One Christmas my uncle was found hiding in the bushes in his underpants Ninja-ing people as they passed by (or so family legend has it).
He was fitting in with the sort of shenanigans that are, ironically, synonymous with the Christmas-NewYear period. You will be familiar with them I am sure.
You know, things like eating too much and getting into awkward situations, typically involving scenarios like getting drunk and kissing someone you shouldn't, having sex with someone you shouldn't, wearing (or taking off) something you shouldn't, saying something you shouldn't and generally just 'letting go' of a lot of 'shoulds' that are probably in situ for the rest of the year for a good reason.
This time of year also calls for a gazillion articles about how to live a better life and be a better person and avoid overindulging etc etc.
In this spirit I have decided to share some pieces of wisdom from my father, who has a lot of sensible things to say in general. This does not include any nutritional advice about what to eat, more an approach to how you eat and live.
Number 1 Way To Beat Overindulgence: Take All You Can Eat But Eat All You Take
Back in the day when there were all you can eat buffets at places like Sizzler (not sure they exist anymore), Dad would take us there as a treat.
Emphasising the fact it was a treat, and allowing general parenting food rules to fly by the wayside, he didn't mind if we decided our dinner was going to be at the dessert buffet.
Our ventures to buffets were always tempered with this piece of advice, however:
"Take all you can eat but eat all you take."
At first glance, this might seem like a sure-fire way to obesity. The sort of instruction that tells you to eat everything on your plate and don't even think about leaving the dinner table until you have!
However, it was not.
Dad was very mindful of waste. He grew up in a time where you were lucky to have a pair of shoes to walk to school in and, despite limited travel opportunities, knew enough about the world to understand there were plenty of people who were lucky to get one meal a day, let alone three.
So Dad's advice was about being mindful and appreciative of what you had. He would always tell us we could go back for more if we were really hungry but perhaps put only the amount of food on your plate that you are sure you can eat. At the same time he would remind us that sometimes your eyes can be bigger than your stomach so perhaps take a little and then wait and see if you need more.
Having lived in countries like Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka I have seen for myself how some families throw out more food after one meal than other families get to eat in a day and I always think of my Dad's advice when I see food bins overflowing with 'scraps'.
This piece of Dad advice is very much in line with common sense ideas about listening to what your body really needs, which many of us who have always enjoyed plenty, can easily forget.
Number 2 Way To Beat Overindulgence: Or When it is Ok to haveMars Bars for Breakfast
Dad also gave us Mars Bars for breakfast on weekends before our athletics meets. To this I think most kids would go hooray and most parents would probably raise their eyebrows.
But Dad was always about activity. His approach to eating was very much about balancing input with output. He knew that after eating that Mars Bar we would spend 3 hours out in the sun running around competing in 1500m runs, sprints, long jumps, shot puts, and all of the handstand competitions that went on in between events.
You might think Dad was all about junk but that is not true. He was thinking about nutrients based on the information he had at the time, combined with how much energy we would need and giving us something to eat that would not make us feel full and sluggish.
Dad was not just handing us rubbish. You see, Dad also made our sandwiches with multigrain and wholemeal bread back before they were popularised telling us that eating white bread was like eating fresh air (i.e., basically nutrient poor).
Anyway, his approach to food was that you needed to balance intake with output, consider whether what you ate would give you the energy you needed to do what you wanted.
On days where we weren't doing much you can bet we were not being offered chocolates, although this was a rare day indeed as Dad would always have us engaged in something fun and active.
Actually, Dad was unknowingly following the only diet ever known to actually work in the long-term, which is to balance what you eat with what you do.
So, this piece of Dad advice is extremely important:
"Eat to live don't live to eat."
While those are not Dad's words, they are what he modelled and still models to this day. If you don't do very much, then don't eat very much. If you are doing a lot, then eat so you can do the things you need to do. In this regard, our Christmas Day with Dad always started with a family bike ride so that we might feel hungry enough for Christmas lunch rather than eat the food because it was there.
Number 3 Way To Beat Overindulgence: Don't Pop Your Buckle
This last piece of advice is actually what Dad's Dad used to say. Or, at least Dad always quotes Grandfather when he says it.
"Always leave the dinner table feeling that you could eat a little more."
This is excellent advice and stops you feeling like a python when you get up from the Christmas dinner table.
This is related to both the first and second pieces of advice. It is about eating what you need, and about ensuring whatever you eat does not prevent you from doing the things you want to or need to do.
The idea of eating so much that you could not go out and play with the kids or fix the car or tinker around in the shed was/is abhorrent to Dad who, to this day, will make sure he gets up to 'unblob' himself (as he puts it) if he has had a big lunch that is putting him to sleep.
Dad's advice comes from a person who was physically active, and who appreciated that your body needs to work and move well so you can participate in a variety of daily activities.
Dad was a runner and did not practice physical yoga. He does not have much idea of yoga beyond the knowledge that it is something I go and teach and do and which seems to be associated with me spontaneously doing handstands in the driveway or hanging from the beams of his verandah. However, to me his advice is very much in tune with ideas about respecting the interrelationship between body and mind and community that I have read in yogic texts and have learned from my teachers. Thanks Dad!
Merry Christmas to all. Happy and safe practicing. Learn from my Dad.