The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for a Happy and Healthy Primal Christmas

Primal ChristmasWhether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice, or any of the other holidays that fall in and around late December, there are common experiences. Hosts hustle to get their homes decorated, cleaned, and ready for guests. Workers send emails and get caught up on everything before the holiday slow down. Shoppers fight throngs for mall parking spots and knit scarves; smarter shoppers wait patiently for the delivery truck to show up. Families gather. Gifts are exchanged. Food is prepared. Food is eaten. Merriment pervades and holiday cheer hangs in the air.

But there’s an omnipresent dark side common to every holiday, too: it’s not easy. We face mountains of junk food everywhere we go and easily-offended people who just won’t take “no” for an answer. We feel compelled to spend extensive time with family members, regardless of the state of our relationships or how we feel about them personally. We have to spend money. We have to cook, we have to clean, we have to follow the schedule and get things done on time.

It’s a lot to handle and we need all the help we can get. So today, I’m going to give you a cheat sheet for having a happy and healthy Primal Christmas (or holiday of your choice).

Last Minute Gift Ideas

Don’t lie. You forgot. Or you procrastinated. Or you’re just stumped; there’s always that one person in your life for whom you have no clue what to get. Rather than spend several days researching the optimal present for the difficult among us and creating Excel sheets, simply select gifts from lists carefully and thoughtfully curated by people you trust. Like me (I hope).

Navigating the Social Aspect

The holidays would be a breeze if it weren’t for everyone else. There’d be no one offering you “just another drink” or “just a bite.” You wouldn’t have to politely smile and nod at an awkward and inappropriate political rant delivered at the dinner table. You wouldn’t have to explain why you’re not eating the bread or why you added butter and not margarine to your sweet potatoes. Unfortunately, though, the world and its inhabitants are probably not illusions generated by your mind. These are real people you must talk to and actual social situations that you must navigate. Hopefully, these articles will help you do it.

Savoring and Thriving, Not just Surviving

As much as we like to discuss how hard the holidays can be on everyone, they can also be pretty darn joyous, uplifting, and beautiful. You get out what you put in, and if you’re approaching the holidays with a survivor’s bent, you might miss out on all the great things happening.

Enjoying and Appreciating Ritual and Tradition

If there’s one thing that separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom, it’s that we follow rituals and maintain traditions. We bury the dead. We ritualize mating and coupling with rings and marriage ceremonies. We make art to commemorate things greater than us. We do things like they used to simply because that’s the way they’ve always been done. These things seem silly, maybe even quaint when you examine them closely. Buying a miniature pine tree, standing it up in your living room, and adorning it with lights, glass spheres, and various other icons? That’s pretty strange, viewed in isolation. Do most people know why they’re buying a Christmas tree? Maybe not. I don’t think it matters as long as it makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself. That’s an important part of being human, and it doesn’t require formal religion or even “spirituality” to make you feel good and whole.

The Joy of Giving and Receiving

Getting an awesome gift is great. But the best part of receiving something might be the confirmation that the person giving it really cares enough to devote time, money, and brain activity to your happiness. Same goes for giving to others. Having someone in your life who inspires in you the same kind of dedication and thoughtfulness required to give a great gift is priceless. Also, and this is actually central to the discussion of giving and receiving and general goodwill toward men and women, receiving and especially giving gifts confer health benefits. Some might call this selfishness, and so what? Selfishness can be a good thing.

Dealing with Stress

Most of the other sections are at least tangentially related to stress, usually because they discuss stressors – events, activities, responsibilities, and people that upset homeostasis and create stress in your life. Learning how to handle those stressors is an important aspect of dealing with stress, but there’s more to it than that. How do we handle stress itself, directly? Whether it’s mother-in-law-related stress or trying-to-get-the-house-clean-in-time-for-company-related stress, there are helpful methods for improving our resilience and getting a handle on the physiological stress response.

Staying Active

You’ve got your significant other nagging at you to do this or that. You’ve got family to pick up at the airport, presents to wrap, shopping to do, food to prepare. Hitting the gym is likely the last thing on your mind. And the devil may care “it’s the holidays!” justifications for sedentism are persuasive and tempting, but don’t fall for it. The need to stay active doesn’t go away just because the Christmas tree is up, and if you spend the last two weeks of December eating garbage, drinking, and sitting around in ugly sweaters, you’ll regret it. Those extra few, extra soft pounds around your middle, the middling results when you actually get back to the gym for the first time, the reduced stamina and strength, the icky feeling (yeah, “icky” isn’t a word I like to use, but it was about the only word I could find that captured the feeling) of not really moving for an extended period of time. It’s not good. Plus, staying active can actually deepen the holiday spirit, particularly if you involve your friends and family in the activities.

