The generic advice on how to avoid holiday season overeating pours from the pages of equally generic women’s magazines at this time of year: don’t go to a party hungry, no standing and eating, one alcoholic drink, one water, repeat.
Among the many issues of individuality this formula ignores is the question of “Who is eating?” Different circumstances and environments bring out different sides of our personalities and different stressors turn us into different eaters. If there were a patron saint (or more accurately, devil) of archetypal holiday overeaters it would be “the martyr.”
The holiday martyr believes she should sacrifice her physical and emotional health to the elusive goddess of holiday harmony. At this altar she presents the sacrifices of sleep, exercise, hours spent on holiday activities and of course debt, all with the belief that she will ultimately please more people. Exhausted and depleted from the sacrifices to this demanding goddess, the martyr eater arrives at the holiday cookie tray and office kitchen full of holiday treats for the final act of self-sacrifice: a sugar-induced bomb that will further destroy her physical health and the hopes of looking slim and healthy on Jan.1—which on some level, she feels is an unpious act of vanity.
Ditching the martyr does not equal ditching your friends, aging family members and all holiday-related activities in favor of a yoga retreat in Belize.
Between martyrdom and narcissism is a place of self-respect. Self-respect indulges with care on the most joyful and important elements of the holidays. It splurges on life’s “win-win” models of enjoying the process and the outcome. Contemplate other situations in your life that are beneficial from all angles for their insight into the holidays— eating locally nourishes your body, the environment and supports local economies, the thrill of the chase at a sample sale= is as fun as the ultimate find and Lithe allows you to love exercise and get amazing results.
But, just like those Lithe bands, protecting your boundaries with your time, friends, family and job takes effort and practice. The holidays can present a particular challenge if you are in close contact with female relatives who taught you martyr behaviors. Be wary of subtle encouragement to work yourself into an exhausted overweight mess to produce 15 different types of homemade cookies and procure every piece of plastic desired by the kindergarten crowd to affirm your status as a good parent. Remember that caring for yourself protects and cares for those around you more than preserving traditions of unhealthy behaviors.
Here are a few tips to kindly ask the martyr to leave. Be gentle with yourself and start small. Gradually, you’ll be more comfortable in a softer life—and around the festive cheese plate.
1. Always check in with your body before making commitments. Are you too tired to attend one more party? Do you really want to do another gift-exchange where you’ll get another scented candle you don’t need, or are you just trying to be nice?
2. Think back to past and current win-win models in your life. Where has doing what feels good led to great results and how can you apply this to other areas of your life?
3. Observe your Mom. Does she rock the martyr persona? Because of historical, religious and familial upbringing, women are more subject to these influences then men. If so, you probably feel comfortable in the feeling of overwhelm. Being aware of the roots of your inner martyr can radically change the way you live your life.
Ali Shapiro is a regular NBC 10! Show contributor and works with individuals and groups to show them how to design their food and life to experience waitless living™. To sign-up for her newsletter, click here. To learn more, visit alishapiro.com.
Images via Ali Shapiro, Lithe Instructor, Carrie Gero via Dominic Episcopo & cookies via 101 Cookbooks.