Every year someone asks me to write an article about how to keep weight off during the holidays or how to exercise during the holidays or keep your sanity during the holidays (you get the idea). However, I don’t think keeping fit and keeping your weight down are the goals.
If we can focus on what our limbic brain experiences during the holidays it may help us to view ourselves as a whole instead of this nagging need to control weight. The holidays are filled with love and compassion (usually) and they have the potential of fulfilling our emotional and mental needs which are crucial to overall weight health and fitness. So why not focus on those things that come to us naturally during the holidays that don’t necessarily involve food or drink.
When I think of the pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving I can appreciate how wonderful a Thanksgiving feast must have been. Towns and villages filled with hard working farmers, planting the seeds, watering and nurturing the crops and hunters working the land, saving the harvest, salting the game to endure hard winters. They survived because of the bounty the earth and what it had to offer and the pilgrims celebrated that fact. There was a natural balance between physical activity and what they ate and drank. There was always the threat or fear for survival. Their limbic brains were probably on high alert most of the time trying to keep up with the daily energetic demand but Thanksgiving was a time to finally enjoy literally, the fruits of their labor taking time out of their day to do just that.
Now we no longer worry about surviving a hard winter we have a bounty of food within minutes of our reach. There is no threat that wolves will attack our cows, crows devour our corn or that a crop may fail. There is virtually no threat of starvation anywhere yet we still celebrate Thanksgiving the same way minus the activity. We don’t churn our own butter, skin and smoke our own meat or mash pumpkins to make our pumpkin pie. We celebrate a very different kind of Thanksgiving than we used to as pilgrims and yet nothing has changed, our bodies and their metabolisms still react to our environment, food and activity levels the same way. My father understood how to celebrate our more contemporary version of Thanksgiving.
My father ( the skinniest man I’ve ever known) used to say “Everything in moderation” meaning keeping the habit of moderate amounts of food and drink no matter what holiday it is, will help you maintain a healthy weight. My mother made fantastic Thanksgiving feasts worthy of a chef's approval and my father loved them. But my father's habits were predictable in response to my mother's culinary talents. My father balanced large holiday gatherings loaded with food with physical activity typically. He performed his Air Force exercises every other day religiously and during the holidays he would walk early in the morning and very often immediately after dinner. This was a predictable event and something that we as his kids would happily participate in because time with dad was rare.
My father’s metabolism was in optimal functioning condition because he felt and understood the balance of food and activity. It's interesting to note his activity also created a closeness for us as kids that had nothing to do with food necessarily. This is what leads me to believe that I value the food less than the people I’m spending my holiday with, even today.
I am thankful that my father taught us those lessons of moderation, of activity as a family bonding opportunity, of being thankful for people and love more than food. These are the things that keep my family close now, that keep my focus on how blessed we’ve been and how very grateful I am that I didn’t grow up thinking it was all about the food necessarily or binge eating as a badge.
How can we refocus our attention on what Thanksgiving is really meant to be about? Here are a few things you can do.
WALK THE EARTH- Take a long walk the morning of Thanksgiving. Try to walk where you can see all the beauty and abundance of nature unfold ( count leaves on a branch, watch water flowing for 5 minutes, take deep breaths and see if you can smell the leaves, dirt or crops in your area).
CREATE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL- A thank you card to a loved one with a beautiful yellow or red leaf pasted on it. A wreath of dried branches, berries or vines decorated with flowers of the season. Create anything that you can imbue with your love and give it to someone you love.
EAT A HEALTHY BREAKFAST- This tells your body that you value it’s functioning and that you trust you will eat appropriate amounts of food later at Thanksgiving dinner. Let your body know it’s safe to expend energy today and every day.
CREATE A THANKFUL MANTRA- Create a mantra that highlights all the things you are deeply grateful for and that sustains you today and every day. Thanking yourself and your loved ones support and energy during good times and bad, is a good start.
LIGHT A CANDLE FOR THOSE PASSED- Light a candle for all pilgrims who have paved the way for our continued abundant lifestyle and for all those ancestors who paved the way for your personal health, wellbeing, good habits and successes.
SAY GRACE- Before your big feast, say a prayer of grace and add your thankful mantra as you light the candle in the middle of your Thanksgiving table. Remind all of your guests that the flame of your ancestors spirits still live with us to this day and welcome their presence in your home.
THANK YOURSELF- At the end of the day when everyone is lounging around happy and full, take a moment to thank yourself for your efforts, for your wisdom, for the perfect functioning of your body and your health (no matter what you weigh) and breathe in the perfection of this moment. You are blessed, happy and surrounded by those you love..BE the state of thankful.
You may experience a greater sense of your mind body connection as you create your own rituals combining physical activity, honoring your body and ancestors and creating beauty and love wherever you can. These are the foods of the limbic brain that provide a sense of belonging, safety and recognition of all those elements that make you who you are. These are the things that can serve as our limbic system, balancing and energizing us whenever we are feeling less than whole, less than thankful.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving!