Here’s A Holiday Survival Tip: Lower Your Standards


This may be the least motivating post I’ve ever written in the history of this site, but you guys: IT NEEDS TO BE SAID. I am really getting sick of reading the same old magazine articles with recycled tips and tricks about how to stay healthy during the holidays. That is not to say that I am above ever needing a good tip, or to say that some of them are not quite useful tips, but more that I am bored of hearing someone tell me that if I would just drink a big glass of water or eat a high fiber snack before my favorite annual Christmas party that I will magically forget how good deep fried mini-crab cakes and pumpkin cheesecake taste.

I’m sorry Fitness Magazine, but I have the memory of an elephant whether I am properly hydrated or not.  And food memories are powerful things.

When I was 21 and living in Los Angeles with my cousin Kelly and my gay husband Fredo, I had what I consider a moment I will never forget with a pumpkin cheesecake and indulge me while I tell about it. You see I was managing a coffee shop by day and by night I was participating in extracurricular activities that involved imbibing and inhaling and surely some other verbs that begin with the letter ‘i’ that I can’t quite remember right this second.  One night Kelly — who conveniently worked at the Costco right behind our apartment — brought home one of those ENORMOUS pumpkin cheesecakes that only Costco can sell while keeping a straight face.

We unwrapped it like it was a gift from the Baby Jesus himself and ate it straight out of the cardboard box that had originally contained it with no regard for manners whatsoever. Emily Post would have been horrified at the sight of us and probably even more so when we had had enough and we put away what was left of the cheesecake carcass (half eaten it still took up the whole top shelf of the refrigerator.) And because we were resourceful young whippersnappers, most concerned with kitchen efficiency, WE LEFT OUR FORKS IN THE CHEESECAKE.  And then we spend the rest of the week doing individual cheesecake drive-bys until the entire thing was gone.

I mean, it just made so much blissful sense at the time.

These days I’d never even bring one of those cheesecakes into my house, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a nostalgic little chuckle every single time I pass them in the refrigerator case during my weekly Costco run almost TEN YEARS LATER. Sometimes I consider snagging one for old times sake. I’ve certainly enjoyed a slice or two over the last decade at holiday parties and such (but with much less abandon, I promise.) And the thing about each time I off-road and enjoy that holiday treat, is that what warms my belly most is the memory of that time and place in my life when everything was so full of…well, LIVING!  No it was not the nutritional highlight of my life, but it was a highlight. And those are important too! And this is why I am growing so exhausted lately when I hear people groaning about trying to “be good” or worrying about how to make up for “being bad” with their food intake this time of year.

The holidays are a tough time to be healthy even for the most disciplined. And while I’m not advocating for everyone to just go off the rails for the next month and a half, I will tell you that as a fairly disciplined person myself I understand the struggle.  But I also don’t think every interaction with food during the weekends of November and December needs to have a strategy.

Everyday I try to eat a good breakfast. I prep myself healthy snacks and I enjoy them. I plan my meals with good intentions. When I have the opportunity to eat something green, I chow down! I drink a glass of water for every glass of wine, and while the wine opportunities are much more often during these months, I generally feel comforted by the fact that I try to do my best. I try to do my best everyday, not just during the holidays. So I am 100% ok with the fact that My Best during November and December looks a little different than My Best during the month of January.  And knowing that is a treat in itself. Everything is heightened this time of year and I don’t feel the least bit bad about lowering my standards.  If you are freaked out in the moment about lowering your standards, and have a hard time letting yourself off the hook, here are some things to think about:

*Pat yourself on that back for how far you’ve come, mentally and physically
*Get excited about where you are going, this year and next year.
*See the big picture.
*High five yourself for being willing to think big and work hard and don’t spend a minute beating yourself up for an indulgence here and there.
*Remember that this is real life and a night filled with min-crab cakes is not going to unravel everything

Then choose your indulgences wisely and then don’t give it another thought!

Clink a glass of your choice to your families and friendships. Toast to happiness and especially to the health that you work so hard for every single day of the year. Those pumpkin cheesecake filled moments with the ones you love are priceless and they won’t be around forever. Things change, lives change and who wants to be hand wringing over a glass of champagne or a bite of cheesecake when they can be laughing just a little bit too loud with an old pal. Sometimes we do ourselves a favor by lowering our standards.

