing Brahmacharya.
The Mantra of Food Sanity: I can have as much of I want (of whatever I want) as long as I am fully present.
It's really hard to go into excess if you're tuned into your body and present to the sensations of fullness and discomfort caused by overeating. Rather than completely avoiding the delicious spread at the party, I much prefer mindfully eating it and savoring it. And if I step into excess, I don't beat myself up.
Humans be human, afterall!
What do I really need right now?
When we have emotional needs that are soothed with physical excess…. We suddenly find ourselves in an addiction-like cycle of needing the feelings that are associated with the things, and the things that are associated with the feelings.
What if you could pause and separate these needs from your conditioned responses. When feelings come up, the mind may trick you into thinking you NEED to do something or eat some sort of food item to connect/relax/party/indulge, but when you truly check in with your body's needs, you may realize that what you really need is a nap or a hug from a friend or to go dance to whatever song just came on at the party.
What works best for you around the holidays to combat stress and over-doing it?
Happy November, friend!