THE HOLIDAYS. Say these two, seemingly harmless, words to someone and you’ll get one of three reactions:

  1. “Oh, I just LOVE this time of year!” while spraying pine scented air freshener
  2. “Wait, what? Wasn’t it just the Fourth of July?”
  3. Screaming in abject horror and running out of the room

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the holidays.

Mostly.

The twinkly lights, excuses to eat pie, parking lot road rage… it all adds up to a festive air unlike any other time of the year.

In fact, I’m ahead of schedule this year. It happened by accident but still… our tree is up.

Here’s the backstory: We ordered a Christmas tree over the summer through an infomercial. Surprisingly, that’s not the weirdest part.

Once it arrived, my husband assembled it to ensure the lights worked and all was in good order.

When everything appeared copacetic, he looked at me while pointing to the tree and said, “I’m not stuffing this thing back in the box and taking it out again in another two months. It’s staying up.”

Keep in mind these words were spoken by a man who took a month to hire a plumber to adjust my shower’s hot water mechanism so I could stop being scalded to death each morning. He considers changing a lightbulb a “weekend project.”

So this statement wasn’t exactly unexpected.

I hesitated at first, picturing this giant tree in the corner of our living room for a couple of months like a lost plant that somehow found its way inside a warm home. 

Then I experienced flashbacks of last year’s tree setup.

Visions of him storming out to CVS for yet another string of lights, and Charlie Brown background Christmas music intermittently interrupted by curse words emanating from somewhere under the tree. I acquiesced.

Sure, let’s keep it up, I agreed, wondering why we can’t just hang ornaments from the silk plants and skip this whole deal altogether.

But how, pray tell, will we keep it free from dust in the meantime?

The answer: Saran wrap.

So yes, our tree now stands in the corner of the room draped in plastic wrap, awaiting the adorning of ornaments. (See photo evidence below of this beauty in all its glory.)

No, we don’t wonder why no one wants to visit

“It’s not as if we entertain and anyone will see it,” my husband said, while struggling to separate pieces of wrap from the roll.

Little wonder, with this home decor.

But my real reason for not being fully enthralled with the holidays has nothing to do with the actual holidays themselves, which I do enjoy for the most part, regardless of a plastic wrapped tree.

It’s the break in routine I dislike. Maybe you can relate (if so, hit me up in the comments box below).

Like most people, about 70% of what I do every day is a matter of routine. Research shows we operate this way as a way to give our brains a ‘break’ from decision making every single little activity we do each day.

Imagine, for example, if every morning you woke up in a strange house where you had to figure out where to brush your teeth, then search for a coffee pot, look through the house for the shower and find your clothes.

You’d be exhausted before lunch.

This is why creating a workable fitness and dietary routine is essential for long-term success.

When you have a plan that works you don’t have to think about it every minute. You just do it on autopilot.

That, my friends, is the ultimate goal.

It’s even more important as we age. After 50 we don’t have the same wiggle room as we did in our formative years.

A few extra hundred calories here and there can make the difference between shopping in the women’s department or in the seasonal camping section come January.

 Do these vertical stripes make me look skinny?

“Is this tent available in pink, by chance?” is not a question we ever want to ask.

So here are my best tips for PLANNING AHEAD and keeping it together this season, whether you’re traveling a lot, visiting with relatives who think “exercise” is a curse word, or simply shopping every spare minute you can find…

1. Focus on food

Regardless of whether or not you can work in your regular exercise routine, reining in calories is more important than going for a daily walk.

Yes, I know I may be crazy. Using portion control with Auntie Jane’s World Renowned Lasagna sounds sacrilegious.

But it will be easier to  forgo a second portion today than spend the rest of the year trying to burn it off.

Overall, pick your battles. Choose foods you really enjoy, not ones you’re expected to enjoy.

We’re talking cheesecake versus fruitcake. Make those calories count. And, even though it’s the holidays, still consider them an occasional treat. If you’re eating more like a Holidays Gone Wild party from November to January you’ll find yourself shopping in the Large Tents department. I assume you’d like to avoid that.

2. Keep active as much as you can whenever you can

If your workout simply isn’t possible — maybe you’re involved in an all-day cookie baking marathon or wrapping a boatload of gifts — simply do the best you can with every activity to avoid completely vegging out.

For example:

— Wrap gifts while standing up

— Get up every hour when watching the game on TV, get water or make tea — avoid sitting for long periods

— Fidget when standing in line at the store, alternate standing on one foot, then the other (just avoid falling on the person next to you if possible)

– Tighten your core when sitting OR standing – pull your belly button in towards your spine, hold and release; no one will know the difference

— Stand as much as possible throughout the day, whether gathering in the kitchen or talking on the phone

3. Protein, protein, protein

Pecan pie is more appealing than steamed chicken breast. I get it. But when you’re striving to stay on track and managing your calories like a boss, eating protein with each meal and snack means you’ll be less hungry for sugary treats.

So focus on protein with each meal and snack and you’ll be less hungry, boost your metabolism and feel fuller longer. I snack on Greek yogurt with fruit, for example. Or have a piece of string cheese or cottage cheese with fresh fruit. 

As a result, you’ll need little self-discipline to turn down the pie. 

4. Plan for ways to enjoy the season with non-food related fun

This one’s easier said than done, since so many social activities revolve around food. But look for ways to see the sights, for example, by going on neighborhood tours, going to a holiday show or other event that doesn’t include an all-you-can-eat buffet.

What are YOUR biggest challenges during the holidays? Let me know in the comments below…

Other posts you may enjoy:

10 Ways to burn 350 more calories every day — without exercise (and lose 30 lbs!)

5 Ways to de-stess anywhere (so you can lose belly fat)

2 Surprising ways you unknowingly sabotage yourself

Your Ageless Body Coach,