Do’s and Don’ts When Preparing for a Holiday Feast

It’s almost T-Day, y’all!

weekend

I know it’s not Monday, but I still thought this was good.

This year I’m flying solo like a festively roasted bird. And honestly, I have procrastinated in making any plans for the big day! I may crash a friendsgiving, or I may go on a long and crave-worthy hike (weather/smoke permitting!) and catch up on “The Christmas Prince” with some Indian take-out. Then my folks are coming down over Black Friday so we can hang out and prep for Buttercup’s fourth (Fourth!!) birthday party. How did you get so big? Stop getting so big.

But I know not everyone can be so lucky  as to enjoy take-out and watch cheesy Netflix rom-coms on Thursday. So if you’re stuck with a big houseful of people and have some apprehension for the ritual of sitting with others to stuff your face, never fear! I’ve put together a little “do’s and don’ts” list for your gratitude feast.

DO: Make time for a little movement before the party

If you’re feeling stressed about the day (especially if you’re the host that’s cooking the thing! I’ve been there, and I feel ya), almost literally all the research shows* that 30 minutes of movement can improve your mood and energy. So before you roll up your sleeves and shove your arm up that bird carcass, put on your shoes and go for a walk around the block, fire up a quick Aaptiv class (<– affiliate link!), or have a pillow fight with your kids. Exercises gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy. And you know what they say about happy people.

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DON’T: Exercises to try to “Earn It” or “Pre-Burn” the calories

I know, I said that you should move around before the party starts, and I’m not trying to be confusing. There’s a difference between exercising because it makes you feel good and keeps you healthy, and exercising to punish yourself or to be deserving of indulging in food later. Now, I totally used to be one of those people who would go for a run the morning of Thanksgiving to give myself some caloric wiggle room for the day. And my whole evening the mental chatter would include, “Did I run long enough to eat this? Or this? Oh shoot, I forgot to include the calories in the wine!” Instead of relaxing and enjoying the experience of enjoying a good meal in good company, I was mentally calculating and planning a gym visit in the moring to cover for all the extra indulging I did. Total holiday spirit, amirite? So give yourself a pass and some grace this time around.

DO: Enjoy any and all dishes and “worth it” treats that make you feel festive and happy

Unless you have an allergy or aversion to something that’s really going to mess with you, it’s perfectly okay to unabashedly enjoy whatever you want during a celebration. All the stuffing? You do you. Both pumpkin AND apple pie? It’s like we’re meant to be. Starting with a salad and saving the indulgences for after you get in your veggies? A brilliant and strategically sound move. Allow yourself to relax and enjoy what you want, be that the marshmallows off the sweet potato casserole or the roasted brussel sprouts. You do not need to apologize or feel bad about yourself for making choices that feel right for you and doing what you love!

food

DON’T: Feel pressured to eat something you don’t really want

One year, after dinner I was feeling quite satisfied and decided to forego dessert. I received some mild pressure and questioning from my family about not having a slice of pie in front of me. “No, thank you” I responded to the offer, sipping my coffee and enjoying the cozy post-dinner downtime. Folks, we are all adults here and are perfectly capable of making our own choices. If you know the stuffing is going to mess you up, you’ve never been a fan of mashed potatoes, or you don’t want to be uncomfortably full but they’re passing pie around, you can say no. It’s totally up to you.

DO: Take time to participate in or start a holiday tradition that’s not about the food

Yes, we are free to eat, drink and be merry. But let’s be honest, there can be a lot of time where we sit around and stare at each other, mindlessly muching. So after the meal, plan an activity to get everyone away from the table and spending some non-food time together. In my family, we are huge cribbage and jigsaw puzzle players. Or go for a neighborhood walk, play charades, or break out some crafty goodness projects. The best memories are the ones created from shared experiences.

DON’T: Comment on people’s diets, what’s on their plate, or what they’ve eaten/didn’t eat

Otherwise known as the “keep your eyes on your own plate” rule. This should be more general knowledge, but we work with what we have in this life. No one likes to sit down to a meal only to be told what we’re eating is wrong or unhealthy. We’ve all had that one family member (or maybe BEEN that one family member #guilty) that wants to dispense all the diet opinions over dinner, and comment on the food choices of others, whether it’s by choice or doctor’s orders. Just this one time, let’s just not. As much as you like and appreciate the freedom and autonomy to make your own decisions about what you do with your health and body, allow others the same dignity to live their own lives as well.

