wellness

How I’m staying present during the Holidays

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It’s that time of year again! For some, the most wonderful, for others, the most stressful. The older I get the more I live somewhere snuggled right in the middle of the two. Not least of my worries is trying to calculate just how many cookies I can eat before getting a stomachache (because avoiding treats this time of year is virtually impossible, and really, why would you want to?). Or how to politely pass on a second helping of turkey and gravy for fear of my pants button popping off and landing in someone’s drink across the room. Take note! None of this is weight related – I am not interested in stepping on a scale or counting calories almost ever. It is in pursuit of making sure I feel well enough to continue to enjoy the company I’m around without distractions of uncomfortable bellyaches or brain fog from all the sugar I just pounded. Or worst of all, guilt about my food choices. My favorite part of the Thanksgiving to New Year season is all the people I get to spend time with, most of whom I probably only see during this stretch each year. The last thing I want is to be distracted during this time. So, if you’re like me and are feeling like you could use a few tips to help you be your most present and fun-loving self, here’s where I will be focusing my efforts this Holiday season:

 

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1. Make a game plan.

First things first, know what you’re walking into and set some intentions before each party or event you go to. I am always more likely to leave a situation feeling good and like I took care of myself if I enter with clear intentions. This could look like eating a nutritious meal before going to that office holiday party so you don’t walk in starving and find yourself making dinner out of hors d’oeuvres and bite-size desserts. Or maybe you want to sign up for a local Turkey Trot or pre-festivities Soul cycle or yoga class to really rev up your appetite before a glorious day of eating. You can always recruit a buddy in the form of a family member, friend, or significant other to help you stick to your original intentions if you need a little extra support day-of. My partner can’t have dairy and I opt for gluten free, and I always find it easier to make good choices when I know we’re approaching a meal in solidarity of our respective restrictions. There is probably a little bit of misery loves company associated with that too, but hey whatever works!

 

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2. Offer to bring a dish to pass.

If you know for sure there won’t be as many “goal friendly” options provided at a meal or party you’re attending, offer to make something! It’s a nice gesture to your host and will help you stick to your plan. Lactose intolerant? Bring a side of vegan mashed potatoes. Gluten free? Bring some stuffing or a dessert to share that you know you can eat worry-free. Last year’s green bean casserole leave you with bad feelings? Try this. Literally nothing green on the table? Get this guy in there. Whatever it is, you can definitely find a polite way to contribute an item you’ll feel good about eating.

 

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3. Practice mindful eating.

Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” Mindful eating happens without judgment of food choices, but instead with curiosity and observation of how those things make you feel. What this looks like for me is making intentional food choices when assembling a plate for myself (the plan you put together will help you make these choices), chewing slowly, and taking time to savor both my food and my company. If I’m at a party, I also try to hold conversations in a comfy place away from the snack table. Generally speaking, if there is a dip nearby, I will park myself right by it and mindlessly dip and chat away. Creating some space between myself and the dip is a nice way to keep from unconsciously (or sometimes consciously) binging. Another mindfulness trick is to wait at least 10 minutes before going back for seconds to give our bodies time to digest food and then properly assess fullness. Overall it’s just good daily practice to take a minute to appreciate where we are and our good fortune in getting there.

 

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4. Drink plenty of water/alternate alcohol and water.

Hydration is always where it’s AT! Water ensures proper transportation of our hormones, helps eliminate toxins out of our body, aids in blood-sugar regulation, and in some cases helps us to not overeat. (Ever think “I’m starving!” and then have a glass of water or two and realize you were just thirsty?) Any sober or sober curious friends out there? These mocktails are cute, festive, and refreshing! I am 100% going to have a couple of these available at my NYE party!

 

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5. Enjoy that P-I-E!

If you are going to partake in some holiday treats, which I truly hope you do, include that in your original game plan for the day to eliminate the mental gymnastics that go on when we see something sweet and delicious but can’t help but also see the words “BAD” at the same time. Freaking ENJOY it! You don’t need to forgive yourself because you’re not doing anything wrong. You don’t need to make a comment about how you “probably shouldn’t go for that second piece of pie” while you place it on your little plate and then take a bite. That guilt isn’t serving you at all, in fact it’s a disservice to you. And to the pie, quite frankly.

 


Illustrations by Lauren Ward


Know the difference between tough-love and torture. Why you don’t need to bully yourself into maintaining health goals.

#noexcusenovember
A word of caution.

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This image popped up in my IG feed recently (hello November, where did you come from?) and from what I can tell, it’s a challenge meant to motivate you into finally doing that thing you’ve been talking about forever. Eat that kale! Join that gym! No laziness allowed! Go go go! Now listen, I am ALL for goal setting, and you know I love a good challenge (see my last blog about doing Whole30 for a second time) but I do want to say a few things about this idea of “no excuses”.

As a human who wears many, many hats (can you relate?) - professional dancer, social media manager, Nutrition and Wellness coach, full-time receptionist, friend, girlfriend, woman in a long-distance relationship, regular sufferer of FOMO, it is very easy for me to set too many goals for myself in a week. And when I do, I almost always fall short. Because what I was trying to accomplish wasn’t realistic to me and my current lifestyle. That’s not an excuse, that’s reality.

For example, over the summer I was very into 6am yoga classes before spending my day sitting in an office, but I could only maintain that for a short time before naturally it stopped making sense for my body.  When my alarm would go off at 5am and I would hit snooze because I was actually too exhausted to get up (not just your classic morning sleepiness) I would have this feeling of helplessness because I knew I had set this g-o-a-l for myself, but also, my body was clearly telling me that I needed rest. The reality here was that in addition to my day job, I also regularly had evening rehearsals after work that went until 9:00 and 10:00pm, or a social engagement, or just needed that extra hour to unwind before bed… It didn’t make sense for me to hold myself accountable for that morning class if it meant that I would be denying myself the rest I needed. And it didn’t make sense that I was beating myself up over not reaching my goal, if the goal itself wasn’t actually serving the purpose it was originally intended for – which was to make me feel good.

When I see things like #noexcusenovember pop up in my feed, it makes me a little nervous. We’re all susceptible to pushing too hard and not listening to our bodies. Especially as women trying to maintain status in today’s world - whatever that means to you and your story. I want to make sure that we’re aware of the difference between an “excuse” and the realities of our lives and situations. And that we are approaching goal-setting from a place of empowerment and self-efficacy. 

I would like to change #noexcusenovember to #nowsthetimenovember. If you’re feeling like you have some juicy goals you’ve been meaning to approach and NOW IS THE TIME, that’s super exciting! Here are a few ideas I work with my clients on when we start to talk about nutrition and wellness as lifestyle, and how to even begin incorporating those things into your busy life:

1. Goal setting is good, but it needs to be realistic.

If you never go to the gym, or are out of the routine of hitting that yoga or HIIT class on the regular, saying that you’re going to start doing these things every day right off the bat might not serve you in the way you are hoping. Never exercise? A good goal might be to hit a class or go for a run once or twice a week to start. Once that becomes part of your routine (aka you are starting to create habits) you can decide to increase or maintain your routine. Want to incorporate more nutrient-dense food choices into your meals? Find a hearty and healthy recipe that makes your mouth water and nourish your body with that. Maybe you start dedicating one night a week to cooking at home, and taking leftovers with you for lunch the next day and then see where that takes you. Need more sleep? Ugh, I feel you! Something what works for me is writing “Be Home” in my planner one evening a week to make sure that I have at least one night to myself to dedicate to rest. Do what feels good to you and your lifestyle. And be kind to yourself while you are in the process of change.

