For faithful readers and Whole30® veterans, the upcoming holiday season may be just another few weeks during which they’ll get to practice the skills they’ve learned during past Whole30’s—what we call “riding their own bike.”
To this first group, the Whole9 veterans, we say, “Go on with your bike-riding holiday self.” Whatever you decide to do this holiday season, make it deliberate, make it worth it, and most of all, savor the time with family, friends, and the food you choose.
But for those new to the Whole30 and a Whole9 life, the upcoming weeks may be making you nervous. How will you handle the pressure from family and friends, and the temptation of all that less healthy food? What if the frenzy of this holiday season sends you right back to square one: a slave to the Sugar Dragon, feeling tired, cranky, and bloated?
For this group, please don’t worry—because for you, we have a plan. Well, to be clear, by the time you’re done with this exercise, you’ll have a plan… and that plan will make all the difference for your self-confidence and your holiday results.
Your Rational Brain Does All the Hard Work
The rational part of your brain is responsible for making decisions—do I eat the pie, or say no thank you? Do I tell my Mom I’m not eating bread, or let her push a hot dinner roll on me? Do I want seconds now, or should I take a break and see whether I’m actually full? These decisions require careful attention and self-control—and as you might imagine, the more decisions you have to make, the more exhausted your brain (and your willpower) gets.
This is where your emotional brain steps in.
When exhausted by too many decisions requiring too much willpower, the rational part of your brain gets tired, and your emotional brain steps in. And here, friends, is where we all get into trouble. Because the emotional part of your brain wants to take the path of least resistance, the familiar path, the path with the most immediate reward.
Which means, whether you want to or not, you eat the pie, accept the dinner roll, and automatically take seconds on your plate. The worst part? So you don’t feel quite so bad about your choices, the rational part of your brain will subsequently attempt to rationalize these “decisions” so they don’t sound so bad. “It’s Christmas—you can afford to live a little,” or “Mom is happy when she’s feeding you, it’s better just to agree.”
These automatic, emotional, not-easy-to-justify-but-you’ll-try-to-anyway decisions are not the kind of decisions we want you to make during this first difficult test of your bike-riding skills.
The Brain Loves a Plan
The way to prevent this situation is by taking as many on-the-fly decisions out of the equation as possible, by creating a plan for the holidays. You know how, when you have something you have to remember, you feel this little uneasy sensation in the back of your brain—this feeling that something is left undone? And you know how that totally goes away the second you write down your to-do task? You haven’t completed it yet—but the fact that you now have a plan for completing the action makes your brain feel so much better.
In this spirit, you’re now going to walk through your upcoming holidays, and create a detailed plan for overcoming challenges and potential stressors. Granted, you can’t account for every situation, but we bet your know your family, friends, and holiday setting well enough that you can plan for most things that may pop up. This gives your brain a chance to sit back and relax, because the decision-making just got a whole lot easier, and you’ve now eliminated a number of scenarios in which you’ll have to make on-the-fly decisions requiring vast amounts of willpower.
We like using “if/then” statements when crafting our plans, so think about writing yours out in that format. Here’s how you can get started.*
*Note, if this all feels way too anal-retentive to you, then you’re probably in a good enough place with your new habits to just wing it this season. See how it goes, and learn from the experience. But if you are really nervous about this holiday, and feel like you need a little extra help to stay whatever course you’ve laid out for yourself, these exercises will prove invaluable.
If/Then Scenarios: Pre-Holiday
Consider talking to family and friends ahead of time about what strategy you’ll be employing this holiday season. If you’re braving the Whole30 or really need to stay away from gluten or dairy because of a health issue or sensitivity, make this clear before the holidays. Walk yourself through the conversation, and imagine some of the responses you might get—things that may throw you off your game.
Some if/then scenarios that may come up (with a few sample answers for the first few questions):
If your Mom says, “But it’s Christmas—why can’t you just relax and enjoy yourself?” then you’ll respond:
- Mom, it’s not that fun spending the whole day with a stomach ache. That’s what bread would do to me. I’ll have way more fun if I just skip it.
- I’m doing so well with my sugar cravings these days—I promise, I’ll still enjoy spending time with all of you without eating 12 servings of dessert.
- I totally will, Mom! I’m just going to try not to fall face-first into the whoopie pies, so if you see me taking breaks throughout the day to relax and digest, cut me some slack.
If your family says, “You may be on this funny diet, but we sure aren’t!” then you’ll respond…
- No problem! I love turkey, butternut squash, and green bean casserole too, and I’m making an awesome dessert to share with all of you.
- I know—and I don’t care what anyone eats on Christmas day! It’s not about the food, it’s about spending time with all of you.
- I know you think it’s weird, but I feel so good eating this way… and when you taste the dishes I’m bringing, you’ll see I’m still eating really delicious food.
Craft your own scenarios for this pre-game discussion, using the if/then structure to anticipate potential objections from friends and family.
If/Then Scenarios: The Big Day
Think about what you’re likely to face on the big day—pressure from family and friends, temptation from less healthy food, a lack of Good Food available while staying at Mom’s house for the week. Now, craft if/then plans for how you’ll handle these situations.
If the temptations or pressures get too intense, then you will…
- Enlist a few family members to take a refreshing walk around the block.
- Excuse yourself for a few minutes to call a friend, do some deep breathing, check your email, or otherwise distract yourself from the pressures.
- Be honest with your family about how you are feeling, and politely ask them to stop pressuring you—you’re feeling awesome and you’re totally satisfied, thank you very much.
If Mom breaks out her once-a-year famous apple pie, then you will…
If Gram is giving you a hard time for your “funny diet” while at the table, then you will…
If your family is asking questions about Paleo or the Whole30 over the holidays, then you will…
If the whole family ends up snacking on less healthy (but tempting) desserts and treats all day, then you will…
If you’re staying at Mom’s for a few days and know she won’t have enough Good Food for you to eat, then you will…
If after a glass of wine, you realize your Good Food plan is about to go out the window, then you will…
You know your friends, family, and holiday situations better than we do, so use these common challenges as a good place to start, and craft your own plan to face these issues head-on. Remember, the more specific you can get, the easier a time you’ll have when these situations come up.
Live, Laugh, Love
If, after all this, your big holiday plans end up crumbling for one reason or another, please do not stress. Remember, changing your life doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s going to take more than one holiday or family gathering to decide upon just the right strategies, plans, and goals. Know that this year, you’ve done a really wonderful job making yourself healthier—and that, with our help and the help of others in our awesome community, you’ll go into next year’s holiday situation healthier, happier, and even better prepared.
So this holiday season, live a little, laugh a lot, and spend time with those you love—and from all of us here at Whole9, we wish you the best in health.