December 10, 2010

Surviving the Holidays

Adventist Review editor Bill Knott recently spoke with Dr. Wes Youngberg, Dr.P.H., Wellness Center director of Rancho Family Medical Group in Temecula, California, and a frequent speaker at lifestyle medicine conferences around the world. Look for Part 2 of the conversation in next week’s magazine, and for Dr. Youngberg’s new column in the Adventist Review, beginning in January.—Editors.  [Read Part 2]

Some wit has reminded us that “more people spend more energy atoning for more lifestyle choices between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than any other season of the year.” Does that sound true to you?
It’s embarrassingly easy to forget that the real reason for these special days—for Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s—is to focus on our relationship with God and to thank Him for the new life we’ve found in Jesus Christ. Second, this is a great time to strengthen relationships that are already good but on which we may not have spent adequate time in recent months. These weeks also give us an opening to work on rebuilding relationships that may have been stretched or strained or even broken through carelessness or inattention. While so many in our society are focusing excessively on food and drink and shopping and gift-giving, Adventists ought to be foremost in reminding each other and our communities that the holidays are really all about our most important relationships.
2009 1534 page27So our culture’s focus on food ?and festivities is often a way of avoiding the important stuff of building relationships?
Unfortunately, that’s really the case. It all becomes about the food and how many different things are available to eat. Hosts and hostesses get stressed because they want to prepare all the “feel-good” foods they remember from their past—or some magazine’s version of the past—or make all of Grandma’s favorite recipes, and all Mom’s favorite dishes. Soon we’ve created a six-week stretch that not only offers a real temptation to overeat on a given day of celebration, but an extended temptation because of all those leftovers.
We’re halfway through that six-week stretch right now.
What advice do you give your patients who are trying
to make good lifestyle choices during the holidays?
First, last, and best: simplify. Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses—or some magazine—or Grandma!—in providing all the richest delicacies. Keep it simple.
Make some nice recipes, enjoy some special foods and desserts, but don’t use them as an opportunity to indulge, because you—and those important people around you—will pay for that. The body doesn’t have a “get out of jail free” card when it comes to what we consume. The consequences of overdoing it in this one season of the year can make the holidays less enjoyable than they should be, and it can actually add stress to our lives throughout the rest of the year as well. Elevating our risk of heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other lifestyle-related diseases is an odd way to show our gratitude to the Lord who both made us and redeemed us!
What can I do as I plan a holiday gathering that will help
both me and my guests enjoy the event—without the guilt?
Make your holiday celebration about something other than just food! A good host will spread it out—he’ll plan other activities besides “good” eating. Plan activities that both adults and children can do together to increase contact and foster those relationships. Spend a bit less time cooking and decorating and a bit more time planning on what the family’s going to do together—where we’re going to go to get some exercise together; what puzzle we’re going to put together; what fun project we’re going to accomplish. Ultimately, you’re not going to remember just how great the apple pie was, but you are going to remember the loved ones and the friends you spent quality time with. It really is possible to reorient our holiday celebrations so that we both honor God in our bodies and honor the important relationships He’s given us. 

This article was printed December 10, 2009.