2. Is that an “excuse” you’re using, or do you genuinely need a break?

Be careful that you’re not pushing through actual warning signs that your body is giving you. Inflammation in the form of aching joints or sore muscles, mental exhaustion, even guilt that you missed a workout – none of these are healthy or sustainable ways to achieve a goal. I’m not saying that we all don’t need to push ourselves out the door sometimes, but know the difference between tough-love and torture.

3. You are not lazy.

Or a worthless POS. You do not need to bully yourself into creating or maintaining health goals. If you feel like you have fallen into some unhealthy habits and are struggling to make changes, there is probably a good reason for this. And it’s not that you suck. Survival manifests itself in a lot of different ways. Change is always there when you’re ready for it.

Me in bed early on a Tuesday night. This was scheduled in my planner.

Me in bed early on a Tuesday night. This was scheduled in my planner.

Why I chose to do Whole30 a second time around—and what my 3 biggest surprises were!

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Last month, I participated in a September Whole30, my second go-round with this (now very trendy) food and lifestyle experiment. If you aren’t already familiar with it, Whole30 is an elimination challenge. The point is to learn more about how the foods we eat affect our bodies/body functions, by taking out 5 key categories from our diets for 30 days:

  • Dairy

  • Added sugars (including natural sugars like honey, maple syrup, agave, etc.)

  • Legumes (including peanuts)

  • Grains (including corn and gluten-free pseudo-grains, like quinoa)

  • Alcohol

At the end of the 30 days, you slowly bring these things back into your diet, one at a time, as part of your “reintroduction” phase. For me, this is where the magic really happens! By this time, your body is basically a blank slate, so if you have some sensitivity to, say, chickpeas (a legume), that’ll reveal itself loud and clear. Then it’s up to you what to do with that information. Maybe you stop eating chickpeas. Or maybe you really, really love hummus, so you decide to eat it at home in sweatpants, where your bloated lil belly can live comfortably within a stretchy waistband. You do you, boo.

 

Right now, you might be asking “But what can you eat?!”

 

SO much! Vegetables to your heart’s content, fruit, meat and fish, nuts, nut butters (allllll the nut butters, except peanut, of course), sweet potatoes, avocados, olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut flakes, coffee…I can honestly say that I was never hungry during Whole30. (In fact, after seeing my stories on Instagram featuring each of my meals, my brother texted me, “It looks like you’re actually eating MORE food with Whole30 than you previously were.”) Thanks to Whole 30, I am eating more, the quality of food on my plate is more, my energy levels are more, and my sense of well-being is more.

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Why did you decide to do a SECOND Whole30?

 

Look, life is crazy and everything is changing all the time and sometimes you need to take a pause to reset. Last year, my two big takeaways were:

 

1. Amazement that I could even do a 30 day food challenge

2. I have some gluten sensitivity

 

But I rushed through that first reintroduction phase in a giddy frenzy. This time, I really wanted to honor this phase better. Also, so much can happen in a year, and it’s really easy during times of transition to move away from making the more thoughtful food choice that you know will serve you in the long run and instead just grab the doughnut/muffin/bag of chips/deli sandwich/Seamless order—because it’s easier. (I am SO guilty of this. No judgment here.) Once we make it through the initial craziness of any new situation— I’m here on the other side gently encouraging us all to choose the nutrient-dense meal that doesn’t include a ton of added sugar and additives and isn’t fried.

In my case, I started my first desk job in an office a year ago, and it wasn’t long before I was eating chips and sugary granola bars every day, simply because they were there. (And don’t even get started on the office culture of The Birthday Cake…that’s for a different time.) This second round of Whole30 helped me recalibrate where those things fit into my life, by challenging myself to not eat them for one month and THEN giving me the freedom to choose my plan of action. I was finally able to break free from the ironclad grasp those free office snacks had over me. Hallelujah!

 

Actually, with Whole30 Round 2, I had PLENTY of big takeaways. In no particular order, they are:

1. I didn’t know how good I could feel.

After you’ve been on this earth for a while, you know a thing or two. You may think you’ve set a decent standard for what feeling “good” is, but then you discover just how high you can raise that bar. What you accepted as the norm suddenly reveals itself as “just good enough.”