Using the 80/20 Rule

The 80/20 rule was created with the holidays in mind. It acknowledges the reality of the world in which we live and the way our minds work. We can’t — and probably shouldn’t — be perfect. More often than not, those folks who claim perfection are sinning internally, barely keeping the grain and junk food lust at bay by sheer will and absolute avoidance. Pure, as it turns out, isn’t really pure. Perfect is impossible. The 80/20 rule allows us to safely sate our desires, whether those desires be to eat a slice of pizza because we’re craving it or because we just don’t want to eat salad while everyone else digs in to the pizza. Sometimes, it’s easier and healthier to just compromise.

Cheat Days

For some, the best approach to a cheat day is total avoidance. The straight and narrow works for them, so why stray? Others benefit from cheat days, finding them useful outlets for temptation. Whatever happens, it’s usually helpful to acknowledge the “cheat” and own it. Don’t eat a cookie, say “that’s the last one,” and then go back and do it again ten more times. Be honest with yourself. If that means abstinence, cool. If that means arranging a formal holiday cheat day schedule, great. Just be consistent.

How to Recover from Holiday Overindulgence

Despite our best intentions, we’re gonna overindulge. We’re humans. It’s what we do. We make mistakes. And even if the overindulgence is planned and absent guilt, there are still the physiological and metabolic ramifications to deal with. Luckily, there are articles for that.

Holiday Shopping Craziness

Ah, the holiday deal. There’s nothing quite like it, is there? Standing outside a store twelve hours before opening, sizing up the folks on either side of you (“I bet that guy wants the 40-inch LED TV. I could totally take him!”), spending weeks scouring the deals forums for inside scoops on sales. Your entire being consumed by the pursuit of the deal, you become a sex organ for the holiday economy. That’s all well and good, but I’d argue there are better ways to spend your holiday.

Drink Well

Alcohol is a big part of the holidays, whether because red wine goes great with the roast lamb you’re having for Christmas dinner or because drinking makes tolerating your extended family possible. You can abstain, of course. That’s a fantastic choice that many people take. But most people won’t do that. If you intend to drink, particularly more than normal, it’s important to drink well and help your body recover from your indulgences. Luckily, there are ways you can mitigate the harm of drinking by bolstering your body’s antioxidant capacity and choosing healthier sources of ethanol.

Food and Recipes

Last but not least, food! Food is the foundation. People come together, and eat. They “pass the gravy” to each other. They take bites and compliment the chef. They mutually coo over how good something tastes. It’s a beautiful thing, sitting down with people you like and love to eat good food. You may not be “breaking bread” at your Primal functions, but the intent and effect are similar. Another thing: since you’re something of an ambassador for the Primal movement in your respective families, you owe it to the movement to cook something delicious and uniquely Primal that makes people realize maybe we aren’t so crazy after all. If even one person rethinks their stance on your “caveman diet thingie,” that’s progress. Good cooking is the universal language. Become fluent (or at least proficient).

Above all else, revel in love — for self, for family, for lovers, for friends, for pets, for community, for nature, and for life itself. If you do that, a lot the other stuff tends to fall into place.

Merry Christmas, everyone, and Happy Holidays!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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22 thoughts on “The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for a Happy and Healthy Primal Christmas”

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  1. Merry Christmas Mark!

    And a big thank you for everything that you do and the gifts you’ve bestowed through your efforts and very informative website!

  2. That’s an interesting list. There’s a couple of products I’ve never seen before in the mix like a silicone wedding ring and tea tree mouth cleansers.

  3. Merry Christmas Mark and to your family and MDA staff! Thank you for the daily inspiration to live well. The information on your website and in your books has certainly made a difference in my life.
    Sandy, Columbus Georgia

  4. This is one instance of why I’m glad to be a stay-at-home housewife with no kids–no expectations (real or implied), except what I put on myself. Since what’s left of the family is on the opposite coast, neither expects the other to brave the airports (and TSA), endure postal service shenanigans, endure driving quagmires, bad weather, and/or spending for the sake of spending.

    We send e-mails and pix back and forth every year, and sometimes, we Skype. This year’s Christmas e-mail included a confirmation for my niece to participate in next spring’s Girls on the Run program–I’m looking forward to her shutterbug Dad’s pix of that! Meanwhile, her new camp t-shirt is what’s going under the tree this year. That’s the kind of Christmas gift I like giving–something REALLY wanted, that didn’t involve scouring malls and online stores, and that will create an experience memory that will last a lifetime (for her, the chance to RUN).

