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Healthy Holidays: Why “Getting Back on Track” is the Wrong Message

Before the Thanksgiving holiday, I wrote a post about why you should eat whatever you please on Thanksgiving and not feel guilty about it in any way. The next topic I have a big issue with is the idea of getting back on track after the holiday.

On its surface, this seems like a completely fine message. What’s wrong with getting back on track after a weekend of indulgence? Nothing, really. It is more the underlying message: you messed up and you owe payment for your crimes.

Eating too much isn’t a crime – it’s a choice.

The biggest issue with this message is that it presumes to know your goals and what you want out of this time of year. In this video I talk about how trying to start focusing on nutrition during Thanksgiving, a holiday centered on food, is like trying to stop drinking while going to a bar, a location centered on alcohol. It just doesn’t make any sense.

The real question here is if your holiday weekend was truly “off track” – or was it just focused on a different goal? As a personal anecdote, I shared an extra meal and glass of wine with my dad, his wife, and my wife this weekend that my physical health probably didn’t need. But you know what? The biggest lesson I learned from losing my mom was that those memories and times are fleeting and should be cherished. That conversation was good for my heart and it was good for my soul. Doesn’t that matter for your health, too? It was that rare occurrence in 2019 when no one had their phone, no one was rushing to the “next thing” and we were all just present and enjoying the company. This weekend, my mental health mattered more than my immediate physical health. Which leads to my next point…

My goals during the holidays are different – are yours?

For most of the year, my health and fitness goals revolve around staying lean, feeling energized, and improving my performance in workouts and real life. I want to be able to do my own yard work, enjoy water sports in the summer, and be able to be active in any situation. The holiday season is different.

The holidays are the one time per year my family all gets together – and we have some legitimate nostalgia built around the foods at these reunions; I bet you do as well. So my goal for these specific times (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years for my family) are different than my goals the rest of the year. During these weeks, I focus on strong relationships and soaking in the time and memories with my family – like the one I mentioned above.

Now, you may be thinking, “That’s strange – is Joe saying I should neglect my health during the holidays?” ABSOLUTELY NOT. I’m saying the exact opposite. Research has shown that having healthy relationships is a leading indicator of long term health. In fact, people with healthy relationships develop healthier habits (such as eating whole, unprocessed food, and exercising), have lower stress levels, and even are more resistant to the common cold. In a strange way, sharing a piece of pie with your grandma may actually help you become your healthiest self. Imagine that.

You don’t need to get back on track, so stop feeling guilty and beating yourself up.

The reason I hate the “get back on track” message is because it’s short sighted and presumes that everyone is trying to stay lean and prioritize their physical health number one throughout the holiday season. The fact is many of you are balancing a huge list of responsibilities throughout the holiday season and adding stress from food guilt about enjoying a holiday cookie with your family is counter intuitive. You don’t need to “get back on track”; you need to simply act in accordance with the goal you’ve put forth for the week. If it’s a normal week in December and you don’t have a holiday party to attend, then treat it like a normal week in June. Eat healthy. Go to the gym. Get your sleep. And keep in mind that you dropping your physical health habits for a couple of days or weekends during the holidays to fully connect with your family and friends isn’t a crime. It’s good for your mental health – which in the long run is good for your physical health, too. So don’t beat yourself up – you were never “off track” in the first place.

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