Annie and Rachel walked through the local park that had been transformed into a winter wonderland, with piped holiday music and tons of holiday lights adorning every tree, bush, and building in the park. It looked pretty but felt out of place, considering it was 76 degrees and there were no clouds in the sky.

“It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, and the Christmas lights are up everywhere,” lamented Rachel. “I’m still trying to identify how to get rid of the Halloween candy my children brought home, let alone figure out a way to manage all the holiday cookies, cakes, pies, sweets, and big meals they’ll be invited to enjoy during the holidays.”

Annie patted her arm. “I know. I love the holidays, but navigating the food situation can be daunting. Everyone who entertains wants you to have an enjoyable experience, which often involves too much sugar and food. I noticed that besides all the toys and clothing sales, food ads are proliferating. Now you don’t have to prepare a meal or party food, you can order it. Some ads look expensive, and some like inexpensive, but I wonder about the food’s quality, freshness, where it comes from, and ingredients.”

Rachel laughed,” I must confess, ordering food instead of cooking is tempting, but then I think about how my mom and all of you managed a career, raised kids, cooked every day, and prepared fantastic meals for the holidays. “

“The secret is we planned and did it out of necessity because we also wanted to enjoy family time together. All you need is a plan. Once it’s in place, it becomes easy to accomplish all your goals.”

Rachel nodded, “I want a plan for a healthy healing holiday season. I want to start 2023 in a good place, not lamenting how much damage I did over the holidays with poor food choices. I want to start the new year with a sense of well-being and control of my life.”

Annie thoughtfully nodded. “It’s like I always say, free will is the power to make decisions. Will power is making decisions that empower you. The underlying basis for the plan is to ensure you enjoy the holidays too, even with the additional tasks of being a gourmet chef, creator, and bearer of gifts, the holiday decorator, and family peacemaker.” So, let’s start with planning. It should include:

A calendar for food shopping, meal prepping and baking, buying presents, wrapping gifts, and decorating. In addition, include work, school, church, and social organization dates. This helps maintain a feeling of being in control, enabling you to enjoy the holiday season better.

Weaving a food schedule on your calendar helps avoid snacking, making poor food choices, and overeating. Do not skip breakfast, and be sure to include citrus, protein, and healthy fat. Don’t skip lunch; a midday meal with energy-boosting greens and protein helps stop sugar cravings. Eat a salad or a power bowl of veggies and protein before going to a party; it will be easier to skip the fruit cake.

Staying hydrated with water during the winter (when people tend to be even more dehydrated than in summer) helps boost memory and mood. Water also flushes toxins, including sugar, making you feel energized and calm. Drink water steadily before a party to help reduce sugar, carb cravings, and alcohol consumption.

Exercise during the holidays reduces stress, burns off excess calories, combats SAD (Seasonal Affected Disorder), and helps release the feel-good endorphins that can contribute to your feelings of joy during the holiday season. Try the buddy system to help you stick to your exercise routine and hold you accountable. By continuing to exercise through the holidays as you head into the new year, you’ll feel good about the commitment you made to yourself.

A routine sleep schedule is guaranteed to get you through the holidays feeling less stressed, overwhelmed, and prone to making regrettable decisions about what you eat and drink. One way to protect your sleep is to plan to arrive at the party at its start and leave early. By making sleep a priority, you continue to get a good night’s sleep, waking refreshed and feeling good, just in time for the new day’s activities.

The holiday season can bring out the best and worst in us. By staying ahead of a potential rise in your stress level, you are better able to enjoy the holidays. No matter how prepared you are, stressful moments are bound to happen; however, stress management techniques, including incorporating time to meditate, pray, or listen to soothing music daily, will help you stay centered, calm, and empowered.

A fast-paced lifestyle is the norm now and can make the holiday season feel like it zipped by, not leaving much time to enjoy each moment with family and friends. Attempt to stay present and pause periodically to reconnect with your breath mindfully. You can then give an individual or group your undivided attention in a non-judgmental way. Let go of striving for perfection. Aim instead for those irretrievable opportunities to listen, observe, and enjoy.”

“This is one of the best conversations I’ve ever had. Instead of dreading the holidays, I’m now looking forward to them. Thank you, Annie.”

“You’re welcome. Did I mention, to be sure, everyone is vaccinated?”

Annie and LJ are a fictional couple. Their storyline promotes healthy eating and earth-friendly practices.

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