SALT LAKE CITY — Along with cool, crisp air in some parts of the U.S., Halloween brings a reminder of the upcoming holiday season that’s just around the corner. For many individuals, the holidays also bring traditions of festive foods including sweet treats. Given that the holidays will be here soon, taking time now to plan can help with balancing enjoyment and healthy habits in the season ahead.
It may be common for individuals to feel as if it’s “all or nothing” when it comes to eating and healthy lifestyle habits at any time of year. Black or white thinking could lead to thoughts such as it’s either “eating clean” or “junk eating” with little space in between. Yet there is room for balance between enjoyment of treats and a healthy eating pattern even during the holidays.
There are many ways to make healthier choices this Halloween such as including more vegetables and fruits, especially those at their best during the fall season, and reducing foods high in added sugars such as by moderating portions of festive sweets and treats and switching to healthier options.
For many individuals enjoying some of these special foods is about sharing with family, friends, and neighbors in the fun of the holiday. Having sweets in moderation can be more challenging, however, when the environment provides an abundance of these food options.
Self-regulation is a skill you can learn
Finding a healthy balance in eating and other lifestyle habits can be supported by the skill of self-regulation. Self-regulation, also called executive control, is defined by psychologists as an ability to manage emotions and behavior based on the needs of a given situation.
Individuals that build self-regulation skills may be better able to adjust to change, handle life challenges, and manage emotions while pursuing behaviors that reflect their goals and values. The skill of self-regulation is also something that parents can help children develop at home.
Researchers have found evidence that self-regulation can be thought of like a muscle that can be strengthened over time and with practice. It’s also been shown that using self-regulation in one area may decrease psychological and physical reserves for regulating other areas of life.
This could be one reason that during the busy holiday season individuals may have less mental and physical energy for continuing with healthy activities. That’s why it’s important to plan to make adjustments in health-related routines so that they’re realistic to maintain during busier times of the year.
Given these findings, what are some ways that individuals can train and strengthen their self-regulation muscles? Start with small daily practices that can build a feeling of success and increased self-awareness. There isn’t necessarily one practice that works for everyone, so experimenting until individuals find what fits best for them is recommended.
Here are three ways to build momentum with healthy practices and help find balance during the holiday season and beyond:
1. Create a meaningful morning ritual
This could be one to two small, healthy actions done alone or with other family members that get the day started with a focus on what’s most important.
- For example, in addition to the activities needed to get ready for the day, add 10 minutes of a healthy activity that feels good such as walking with the dog, sitting down for breakfast with the household, or creating a time for quiet reflection such as journaling.
- The key to building the self-regulation muscle is to start small with the amount of time and energy that feels sustainable and easy to stick with. Even 5 minutes toward a healthy habit may be an investment in a longer-term foundation. Then, stick with the morning ritual and adjust it as life changes, such as based on vacation schedules.
2. Look forward to a couple of daily 'check-ins'
Schedule at least two short breaks to check in with yourself throughout the day. Consider what’s been accomplished so far and plan for activities needed to care for body and mind during the rest of day.
- This could be a time to sit quietly, close the office door, or to take some down time at home to consider what’s most important. What would help you take care of yourself as well as other life responsibilities for the remainder of the day?
- Working the self-regulation muscle, in this case, means not skipping over the time to invest in building energy reserves.
3. Relax and unwind at the end of the day
Consider creating a time before going to sleep to relax and focus on releasing anything that hasn’t been completed for the day.
- One option is to write down a to-do list for the next day. Another practice that has been shown to have positive health benefits is recognizing and generating gratitude for even the small things that went well today.
- Taking about 10 minutes before the day ends to strengthen your muscle of reflection may help you begin the next morning with a stronger sense of what’s important. This can help with progressing toward meaningful goals in health and other areas of life.
Creating space for healthy habits in small ways each day can help build comfort with and increase the strength of self-regulation behaviors. This can support maintenance of these habits during the holiday season and beyond. Finding a renewed sense of balance can mean savoring treats in moderation while avoiding the trick of all or nothing thinking!
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