On Nutrition

If you’re committed to avoiding possible exposure to the coronavirus, lets face it — the 2020 holidays are not going to be business as usual. You might be sharing the holiday table with different people than usual (aka friends in your pandemic pod). You might be celebrating only with family within driving distance (who hopefully are being as careful as you are). Or, you might be narrowing the festivities to your immediate household — which may be a party of one.

For some, downsizing holiday celebrations could be a relief — with the threat of COVID-19 serving as a welcome excuse to not spend the holidays with dysfunctional extended families — but for many, this is a sorrow. Either way, it’s worth asking yourself this question: “If the holidays won’t be ‘normal,’ how do I want them to look — and feel?” Here are five tips for finding your answer:

1. Set aside assumptions about what the holidays and holiday meals “have to” look like. Always felt that stuffing AND sweet potatoes AND mashed potatoes AND dinner rolls was a bit much? Now’s your chance to scale back, especially if you are cooking for fewer people this year. Are “holiday favorite” foods really your favorite foods? Who says you have to have turkey on Thanksgiving? Maybe you’d prefer Chinese takeout. One client and her husband, both retired, have a tradition of grilling a nice steak and opening a good bottle of wine on Christmas.

2. Accept that the holidays will be different. Acceptance doesn’t mean you like the situation or that you don’t wish you could change it. Rather, it means accepting that the situation at hand is what’s real, and that denying it or fighting it will only make yourself feel worse. I’m finding that my clients who have been able to accept that we have a new normal for now are thriving much more than those who are trying to force things to look like the old normal right now.

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3. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” You may know you feel “bad,” but are you specifically feeling sad to not see your grandmother — or your grandchildren? Anxious about being alone for the holidays? Guilty that you’re not at all upset that you won’t be spending Thanksgiving Day with difficult family members? Being able to name what you’re feeling can lessen some of the feeling’s power, and let you …

4. Ask yourself, “What do I need?” What would help you feel less sad, less anxious? To connect with family over Zoom on the holiday? To keep family traditions alive in your own home? To do something totally different and unusual on the holiday, essentially declaring 2020 a holiday bye year?

5. Approach eating with mindfulness. Do you usually feel like your eating is out of control when faced with once-a-year holiday foods? If family dynamics tend to throw fuel on your emotional fire, and you’ll be on your own this year, you might actually feel more a little more food peace. But if you’re already stressed or sad, after addressing No. 4, ask yourself how you want to feel when you get up from the holiday meal: comfortably full and satisfied, or uncomfortably full and in need of a nap? If it’s the former, try to stay tuned in to the sensory aspects of your food as you’re eating — the taste, texture, temperature and aroma — as well as signs that you are getting full. Allowing yourself maximum enjoyment may make it easier to say, “enough.”