Now I find myself wanting to live by this new normal. Sleepy still feels, well, sleepy, but it’s not foggy. My body is still a little sore, but that soreness can be sourced back to its origin and isn’t some full-body mystery ache. My stomach still gets a little bloated, but when it does, it feels like something that will pass and not just the way my body is.

 

2. Speaking of bloating, chickpeas!

On my legume reintroduction day, I very proudly put my food processer to work and whipped up my first homemade batch of hummus. Living primarily as a vegetarian, which I’ve only recently stepped away from after 10 years, hummus was lyfe and my #1 go-to. So imagine my big time disappointment when, after eating a nice little serving of my freshly-made snack, I then watched my little belly balloon right up in a way it really hadn’t in about, say, 30 days. Um, what? Honestly, I’m still a little crushed, but I’m also kind of delighted. I didn’t know this before, and now I do. Having that information is empowering—it’s a new a tool in my arsenal.

 

3. Animal protein is what I need right now.

Like I said, I’ve been living life as a vegetarian/pescatarian for the past 10 years, with varying degrees of strictness. Last year, when I went through my first Whole30, I mostly ate fish and shrimp, which was a very expensive. This time around, I wanted to experiment with chicken and beef, both in an attempt to save a little money, and also because I’ve been feeling for a while now that my dietary needs are changing. Any food we eat is a highly personal choice, especially when it comes to animal products, and I respect everyone’s right to choose what works best for them. For me, right now, eating a mostly plant-based diet (sans legumes and limited grains) with a small side serving of animal protein is what’s working. This transition has been really natural, in big part thanks to the Whole30 structure, and it’s a huge takeaway from this past month.

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Other small victories from doing Whole30:

  • Clear and glowing skin.

  • An abundant and healthy menstrual cycle (#sorrynotsorry) for the first time in a year—a clear indication that my hormones are starting to balance out again.

  • Shorter-lasting sugar cravings, if any at all.

  • Less swelling in my joints and overall less body inflammation. This really shows itself in dance rehearsals and yoga class—my body flows so much easier now.

  • A sharper brain. Truly. Which I credit to a significant reduction of added sugar in my diet. I can tell now if I’ve had too much because my brain gets a little foggy and I’m easily distracted. (Like right now. Because I treated myself to a delicious gluten-free muffin at the café where I wrote this post and I can feel my focus waning with every word I type. I don’t regret the muffin, but that’s the trade-off.)  

 

Finally, a quick thought about alcohol.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on the role of alcohol in my life: social drinking, happy hour, “just one drink” at an event, a few beers at home to take the edge off a long day, special occasion drinking, drinking for avoidance, drinking for confidence…the opportunities to consume alcohol are endless and abundant. I have Whole30 to thank for helping me realize that I was drinking even when I didn’t really want to— because it was around, and sometimes it’s easier to just say “yes” than to stop and assess my own needs in that moment. (Plus, I love a good drink!)

But after 30 days of alcohol being off-limits, I got to really ask myself: When and why do I choose to enjoy it? Just because there’s free champagne available at an event, does that mean I have to drink it? Could creating a ritual of having tea and painting my nails at home after a long day help me unwind just as much as the beer I would’ve normally consumed? Don’t get me wrong—I’m still interested in enjoying the occasional glass of wine or cocktail, but I want to make sure I’m choosing these things mindfully and having them when I want them. It feels really good to make this distinction for myself—like a huge weight is lifted off my shoulders. Because I’ve given myself permission to say “no thanks.”

A quick bathroom selfie at work because I was feeling myself and these witchy vibes.

A quick bathroom selfie at work because I was feeling myself and these witchy vibes.

Have you ever done a Whole30? Do you have any thoughts or questions about the logistics of food prep, strategy, or building a community? Let me know in the comments below!