This season, I hope you enjoy yourselves and your families.  Do your best to make good decisions — and that will look different for everyone. It has looked different for me every year since I went Paleo.  Trust your body to let you know if it needs a little detox or if it needs another bag of chips. And then tomorrow, get right back to it like you always do.

Worst advice ever? Who knows. But it’s how I’m being nice to myself this season. Have you thought about how you are going to be nice to YOU?

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27 Responses to Here’s A Holiday Survival Tip: Lower Your Standards

  1. Bob says:

    Very, very well said. I will be sharing this post with a LOT of people. Thank you for putting in words what a lot of us are afraid to think, let alone say. Bravo!

  2. Ellen says:

    Ah, Holly. I love this post. In fact, I advocate a generalized lowering of standards in life sometimes. Especially at the holidays. All these nutty people making them selves effing crazy trying to recreate festive perfection wind up feeling deflated and empty. And for me, off roading regarding food is nearly always made worse by the sense of failure from having my expectations too high (like seriously, did I really think I was going to drink seltzer water at a party instead of a glass of champagne, puh-lease). So, hip hip hooray for realistic expectations. Loving your sense of reality, as always…

    • Holly says:


      I am a firm believer in Seasons of Life — not just literally speaking, but what you are going through and experiencing in general. Our standards for Super Awesome High Performance are going to vary throughout our lives. The key (to me) at least is to be aware of those shifts and show ourselves a little bit of compassion in the process.

  3. SO great! I actually just re-posted some tips for surviving Thanksgiving, but they’re less of the “drink a gallon of water in the AM” tips and more of the “focus on your company more than the food” type tips.

    I love you “*Remember that this is real life and a night filled with min-crab cakes is not going to unravel everything” tip– it’s true. Part of this time of year is about being patient, resilient and forgiving when it comes to food.

    • Holly says:

      HA! I read those shortly after posting this and was like “Aw crap! I hope she didn’t think this was a response that that!” I always appreciate your perspectives!

  4. Chandelle says:

    So much love for this. Thank you.

  5. sizzle says:

    That cartoon is so funny. And this post is so spot on. I plan on keeping up with my working out because that makes me feel the best. I’m not going to make a bunch of cookies like I have the past 4 years (no tenants to give them out to so it is easy to drop this tradition) and since I’m hosting most of the holiday shenanigans for my family, I can infuse some healthier options in our meals. I really don’t want to over-extend but rather enjoy quality time in our new house this holiday season. Here’s hoping we all can be nice to ourselves.

  6. I REALLY needed this today. I have been obsessing…OBSESSING about the upcoming holidays. About how far I have come and how I do not want to step backwards, about how it makes me not even want to join in the festivities, about how I don’t do well telling myself NO, let alone loved ones that insist that you eat dessert.

    Thank you Holly…for your blog, and for this post!

  7. Cami Sebern says:

    Excellent post as always and so very timely. I have been working on balancing “the life is too short attitude” with the “but I know this is better for me attitude” and have decided that one thing I am going to do that will be fun and yet not set me back is have a Paleo cookie exchange. Invite friends, paleo and not, have the proper ingredients and recipes available and have folks choose something that looks interesting and start baking. Fun, friends and treats that will not send us into carb coma…win win!!

  8. Carol says:

    Loved this post!

  9. This is brilliant advice and absolutely the way I feel about the holidays, too. But… I will say that it took me a long time to get to this place of peace with indulging: knowing how much I can indulge, learning to not beat myself to a pulp after indulging.

    To you lovely people who are new to eating clean and making your health a priority, I’d also say this: remember to do what makes you feel most comfortable. Feel good being super strict? Go for it. Feel good by enjoying memorable indulgences? Go for that. But be true to what geniunely makes you feel the best. The meanest thing we can to do ourselves EVER is to just go on autopilot with our food behavior. Be conscious in your decisions and enjoy them — whether they’re eating a cookie or abstaining (and secretly feeling smug about it).

    There were definitely holiday seasons when I felt better by being more strict with my “rules” regarding food and drink. It can be really easy to feel guilty for “trying to be good” — like you’re ruining the party — when everyone around you is diving headfirst into a cookie jar.