The Nutshell

nutshell

See what I did there? Holidays are a time to hit the pause button on all of the Life Stuff and enjoy some of the simple pleasures of life. As long as you make choices that feel good to you and keep you moving to the next chapter, you are rocking your own road.

Go make it a great holiday!

Balance is a Myth

I had the honor to speak on a panel last week for a local women’s group. The even was hosted at Sephora University, which my colleagues and I all agreed had the best bathroom mirrors.

stylish

So stylish.

The topic for the panel was “work/life balance”. And I was like, oh, I am SO qualified to talk to that! I have been juggling work, single mom life, friends and family, health and fitness, and me-time for so long, and while I am by no means perfect I think I’ve earned a few kernels of wisdom that I am happy to share if it helps someone.

First off, I dislike the term “balance” (almost as much as I dislike “moderation”, but that’s for another post!) because it assumes equality. It assumes that there is some point where all aspects will be perfectly centered and reach homeostasis. I don’t know about you, but I have yet to wake up in the morning and realize, “Oh, joy! Everything I need to do just fists perfectly into my day!” No, that’s because it’s not a balance, it’s a juggling act.

And I have to take a moment to recognize a bit of the privilege I have in this area. I have an employer that 1) values employee health and well-being, and 2) trusts me allows me (for the most part) able to work remote or adjust my schedule when Life happens. I also have reliable childcare in the form of a great babysitter and a good relationship with my kids’ dad, so when duty calls I’m able to make it work. Not everyone has a flexible schedule or the general ability to find someone to pick up the kids from school in a pinch. And I find these are some of the biggest challenges in the working mom life to manage.

But back to juggling. Imagine a pile of balloons. And these balloons are just blown up with air and not helium so they’re just laying on the floor. Got that image?

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Okay, now toss all of those balloons up and don’t let them touch the floor. Remember that party game? My kids always play it when we have balloons in the house, but that fact aside that’s literally what it feels like to keep everything going. All of the responsibilities and goals in my life are balloons – work, kids, chores, health commitments, friends, service commitments – and I’m just constantly trying to keep them all floating. Sometimes I ignore a balloon for a while and it *almost* hits the floor. Sometimes I just get tired of bopping balloons back up and quite a few hit the floor. When they hit the floor, I have to choose if I’m going to leave them there, or if I want to spend the energy picking them up and putting them back in flight.

Does that sound exhausting? It can be, especially when you’re out of shape (I speak from experience, literally and metaphorically!) or having a rough time of it. Or if you have too many balloons to keep up there. Or if one balloon is losing air, and it’s falling to the ground a lot faster than the other balloons (this is what I call a “crisis balloon”) so you have to spend more time and energy watching for and catching that balloon at the sacrifice of other balloons.

So what can you do to win at the Balloon Game?

First, you have to get over whatever negative feelings you have about the Balloon Game, about how unfair it might feel or how tired you are or how impossible it seems. Because, yes, it does last forever. Literally. But as anyone that’s run a race or done a hard thing for a long time can tell you, if you think about how long you have to keep doing a task, it feels impossible. But if you focus on just this balloon, just this day, it’s so much more manageable. You can do something hard for one day that would be appalling to keep up for a lifetime. So look at it differently. Just tackle it for right now. Maybe make a game out of it (because it is a game!) and see how many or how few balloons you can juggle, find gratitude in each balloon you have, or see if you can get help with juggling a particular balloon.

Second, you have to make sure your balloon for “taking care of myself” is always, always the first one you hit. To take the best care of others, you have to take care of yourself first. You have to, at a minimum, eat in a way that gives you nourishment and energy, get in enough sleep, and move your body regularly. And I know, you’re like, duh. I’ve heard this before. This is probably eye-roll-worthy old news. But if you’ve heard it all before but still aren’t doing the things to take care of yourself, why? Why do you put the importance of all these other things in life before the importance of you? And these things are still scratching the surface of self-care. There’s also positive social interactions, making time for things that make us look or feel good like scheduling that dentist appointment or getting a haircut, and cultivating a hobbies or activities that we do just for ourselves because it’s fun and creativity is so underrated. So if you struggle with getting in the proper amount of “me-time” to care for yourself, that might be something to ponder.

