A Fresh Take on Health and the Holidays

Two missing components to annual resolutions are preparation and fun.

Woman eating a holiday cookie
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The fairly vague reference many of us make to “the holidays” probably means something slightly different to each of us. The term has come to be something of a sweeping gesture to the expanse from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, and whatever rituals, customs, observances, and gatherings populate that terrain.

One thing we tend to have in common is that this time of year is special and different, in ways both uplifting and trying, good and bad. Holiday stress comes in many varieties, from challenging relationships, to travel ordeals, to bank accounts pushed beyond their tolerance. There can be loneliness and sadness, or a bounty of love and solidarity, and maybe even a blend of all of these. 

But the singular stress of the holidays finds its expression in the communal commitment to fixing it right afterward. Weight loss is perennially among the most popular of New Year’s resolutions.

The basic idea, then, is that the holidays lead us into all manner of temptation, and we generally succumb. Our schedules and, perhaps, exercise routines tend to be disrupted. Mostly, though, the challenge is all about food. Food takes center stage at every gathering, party, and of course, family feast. Holiday weight gain is de rigueur. So, too, is post-holiday remorse.

You will find no shortage of detailed advice about all of this if you perform an even cursory search. There is excellent guidance here at Verywell. My aim here, however, is less about specifying the solution than defusing the problem by simplifying it.

My simple formula has three components.

1) Remember What Health Is For

One of the reasons for all the holiday stress and post-holiday remorse is the moralization of health. We have somehow talked ourselves into the idea that good people have good health and lean bodies, and deviations from this path are some kind of moral failing or character flaw.

This is a load of absurd nonsense! Health is not a moral measure, and it isn’t even the goal. The goal is living better—a better life. Other things being equal, healthy people have more fun. Remember that the true value of health lies in its service to the fun you can have. Suddenly, it should make little sense to squander fun because of remorse about diet, health, or weight over the holidays.

2) Remember What the Holidays Are For

For most of us, the holidays are also about fun. Things don’t always work out as hoped, but the hope is all about fun: good times, good food, and the people who matter most to us. Holidays are supposed to be special times, often involving some indulgence. What a shame to fret our way through that seasonal corridor.

Our problem is not the holidays; during the holidays, in my view, we should let the good times roll. Our problem tends to be the other 350 or so days of the year when many of us let languish the opportunities we have to cultivate health for the sake of fun. My advice about how to avoid overindulgence during the holidays is to ignore the holidays and focus on the rest of the year.

If you generally eat well and exercise, departures over the holidays will do little damage. Besides, if you truly do eat well year round, you will tend to favor more wholesome foods anyway, and your indulgences will tend to contain themselves.

3) Resolve Constructively

We all know how races begin: ready, set, go. New Year’s resolutions, unfortunately, tend instead to be of the “go, whether or not set and ready” variety. The result is predictable.

So don’t let remorse goad you into another impetuous resolution. Resolve to get ready and set before you go again.

  • What would you most like to change, why, how, and when?
  • Who will help you? 
  • Who might hinder you? 
  • What do you need to go the distance, and how can you get it in place before you start?
  • What will set you up so that next year, the holidays are more joyful and less stressful?

The answers to these might invite searches for more information, but as noted at the start, such details are readily available. Before you strategize, simplify. The holidays are supposed to be special. Health is a year-round proposition. And it’s what they have in common that makes them both matter: They both should contribute to the joy and fun in your life.

With that in mind, I wish you health and happiness in the New Year.

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