    My nephew (her brother) got a gift card from Amazon to get his new Boy Scout supplies, as well as a year’s dues pre-paid. Since I no longer know what Scouts need any more (it’s been so long), I;m leaving that up to Mom & Dad to handle, hence, the gift card.

    See? No airports, no traffic, no bad weather, no stress. Skype runs while the kids run around in footed PJ’s opening gifts and screaming in delight, and wading through the mountains of ripped gift wrappings….just like we’re there. . So why do we need to line up for the “headache machine” at the airport again?

    As for the rest of Mark’s list, we can side-step what remains by staying where the heart (and proper food) is: HOME.

  5. Thank you & Merry Christmas, Mark! Thank you for the many wonderful gifts you give us each week – all year ’round.

  6. Wow, you folks sure put some time and thought in this post! Merry Christmas and thank you for all you do year around!

  7. This consolidation of links is a great gift, Mark. I was surprised to see your email coming so early in the morning, then I realized it’s because I’m in the PST zone for the holidays! Thank you and Merry Christmas from the beaches of Carpinteria!

  8. Mark, this is exactly what I needed. Thanks so much, Merry Christmas!

  9. Merry Christmas to you and your family both near and far! Love all the links posted in one place. Thank you for all you do!

    1. Yes, Mark, what a FABULOUS list! But to have access to such greatness a good month before in November, then maybe reprint right before Christmas, would be a good idea next year. Thanks for the complete list! And Merry Christmas to you all!

  10. Thank you for the great list of resources, Mark!
    Luckily, I don’t have any problems with being paleo/primal over at my parents 🙂 My parents do not really live primally, but when I’m here, we always find ways to cook mainly primal meals, maybe with some additional potatoes, rice or pasta for my parents. That works really well! 😀
    On the other hand, my mom likes to bake cookies, which are absolutely great, so I usually eat like one or two after my workout. It doesn’t kill me (for me it’s a preference, not an allergy that makes me live paleo/primal) and I can also appreciate her awesome baking skills!
    All in all, we usually have a very relaxing and uncomplicated Christmas.

    Have a *** Merry Christmas *** everyone! Enjoy your holidays with your families and loved ones!

  11. Happy Holidays to everyone, Mark, staff and the “tribe”. I enjoy you all.

    More cooking to do so….Cheers!

  12. Merry Xmas and Happy New Year. Of course we are not all in Winter holidays. Here in Australia we will have a lovely warm Aussie Xmas. Having delicious berries, cheese, seafood and ice cold champagne for lunch. Then out to play some cricket or go for a walk in the sun.

  13. Its always difficult at this time to keep Primal, but I try to. Parties and shared food events are the most difficult, though as I’m a Coeliac I can’t eat some of the rubbish being served up. What I have noticed recently is how many magazines giving one “healthy” and quick budget meals are nearly all based on loads of pasta. As for play, mine is mainly in the craft area which involves being with like minded friends and spinning (on a wheel), all day. Lots of chat and some unhealthy food such as Gluten free biscuits. I also enjoy country dancing, never thought of that as play and I walk once a week with a friendly group. My weekness’ are roast potatoes and at Christmas – turkish delight. My waistline has expanded recently, and some of my trousers are a bit tight, so after Christmas I must drop the sugary things as that is what makes my waistline expand.

  14. Mark,
    As usual well done and well thought in true Primal fashion and spirit. I continue to learn and thrive on the Primal Blueprint and spread the word whenever I can. I just finished a book on the great warier, Geronimo, who could still cover 90 miles in a day in his 60’s. A testament to the Primal ways. If we focus on how we live and less about age and what we are told we can’t do, we will live longer and happier. All the best wishes for the Holidays and the New Year. I am a true Grok fan!

  15. I cheated on Thanksgiving and had 5 pieces of different pies. I will not make that mistake for Christmas.

  16. Thank you for the great article. You definitely helped me change my life and many people around me. Happy holidays

  17. I now get sugar headaches when I overdo it on sweets. Is this a good thing? I guess it means I abstain from much sugar normally…anyone else?

  18. Happy Christmas Mark and family and staff, thank you for your great site. I just got Primal Cravings for Christmas as well as the offal apron! We ensure we have some primal treats around over the holidays, much better than mainstream rubbish.

  19. Alienate everyone. Problem solved. Christmas in front of the big screen TV, chugging sparkling wine and eating burgers in your jammies having a good time while others stress over the inconsequential things in life. 😉

    Merry Christmas, all!