You can have your cake and holiday Cheer too
I used to hate the holidays. What should be a joyous time -- one filled with relaxation, laughter, love -- for so long, in my mind, only brought fear. First came Halloween, a night defined by collecting candy. It wasn’t the holiday, itself, that caused me stress but, rather, what it represented: the start of the holiday season and, with it, the all consuming, intrusive thoughts. Not even a month after the trick-or-treating and the candy celebrations, came Thanksgiving and, eventually (for my family), Christmas, two occasions centered almost entirely around food.
On both Thanksgiving and Christmas day, I would put all my energy into “saving up” calories for dinner and dessert, pushing myself to just hold out until the proper moment to indulge. Despite my restrictive efforts, however, when I did finally make it to dinner, my overly hungry mind would tell me to consume more than I needed, or even wanted. Then came the rumination over what I ate, how much I ate, when I ate and, even later, the constant checking of my body in the mirror for the “damage” I had created with my binge.
So, there we have it: a painful day, a frustrating night, and so much guilt to come in the following weeks. No wonder I used to view a time of year, beloved by most, as the enemy. The holidays, though, weren’t just difficult for me because of their focus on food. In reality, I disliked them because my inability to relinquish control over my meals kept me from connecting with my family, friends, or really anyone around me.
I was so focused on playing food Tetris. A game of calculating how to eat less of this so I could eat more of that, or how to not eat now so I could eat more later. I was not present during the dinner table laughs or the family stories told over dessert. My mind was simply elsewhere.
We find ourselves in the middle of possibly the most anxiety-inducing holiday season to date, I ask you what I wished I challenged myself with years ago: is being preoccupied with maintaining your perfect diet and body through this time of year really worth it if it makes the holidays themselves filled with nothing but hangriness, and the days to come defined by regret?
If we answer no, we not only choose to truly enjoy our food, but we choose to honor what the food represents: spending time with those you love, being kind to yourself, and indulging in the sweeter parts of life. We don’t eat just to survive, and we don’t only need to eat because we’re hungry. Sometimes we eat because we’re happy; sometimes because we’re sad. Sometimes we even eat past the point of being full because we encounter our aunt’s famous christmas cookies, or the stuffing you only have once a year. For me, it’s the buttery mashed potatoes my brother makes.
As we are all pressured to make personal resolutions to “be better” -- to lose weight, to be healthier while ringing in the New Year -- I ask you to pause. Yes, maybe you think you overate this holiday season, maybe you even gained a little bit of weight. However, before judging yourself and drafting those resolutions, think about all else you could have gained: the giggles over being too full with your father, the memory of sipping hot chocolate in the cold with your mother, the joy from seeing the pride on your grandfather’s face when you ask for a second helping of his famous lasagna. There is a reason that food is at the center of so many holiday traditions: it brings people together. And, during this year in particular, we should embrace any form of togetherness we can get.