Oh man you guys, I have so much to unpack here. But I hope this gets your gears going on realizing your own Balloon Game, and how to start approaching it with a bit more positivity and purpose.

That’s all for now, go make it a great day!

Getting Off the Couch: A 3-Step Plan to Get Moving

Hello!

So, yesterday I started talking about rewriting unhelpful patterns that I recognized were keeping me from doing the things I know I want to do. And I started thinking more about specifically what are the themes that keep popping up for me, and what have I started to put in place to keep those situations from thwarting my good intentions? So to be extra helpful, I’ve collected the three big things that I find always throw me for a loop, and how I’m changing my mindset to see these challenges differently. I hope this is useful to you!

This August I set myself a goal for incorporating some sort of healthy movement every day for the month, and so far I’m hitting about 50%, which I consider a win since I think in July I worked out maybe four times. My life is kind of crazy so I give myself a lot of wiggle room when it comes to achievable goals, but I also know how easy it is for me to pull out Ye Olde Book o’ Excuses and thumb through until I find one that allows me to Netflix & Beer it. There are certain scenarios, when provided at a moment of peak weakness (i.e. stressed, hungry, possibly surrounded by children), that cause me to cast my growth-mindset priorities aside for the familiar and comfy.

And we’ve all been there. Possibly repeatedly. Maybe you set your alarm to hit that 5:30 am class, but now that it’s 5:00 am you’re like, “Meh, sleep is healthy, too.” Or you told yourself that you’d go for a run after work, but now that you’ve walked through the door the kids are crawling all over you and your spouse just handed you the baby and it looks like you are now putting on the Parenting hat instead, and isn’t family time important, anyway? Or perhaps your yoga buddy cancelled because their parents are in town, and the idea of packing up and going to class alone has lost its appeal. Despite our best efforts, it’s so easy for Life to derail our fitness plans. Not to mention bed is so cozy in the morning, and the couch is so comfy after work!

But if you’re like me and circumstances have made it easy to throw in the towel for the day, it’s always so much harder to pick things up again tomorrow. Not to mention the disappointment of “I would have felt so much better now if I had gotten my run in this morning” realization. So what can Current Me do to help Future Me keep my commitments? I have shared below a few strategies that I have been using successfully, so take a look, keep what you like, and leave the rest!

For When Bed is Too Cozy

On those days when I feel too lazy, or I just don’t want to get up out of my chair and change gears, I pull out Mel Robbins’s “5-second rule” for this one. The 5-Second Rule is pretty simple: based on the premise that it takes your brain 5 seconds to decide to do something, you simply tell yourself mentally, “5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 … Go” and immediately get up to do the thing, no thinking about it. This is great for when I’m trying to get out of bed in the morning, when I walk in through the door at work and need to change into my gym clothes, or when I have a home workout scheduled and am procrastinating on starting. It’s so simple, it just works!

For When Expectation Doesn’t Meet Reality

I tend to get in my head the “perfect” scenario – the perfect yoga class, the perfect run, the perfect lift – and if my circumstances or energy level are anything less than my perfect idea of what I want to have happen, then I tend to make excuses on why it’s not meant to be right now. I drank a few too many beers last night, so I know I’ll feel lousy at Bodypump this morning. My legs are super sore from lunges yesterday, so if I go on a run I know I’ll feel sluggish. I accidentally fall back asleep after my alarm, and now I’ll be 10 minutes late for my early morning yoga class. I forgot my hair tie. Nothing disastrous (well, except for maybe forgetting a hair tie), just when my idea of what was supposed to happen doesn’t meet what actually happens. It’s easy to use minor setbacks as convenient excuses to say, “Oh, darn! Maybe not today, then.” But don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Accept that feeling bloated and sluggish at Bodypump is going to be a thing after last night’s happy hour, and that’s just fine. Go for a recovery hike instead of a run if you’re that sore. Show up to yoga late; it happens, and as long as you’re quiet and respectful in settling the worst you’ll get is a possibly a judgy side-eye from Judgy McJudgerson Pretzel Woman, and who cares what she thinks, anyway? Take the minor setbacks to demonstrate further proof of your commitment, and build up some self-efficacy in the process. We can do hard things!

