The Food Holidays

Ready or not, they’re here.

And this year, I’m saying: Bring ‘em on! Because I’ve finally figured out a plan that works for me.

I’ve been all over the map when it comes to holiday eating. There have been years when — blissfully unhindered by any thoughts of health or weight loss – Thanksgiving and Christmas turned into week-long, no-holds-barred binges. Years later, when I decided to wake up and to start taking care of myself, I went to the other extreme – I’d sometimes bring all of my own food to a holiday dinner. I don’t mean, as in, prepare a healthy side to share; I mean, as in, I’d bring my own personal meal of a chicken breast and broccoli and exactly ¼ cup of brown rice packed into a Tupperware container, and eat this pathetic little meal next to everyone else at the table enjoying a “normal” holiday dinner.

In either case, I always felt a sense that I’d somehow “missed out” on the holiday because, well, I sort of did. When ALL of my focus was on food, I didn’t think much about who else was there or spend time feeling thankful for my family and friends and all the blessings I’ve been given, because … pie! At the other extreme, my own rigid food rules made me feel isolated, like I wasn’t “doing” the holiday right, and it also sent a message to my friends and family. Although unintended, this message was clear: “Your food isn’t good enough for me, so I have to bring my own.”

And in either case, there was always another side-effect: Stress. Anxiety. Worrying, after the binge, about whether this would be the year that I finally got serious about paying attention to my weight, maybe join a gym, maybe make some New Year’s resolutions. But where would I even begin? Or, in the Tupperware years, worrying what everyone else was thinking of me, hoping that no one would try to make me eat anything, worrying about the dessert table holding thousands and thousands of calories, and whether it would be too tempting for me to resist.

The benefit of working through all of this, though, and having really covered the spectrum of dealing with the Food Holidays, is that it’s given me some great examples of what to avoid going forward. It may have taken me almost a decade, but I’ve finally figured out (for the most part, anyway) how to enjoy this time of year without all of that food-related stress.

And, surprise, it’s all about balance! (I can hear you saying: Yeah, no shit! all the way from here.) But honestly, that’s what it is, and I’m trying not to beat myself up too much for taking so long to figure out the balance thing, because in a lot of areas of my life, I tend to be a very black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinker and doer. So balance, in a sense, goes against my nature. I’m learning, though!

What balance looks like to me on the Food Holidays is to allow myself – guilt free – to enjoy bits of whatever food or drink I enjoy and that makes me feel as though I’m really getting to participate in the holiday, and the meal, without stuffing myself or making myself sick with indulgence. For example, the things that mean “Thanksgiving” to me are as follows: turkey with gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, roasted veggies, wine, and apple pie. So at the Thanksgiving meal, I bypass all the other stuff I’m not crazy about and I just take a little bit of all of those things! I get to enjoy all of the tastes and the feeling of the holiday without stuffing myself to the point of disgust, or having to unbutton my pants (usually).

But because I know my own tendencies, here’s where some more balance needs to come into play: the indulgence stays with this ONE meal, and it’s not a buttery slide toward a week-long gorge-fest. And all of my other meals that day are healthy, and I keep up my normal exercise routine that day, and the day after. And I don’t need to kill myself there, either – I’ll do a normal workout, but I won’t go for a 10 mile run to try to erase any “damage” I did, because I DIDN’T ACTUALLY DO ANY DAMAGE. It took me a long time to understand that, friends. No damage, no mistakes, no “being bad” for enjoying food on the holiday, no guilt to assuage, no choices to undo.

No problem!

And, the best part? No more stress. No more Food Holiday anxiety.

I get to be there. I get to be present, and participate, and enjoy delicious apple pie and wine with the people I love most of all. And after years of missing out on this, that’s totally something to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving, Friends. So grateful for you all. And we can take on the Food Holidays together!

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