The "Holiday Brain" Is About to Engulf You

Megan Dahlman
November 22, 2016

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The holiday brain is a lot like the vacation brain. Holidays do feel like vacations, after all. The summertime battle is being on vacation after vacation. And now that we have emerged into the holidays, the same battle begins again. 

What is the Holiday Brain? What happens during the holidays (and vacations) that causes us to struggle so much? 

We adopt a scarcity mindset, thinking we'll never see these particular foods again, never get to relax like this again, and never have these happy-nostalgic feelings again. We want to partake in everything because it's all about to be taken away. We're suddenly starving for "all the things" because it's the holidays, after all, and we only do this once a year! 

("They only have eggnog lattes once a year! We only go to this cafe once a year so I should get their special scone! This is the only time of year we have a baking extravaganza!" Sound familiar? Scarcity mindset.) 

Incidentally, we shove aside any acknowledgement of how this actually makes us feel.

How do our bodies feel when we overindulge?
How energetic is my next workout?
How does my mind and attitude feel after I've overindulged?
How much guilt do I unnecessarily accumulate? 
How will I feel when my pants are tight next month?

When our minds are soaking in the holiday atmosphere and we're faced with the scarcity mindset, we fail to see the big picture. We ignore what this attitude might do to us in the long run. 

What is the result of Holiday Brain? It's fairly obvious, right? 

  • Extra weight gain that frustrates us beyond belief.
  • Discouragement at our inability to hold it together.
  • Another re-start...and we're starting to get sick of these. 
  • Another step downward in health.

Not the best outcome. 

What should you do about it? So how do we embrace and enjoy the richness of the holiday season without getting sucked in with a holiday brain

1. Maintain perspective. Understand that this is not your last Christmas, your only chance at a fancy meal, and your only opportunity to indulge. Honestly, all of these things are in constant abundance all around us so we don't need to gobble it all up right here, right now. No more scarcity mindset, okay?

Also, keep the bigger picture in mind. How will overindulging make you feel? How will slacking off effect your attitude? How do these in-the-moment decisions benefit your physical and mental health? Constantly check in with how you feel. Be extremely introspective here. 

2. Keep certain things non-negotiable. You need to maintain solid discipline and self-control in some very specific areas. Your non-negotiables should be your workouts, eating veggies and protein everyday, drinking enough water, and getting plenty of sleep. 

This does not mean you must endure the holidays with a dieting brain, or without the ability to be flexible. But if you show up to every workout, continue to eat your PRO's, drink lots of water and sleep well, this holiday season will look dramatically different.

Learn more about non-negotiables here.  

3. Know how to indulge correctly. As you know, I'm deeply opposed to "dieting", and saying certain foods are completely off-limits. There must be allowances for the fun and enjoyable foods during the holidays. However, there is a way to indulge without overindulging.

Look at each week at a glance and see when the splurge moments will happen. Don't have ice cream on Tuesday night if you know that you're having pumpkin pie on Thursday night. Skip the burritos for Wednesday if you know you have a dinner party on Friday. Do you see the give and take? Click here to learn how many splurges are okay in one week.

Whenever you do indulge, have smaller portions, and eat them slowly to savor every last crumb.

And practice saying no to certain foods that you could live without. (For me, it's turkey stuffing and peppermint mochas...I'm just not a fan.)

4. Don't let your holiday season revolve around food. I saw a cute advent calendar that had an activity to do everyday with the kids. The activities were "roast marshmallows, make sugar cookies, build a gingerbread house, create a uniquely flavored hot chocolate." This is a problem. There is so much more to the holidays than treats and foods.

Focus on the music, the decorating, the gifting, the experiences! And no, these experiences do not always need to be accompanied by hot chocolate and cookies. Your kids will thank you, and will grow up realizing the holidays are more than just food.

But this attitude needs to start with you. 

Don't get sucked in. So how do we embrace the holidays without giving ourselves over to the Holiday Brain? Keep your head about you and maintain a clear perspective, watching out for the scarcity mindset. Learn how to indulge correctly so you can still enjoy your favorite things without experiencing the setbacks. Try to focus on all the non-food wonders of the holidays instead of making food your focal point. And of course, keep certain healthy habits closed for negotiation. 

Whether or not you regret your holiday season this year depends on the attitude you adopt right now. Beware of the holiday brain!

Probably the best thing you could do right now as the holidays begin to engulf you is to get set up with a clear plan, like the Strong Mommas Membership. If you think you don't have time to start something right now, think again! I personally design each routine to be doable at home in 30 minutes or less. And the nutrition instruction is extremely practical for a busy mom. Don't wait until the new year to get your act together. Click here to check it out!

Hey, guess what? You can start showing up for your body in simple ways, right now.
Let us take the guesswork out of where and how to start taking action.
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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
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Self-Care Simplified is for Christian moms that want to be equipped and encouraged to take simple steps towards the healthy life you want for yourself and the people you love.
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