For when plans change

You had plans to go for a walk on your lunch break and your boss just handed you an issue that’s on fire. Your Pilates-then-pinot buddy is stuck in traffic and said to go without them. You had a run planned but it’s now raining, or your bike has a flat. Similar to letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, a last-minute wrench in the plans can provide an enticing opportunity to allow fate to deal you another blow in your resolve. But we’re stronger than that, aren’t we? Take a deep breath, assess the new situation, and make a new plan. Maybe the stars have truly aligned out of your favor and a workout just isn’t going to happen today, and that’s okay. But if you can schedule your work walk at 3pm instead of lunchtime, bravely solo it to Pilates, or use the rainy day or flat tire as an opportunity to try out that new dance class you’ve been meaning to check out, then you’re proving to yourself your commitment, even when it would be easy to quit.

Do you have any other scenarios or tips you use to overcome obstacles in your habits building?

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Go make it a great day, friends!

Five Natural Stress-Relieving Activities

Is anyone else getting overly excited for today’s open announcement for 17.4? I think I was pretty over it at this time last year, but this year I’m still giddy with anticipation. It’s like Christmas every Thursday. CrossFit Christmas. Which is only confirming that I love presents and surprises.

But if the open announcement is causing you a bit more stress than excitement, I have compiled my go-to list of stress busting activities. Mostly for my own benefit, because I like lists that I can easily reference later because as a working mom I generally operate on like seven brain cells and I do not have any more space to remember things. So the next time you (and/or I) are stressed, take note:

1. Exercise

There are studies abound that show how beneficial exercise is to the body and brain. When you move your body, the brain releases stress-busting endorphins to help you relax and feel good. That’s what that whole “runner’s high” thing is all about. So when your calendar is piling up, one of the best things you can do is make another appointment to move your body.

Now, before you throw your popcorn at me and declare, “Emily you nut job, I’m already too busy to go to the gym! Plus, I hate the gym,” let me clarify a few things. Not every workout needs to be a balls-to-the-wall marathon. High intensity exercise also increases levels of cortisol, and if you’re burning the candle from both ends this will cause your body even more stress, which is not what you need. Good alternatives are walking, some light stretching or yoga, or even running around the playground with your kids (bonus – it tires them out for bedtime!)

So experiment with activities, intensities, and also with what time of the day works for you to find the right exercise cocktail recipe that works for your hormones, brain, and schedule. Some people are morning people that can fall out of bed and into a group fitness class at 5:30 am with no issue. Others like to work out after work when they can really benefit from the stress relief. You can also squeeze in time over your lunch break (I’m a huge fan of my #lunchwalks on Instagram) to take a yoga class by your office or go for a quick hike around the neighborhood. The most important thing is to find something that works for you and to stick with it.

2. Mediation/deep breathing

More and more research is showing up on the benefits of meditation for stress levels and the brain. But for most people, meditation sucks. It’s boring. I can’t turn my thoughts off. And who has time to sit for 20 minutes?

But studies show that even just 5 minutes of sitting and breathing can do noticeable good for the brain. The next time you’re overwhelmed at work, try this exercise. Just take just five minutes in an empty conference room or bathroom stall, set a five minute timer on your phone, \ and focus on your breath, breathing in and out slowly for a count of 4-8. (Hopefully that bathroom stall isn’t too stinky for the deep breathing.) Then go back to that email or meeting with a slightly more clear head and lower blood pressure.

It’s also great to meditate first thing in the morning. The biggest tip I can recommend is don’t meditate in bed! When I think I can get away with this, I end up falling back asleep. Instead, go to a couch or your special meditation place (grab a blanket if you’re chilly) and while sitting up straight practice deep breathing for five minutes. You can even play some soothing music (just YouTube or search Apple Music for “meditation music”) if you can’t deal with the silence. Your brain may go all over the place. That’s cool. Just gently remind yourself to focus on your breath. Again. And again. Yeah, this will happen a lot, so be kind to yourself and bring your attention back to your breath. When the timer goes off, roll your shoulders, stretch for a bit, then bounce to the kitchen for that first cup of coffee!

