How To Survive Holiday Festivities, Families & Food

Trick or Treat! The holidays are here! Every year I end up writing the same basic blog post to get us all ready for the season. So I thought I’d change it up a bit. Instead of describing all the ways the traditional “tips and tricks” to avoid holiday weight gain actually keep us stuck in dysfunctional dynamics, I’m going to illustrate these dynamics with a little company you may have heard of – Coca Cola.

What comes to mind when you think of Coke? Is it the curvaceous bottle? The red can? The caramel colored fizzy beverage itself? Tooth decay? (There is a famous middle school science project in which a tooth is left in a beaker of Coke overnight – or is that just an urban legend??) Or how about this: empty calories.

Now what comes to mind when you think of the brand Coke? If the marketing team did their job, you’re going to remember things like Share a Coke and a Smile. I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony – I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company. Open Happiness. The playful holiday polar bear family. Enjoy Coca-Cola.

Coke’s marketers (for the most part) really are brilliant. They understand that, culturally speaking, we live in a world in which we have to “pay a price to eat.” The price? Exercise or weight gain. And what is the “currency” of this transaction-based model of wellness?? Calories. And since no health conscious person in their right mind would consider “spending calories” on something that has absolutely no nutritional value, Coke had to take a different approach.

Coke took an emotional route to its marketing campaigns. Life can’t be all work and no play – come on, live a little! Be happy!! Share happiness with your friends! Drink Coke and Enjoy! All of their ads historically focused on friendship, family, fun and joy. (None of them mentioned anything about calories.) And that worked well for them. If they couldn’t get consumers to “spend calories” on something that had no nutritional value, they could get consumers to spend calories on something everyone seeks – happiness. (Because happiness is priceless, right?!?)

What does this have to do with surviving the food-filled holiday festivities?? I’ll get to that – I promise!!

You might not remember Coke’s epic marketing failure of 2013 because it probably didn’t turn your life upside down. It did mine. You see, in 2010 I wrote a little book called Happy Calories Don’t Count (neither does unhappy exercise). It’s my story of how I overcame my own painful, life-long, and life-threatening issues with food, exercise, my body and my weight. Not only that, but I had begun speaking and coaching private clients on my “Happy Calories®” and “Happy Exercise®” principles.

The core thesis of my work is that this cultural, transaction-based model (i.e. you have to pay a price to eat) of weight loss and well-being is ultimately ineffective and unsustainable because it creates dysfunctional relationships with food and exercise (and our selves). The program I developed (from healing all of my own pain and drama) is relationship-based. There is no cost – no price to pay to eat. Ergo, Happy Calories Don’t Count®!! (Then how do you know what to eat you might ask? Your body always knows the answer. Your body knows what, when and how much to eat to create an optimized state of health, vitality and joy. So the relationship you cultivate in this relationship-based model is the relationship with your body.) And the best part of living life “off the caloric balance sheet?” You become HAPPY!! All of that pain and drama and stress about food and exercise and your body disappears!

Well, in 2013 Coke’s “brilliant” marketers decided to use my Happy Calories brand (without my permission). They ran a Super Bowl commercial that touted a can of Coke contained “140 Happy Calories.” And the world went berserk. Coke endured tremendous backlash, with critics citing that the company was just encouraging obesity. And ultimately, Coke had to pull their ads from the UK markets.

Now as The Real Happy Calories® Girl – that’s a play on The Real Coke, get it? :-), I can tell you exactly what “went wrong.” Coke tried to sell “happy” Coke calories from within the transaction-based caloric paradigm of “diet and exercise.” Coke tried to make “empty calories” “ok” by calling them “happy.” People instinctively and immediately rejected it. Coke used my brand without also putting it in the context of my concepts and principles that make it meaningful. (YAY for me because that would have been a really ugly lawsuit. But epic fail for Coke.)

And here’s what all of this has to do with the upcoming holiday season. The holidays are an emotional time. For some, they are a season of celebration and joy. For others, they are a dreadful season of festivities, families and food. How we navigate the extra emotions and the extra food is up to us. We have choices.

1) We can choose to work from within that cultural transaction-based model of “diet and exercise” and stress out about managing our “caloric debits and credits.” This is base framework from which all of those tired, rehashed “expert” holiday “tips and tricks” are offered (eat a salad before the party, use a small plate for the buffet line, etc).

2) We could work from within the transaction-based model and take Coke’s traditional approach instead. Don’t think about the calories. Just be happy and enjoy the season. Enjoy the holiday treats, enjoy the friends, and enjoy the parties! (January will come soon enough and we’ll deal with the “consequences” then.)

3) We can embrace a relationship-based model of weight loss and well-being in which we learn to trust in and rely on our body’s wisdom and guidance. We get conscious and connect with our bodies. And then we let our bodies tell us what, when and how much of those holiday treats to enjoy.

I know from my own experience that the transaction-based models never ultimately worked. But the relationship-based model gives me the greatest gifts (holiday or otherwise) I could ever want: peace and freedom around food, happiness and joy, feeling great in my body and absolutely no “reckoning” on January first.