Better Every Time

Let’s take one more look at some possible responses to the winter holiday season, for two reasons. First, it’s never too early to start planning for next year. Not necessarily the specifics, but the generalities. While the difficulties and mistakes are still fresh in our minds, let’s make some “Notes to Self” that will come in handy next time. And second, there are family gatherings all year round — vacation trips, weddings, graduation parties — and many more occasions when we want things to go smoothly and create precious memories for everyone involved.

All these festivities have three traits in common:

1. The possibility that something will go wrong
2. Food
3. The potential for things that go wrong to cause stress, and for the stress to bring on compulsive overeating

What we want to do is prevent, sidestep, avoid, evade, circumvent, and dodge trouble — all of which are preferable to letting trouble sneak up, and then trying to alleviate it by self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, or food. If those steps seem to work at all, the effect is only temporary. Soon, we feel even worse about ourselves and the world than before.

Meaningful steps

When some big event is coming up, get enough sleep. Plan errands for fewer trips and maximal effectiveness. Make sure the child-care arrangements are airtight. Analyze the worst stress points and neutralize them. Eat for health, not “rewards.” Remember, there is never as much preparation time as you think there is. Don’t just stand there like a dummy and let it take you by surprise!

On gift-giving occasions, be really careful about giving people clothes. One weight-related mistake could traumatize a child for years. In fact, no matter how impersonal it seems on the surface, with a gift certificate or a prepaid debit card, you simply cannot go wrong.

A really good thing to remember not only during holidays but all year, is to give people credit for the nice things they do. It’s lazy and ungenerous to think “They know we appreciate them.” This is not something that should be taken for granted. Say it out loud, preferably in front of witnesses. The private expression of gratitude is lovely of course, but turning it into a performative act makes it extra special.

It will not be necessary to hire a sky-writing airplane or build a stage and rent a microphone, but do try to create a memorable moment. Your thank-you card, displayed on their mantelpiece, is a public endorsement and a vote of confidence, tangible evidence that your friends are valuable members of the community.

If you are a host…

Beforehand, please be clear about the ground rules concerning allergies, intoxicants, smoking, pets, and any other areas of potential difficulty. If shoes are not worn in the house, warn visitors to bring along an alternative, like slippers that harmonize with their glamorous holiday attire. Or maybe offer paper shoe covers, guaranteed to look awful with anything. And please provide a chair just inside the door, so they don’t have to hop around just to change their shoes.

If you prefer no political conversation, guests should be warned. (And good luck enforcing that!) At the most extreme level of holiday peace-seeking, sometimes hosts just need to realize there are certain people they shouldn’t invite, and guests need to face the fact that there are certain places they shouldn’t go. It is sad, but to be realistic about this issue is certainly better than clashing with people and stockpiling more unpleasant memories for future years.

This shouldn’t even need to be said, but please don’t push guests to eat or drink. Please take a “No, thank you” or an “I’ve had enough” at face value, graciously, and don’t press for an explanation or apology.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Image by Sari Montag/CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

One Response

  1. Hi, Pat!

    Thank you for providing such useful information. What really made a lot of sense to me was your advice to find ways to eliminate stress. You are so right that there’s never as much as you think there is in the day. You really do need to prepare. While I did enjoy all of your practical advice on this topic, I would like to add the idea of marking out some time to do something nice for yourself. This is a great way to reduce stress, and it can be as small as going for a walk around the block or reading a chapter of your favorite book. Finding balance in life is a great way to create peace.

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Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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