Approaching the holiday food and drink onslaught

Holiday food can be life enhancing
Holiday food can be life enhancing

Originally published here on 22-Dec-2013 at

The Holidays are Here
In the Northern Hemisphere, we are in the warmer months of the year and are either on holiday or planning on going away on one soon.  Whether it’s travelling to some far off place to get away from busy city bustle, visiting relatives, or simply going extra wild with partying without leaving the limits of your town, the general mood is one of letting out steam and unwinding to refresh and energize ourselves for the cooler months ahead.

How we spend our holidays is a reflection of the quality of life we think we can afford financially.  Another perspective might be that the manner in which you spend your breaks sets a theme for how you continue the year.

Dissonance Destruction
The typical holidaymaker faces dissonance between his goal of having fun (undoubtedly good for the mind) and having fun (eating and drinking without thought, undoubtedly bad for the body).  Our minds are fantastic at blocking out thoughts we would like to be blind to – in this case, the unhealthy choices or quantities of food or drink we may consume.  In her book Wilful Blindness Margaret Heffernan refers to this state of mental blindness affecting not just individuals but entire nations or global ecosystems.  We usually do this to avoid some kind of pain or discomfort.  In our holiday context, it’s the psychological pain of giving up some food or drink that gives instantaneous pleasure.  How does one overcome that pain in a way that is sustainable?  Here is how I do it.

Be Analog Not Binary
Unlike a court judgement ‘guilty’ or ‘innocent’ we need not approach our apparently painful decisions to eat and drink healthily in quite the same binary and ruthless manner.  What actually works well is making small gradual changes – the “perhaps guilty or “perhaps innocent” approach.  It is the small changes that we make that are both (a) easier to make and (b) more sustainable.  In turn they provide positive feedback of encouragement (call it self motivation) for further good and positive tiny changes.

War on Buffet
Imagine that you’ve arrived at the breakfast buffet at your holiday hotel.  You know you’ve already paid for the spread that’s laid out.  No one likes to get cheated out of her money’s worth.  So, the first thought that usually goes through your mind is “how do I eat as much as possible?”.  As a result, from the moment you approach the meal, your focus is very different from the one you would have if you were eating at home.  How do you beat yourself at that game?  Let me tell you how I do it.

Even as you are getting dressed for breakfast, ask yourself this question “what healthy food am I going to eat so as to make the money, that I have already spent, work wonders for my body?”.  You need not answer this question until you get to the breakfast table, or even articulate an answer at the table.  But simple asking yourself this question (repeatedly) changes your frame of reference.  This new reference frame makes the healthier decisions at the buffet table a lot easier, and more automatic.  Try it!

Asking yourself this one innocent question can have a significant impact on the choice you make.  A tiny thought? Yes.  A small influence on your decision? Maybe.  A massive impact on your lifestyle?  Perhaps!  You’ll see!

This approach of changing your frame of reference by asking yourself a simple question works with any meal where you might drop your guard.  The garden table at a summer barbecue.  A wedding banquet.  And that expensive talk-of-the-town restaurant dinner.  Have a go, and let me know what you thought of the experience – the self-questioning (before), the mindfulness (during) and the resultant impact (later).

Long Flight Tip
Let us now move on from this simple motivation tip to some hands-on guidance for you if you have a long flight ahead.  Did you know that the level of humidity inside the aircraft is at best just one-third the level you’d normally find in a comfortable indoor environment?  That means a constant loss of fluid without perspiration.  How do you combat that?

– drink a bottle of water before you board the aircraft
– avoid caffeinated drinks
– avoid alcohol (wait till you get to that hotel mini-bar!)
– avoid tea and coffee

I love my caffeinated drinks, but when I fly, I stay well away from them.  The only time I might make an exception is when the aircraft is close to landing and when I know I need to stay alert for the next few hours through important meetings.

Mindfully Wild
I will hope you too will be mindful of the fact that you are what you drink, even when the holidays are here, and beyond!



Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.


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