    This year, I’m abstaining from alcohol (’cause like Holly, I love to self-experiment), eating a 100% paleo Thanksgiving, then eating my favorite non-paleo treats, if I want them, for Christmas. That’s as far as I’m going to strategy.

    Anyway… thanks for this, Holly! As always, you’re so smart, you make me think about my position on stuff. Brilliant!

    Also: re: that cheesecake and the drive-by eating. When Dave and I got married we had TWO cakes (how fabulously indulgent is that?!): one traditional white cake with white frosting (which is my favorite kind of cake) and a tres leches. We had about half of each left after the wedding. I ate wedding cake every day for 11 days in a row. Everytime I opened the fridge, I enjoyed a few bites. It was the most celebratory good time EVER in the whole world. Loved every bite of it.

    • Holly says:

      Couldn’t agree more. “Doing your best” looks different for everyone, depending on where you are on your journey. Well said!

  10. Erica says:

    I love this.
    Aside: I kept bringing you up at the blathering because the story of my first blathering is basically you and me hanging out. Every single person I talked to – some I’d never met before – reads your blog and loves you and thinks you are inspiring. And you are. I am so happy your blog is so awesome and hope you get huge success from it. I feel it will come your way.

  11. Casey P says:

    You said it, sister! I went Paleo back in August, lost some weight and started feeling good. I feel like I’m finally at a point where I can trust myself to have some mini crabcakes and get right back to Paleo at the next meal. NO MORE FEELING GUILTY ABOUT IT. Holidays are hard enough, yo.

  12. Amber says:

    Finally, some sanity. This post speaks volumes about how little food baggage you have. It’s wonderful, isn’t it? To really just LIVE your life and make memories instead of abiding by some list of rules that someone made and beating yourself up when you “fail”. I approach holiday eating the same way you do now. I’m really glad you wrote this post.

  13. noblepower says:

    Ok, first of all, you are hilarious and the cake memories reminded me of my own, shockingly similar story of my bestie roomie and I eating her bright-blue mocha almond chip ice cream birthday cake for an entire week.
    Secondly, this isn’t the Worst Advice Ever – it’s some of the Best Advice Ever. Just do your best – that’s all any of us can do. And in a funny way, hearing/reading someone say that actually inspires me to be a little better at making healthier choices than I might have after hearing all the recycled “just drink water and pre-eat the most boring healthy non-holiday food before a party” ideas.
    So thank you. Now I’m going to go look at Paleo-friendly Thanksgiving recipes!

  14. Maureen says:

    Thanks so much for this post! Our last day of Whole 30 is the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, which might be crazy or awesome, not sure yet. I mean right now the thought of skim milk in my coffee seems like a crazy indulgence, so when I think of pie? Mind blown…

    One thing I did for myself years ago-I stopped saying “I’ve been good” or “I’ve been bad” depending on what I ate. I realized that making a moral judgment about myself because of what I was eating was ridiculous. I think it was one of the healthiest things I could do for myself mentally, it freed my mind up from so much of the guilt I used to deal with.

    • Holly says:

      Moral judgment based on food needs to DIE IN A FIRE. So awful. Couldn’t agree more! And congrats on finishing up that Whole 30 strong. You guys rock!

  15. Danielle C says:

    AMEN! And thank you for the great laugh – I may or may not have had a similar experience with a friend and the following: ice cream, peanut butter, chocolate chips, marshmallow cream, and chocolate syrup. All together. At one sitting. heh.

  16. Susannah says:

    Great post – I have to say I always look forward to popping over to your blog! I have been thinking a little about the upcoming holidays. I think my mantra will be “only the best”. So no run-of-the-mill treats, no (I hope!) mindless noshing of ho hum cookies or crunchy salty things, but saving it all for really delicious yummy indulgences that I will savour and enjoy – no guilt! And I am never guilty about wine 🙂

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  18. Sparking water with lime is totes the same as a vodka tonic!!!

    Seriously, I just try to do what you do. Eat a good breakfast, keep working out, drink a ton of water, eat green things, and then indulge wherever I feel like it elsewhere. For me that’s stuffing with gravy and BOOZE. Always booze.

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