Last week I survived, not one Christmas, not two, but no fewer than three Christmases. All of them were hosted at my parents’ house, where I’ve been staying over winter break, and I am exhausted!
We had Christmas day with my brother and his wife, my dad’s extended family on Wednesday, and various members of my mom’s extended family were here from midday on Thursday all the way through midday on Saturday. Most of the time that wasn’t spent with family visiting was spent cleaning up after them or preparing for the next group to roll in.
Despite the exhaustion, it was really nice to get to see so many people that I only get to see a few times a year now. Many of them I hadn’t seen at all since last Christmas or even longer!
Of course, with all this celebrating and socializing, there were lots of special meals: the kind of party meals that come with appetizers, lots of bottles of wine, a fancy main course, and desserts. As soon as we’d put away the leftovers from one meal, there was another meal to shop and cook for, plus more relatives showing up with still more platters of cookies, bottles of wine, and pretty wrapped packages of chocolates.
At risk of sounding like all I think about is food, I’d like to talk about how I “dealt with” having all this food around. Of course, the important part of the week was the people, not what we ate, but the focus of this blog is helping people have a healthy relationship with food in order that they can focus on the truly important things.
A lot of awesome bloggers I follow have written eloquently about how you don’t need to feel anxious or guilty about holiday eating, and they’re 100% correct. You don’t need to feel guilty about eating more than usual during the holiday season, deny yourself special treats, or go on a diet as soon as the New Year hits.
That said: it occurred to me this holiday, more than any holiday ever before, that I really don’t feel that I overindulged or ate too much this holiday season.
Sure, I ate somewhat differently than I normally do. Maybe a few more desserts in place of healthier snacks or richer meals in place of lighter ones. But in all honesty, I didn’t eat very much more the last two weeks of December than I do the other 50 weeks of the year, not because I didn’t avail myself of the Christmas goodies, but because I eat a lot–or at least, much more than I used to–year-round.
Sometimes I’m half-kidding when I say this. “I deal with eating a lot at the holidays by just eating a lot all the time, so Christmas doesn’t seem so much in comparison.” Ha, ha. But funny as it sounds to say it in a culture where we’re so afraid of eating a lot, it’s true.
Let me give you an example.
At a holiday dinner last week, I ate a couple appetizers as the guests started to arrive in the afternoon, dinner when it was served, and a dessert a few hours after dinner. If I had eaten like this when I was an undergraduate and had disordered eating, I would have considered this a lot of food and felt very guilty and anxious about it. And it is true that this would have been much more than I would have eaten on an ordinary day.
Now, however, I eat much more from day to day than I did then. Most days, I eat a mid-afternoon snack, supper, and another snack before bed. So when I ate this holiday meal last week, with appetizers, a main course, and dessert, the timing of when I ate was less spaced-out than it would be on a regular day, and the food probably more indulgent than I eat every day, but I’m not freaking out…because it’s really not that much more than I normally eat…because I eat a lot all the time.
Similarly, some days last week I ate a significantly bigger meal than normal. And although I then wasn’t as hungry and therefore didn’t eat as much later in the day, I didn’t freak out or tell myself to go on a diet…because I know I eat a lot all the time.
Finally, I ate freely and enjoyed foods I like, but I didn’t gorge myself or eat until I felt sick. In fact, I said ‘no’ to some foods that looked delicious, simply because I was full and didn’t have room then. This wasn’t self-denial; I know I will allow myself to enjoy these foods, and other foods I enjoy, whenever I do want them…because I eat a lot all the time.
All this is not to say that it’s terrible to eat more than usual at a special occasion. Of course, it’s normal and totally okay to eat more one day or one week than you do a different day or a different week!
Rather, I’m saying that I’ve been surprised to notice that, when I allow myself to eat freely and enough throughout the year, the holidays loom on the calendar less like a daunting week of horrifying gluttony and more like a pleasant opportunity to take a break from work, spend time with family, and, yes, enjoy a few special meals and treats.
Did you get to enjoy time with family this holiday season?
Have you ever felt with anxiety at the prospect of holiday feasting?