Deep breathing  is also a great exercise when you’re sitting in traffic! Put on some soothing music (but maybe not one of those meditation apps – save those for when you don’t need to concentrate on not hitting the car in front of you) and take deep, slow breaths. Roll your wrists to relieve your death grip on the steering wheel.

3. Aromatherapy

It’s not just for woo anymore! There are many benefits to the relaxing aromas in a quickly-growing research area. Did you know that many of your memories are triggered by scent? I know the smell of a campfire always reminds me of visiting my grandparents’ cabin in Northern Minnesota, and when I get a whiff of Buttercup’s jelly sandals the scented plastic brings me back to my childhood afternoons playing with my Cupcake doll. The right scent can lighten your mood, enhance your focus, or calm you down.

Scented candles are an easy way to make things smelly, and the gentle flame can be soothing. In an office or have rambunctiously small humans around with no self-preservation instinct? Get an oil diffuser (this is the one I have, and I love it) and some essential oils! Lavender, lemon, and peppermint are all good scents to calm you down or perk you up and are on the inexpensive side. Or just take the cap off the oil and take a whiff when the mood strikes you.

4. Hugs

Social contact is hugely important and radically underrated. Physical contact with other humans boosts oxytocin in the brain, the hormone responsible for making us feel safe, loved, and connected. Ever notice that when you’re having an epically bad day and your bestie gives you a big hug you do feel a bit better? Or when you’ve had a fight with your spouse you begrudgingly have to admit to yourself that you feel a bit more connected after you’ve hugged it out? I mean, they’re still wrong, but you feel better, right? That would be the oxytocin talking, letting you know that you still have a tribe to fall back on and you’re not all alone in the unforgiving wilderness of modern society. Touch gives us a comfort that we can’t wholly obtain through social media, texting, or the phone (do people still phone?)

To get the most out of contact with other humans, make it a point to be a hugger. I am not a natural hugger, but I am slowly working on this skill for myself. Live alone or at the office all the time where it would be super awkward to give your boss a hug? Even booking a massage or mani-pedi will give you a quick boost of human-to-human contact that your body will interpret as healing touch (I sometimes do this if I’m travelling and am not around my family and friends for a while) and give you a quick boost of the warm-fuzzies. Let’s make America huggy again!

5. Food

Yes, food can be a stress relief. Here me out, this is one area I’ve been playing around with lately.

When I’m in times of high stress, I tend to eat less healthy and skip meals for the sake of convenience. Which makes my sugar cravings amp up and become unrelenting. It used to be when I felt down or stressed, I would hit up all of the usual culprits – cookies, ice cream, my beloved Safeway sheet cake – and gorge with the opinion that I’m treating myself. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing to stress eat. It happens. Is it the healthiest option? Probably not. Am I a bad person for falling into this habit? Nope. It’s a habit, and one that I have chosen to evaluate and change because I want to be healthier and I found that this pattern of stress eating was not helping me be healthy because I am totally letting my cravings run the show.

I’ve learned that there is a different between treating yourself in a quick, pleasurable, yet unsustainable way and treating yourself in a kind, more nourishing way that will carry forward and make other life areas better. Both ways can be good in the right context. Sometimes a random Wednesday night cupcake happens, and it’s okay. But other nights a good steak and my favorite tea is more what I need to feel good and cared for, since it’s not only a treat, but one that’s good for my body and health as well.

This is why I list food as a stress relief, but the right kind of food. Adding sugary treats on top of stress will be a brief distraction, but in the long run only make the stress and cravings worse. However, taking the time to make a wholesome, healthy meal for yourself often is what your brain and body need the most. Sometimes a splurge on something that your normally wouldn’t buy feels like a good treat, like some selections of your favorite olives from the olive bar or prosciutto-wrapped melon. Anything that makes you feel like you’re doing something nice for your brain as well as your body.

And that’s what I have for today. Any other go-to stress relieving activities you enjoy?

Go make it a great day!