the HAES files: holiday food for thought

by Health At Every Size® Blog

by Deb Lemire, President of ASDAH

The holiday season is upon us and for many it can be a source of great anxiety around food and weight, particularly for women. For me  my most favorite and least favorite part of the holidays has always been the food.

First, there are so many wonderful smells and delicious recipes that you look forward to and wait for all year.  My aunt always makes homemade chocolates and my favorites are her chocolate peanut butter buckeyes.

But my most favorite holiday food is my grandma’s potica.  A nut roll made from a recipe with Gram’s own personal touch and its Slovenian roots all rolled into one; just the right mix of flavors, not too sweet with lots of nuts.    Christmas would not be Christmas without Gram’s potica.  Gram would make one for each of our families. We try to make our roll last as long as possible, but it never makes it to Boxing Day. Gram had five children.  And even as our individual families grew, she would continue to make one for every household; whether it was your college dorm or your newlywed apartment.  From those 5 children Gram has 16 grandchildren.  That’s a lot of nuts!  (Literally, but that’s a different story.)  In the last few years of her life Gram was not able to make her potica because of ill health. So my aunt had taken on the duty and continues to do so since Gram has passed.  It’s not exactly the same, but she is the one who makes the buckeyes, so it’s pretty darn close!

My least favorite part starts in October.  Everywhere you look it seems, there is a magazine with some fabulous, mouth watering dessert or delicacy on the front cover.  As the holiday’s get closer the push to create amazing meals that will delight the senses and send your family into dizzying, euphoric states of ecstasy gets more intense.

And even though it is a challenge to suddenly find time in your schedule to be that creative; even if you enjoy cooking whether or not you are particularly good at it; even though you generally are the one who has to do all the shopping for these recipes and all the clean up after the creation is complete…It would all be worth it, if you were allowed to actually enjoy your masterpiece along with everyone else.

But you can’t.  Because right next to that front page picture of the “latest must have on your holiday table” dessert, is a quote from inside “how to avoid those extra holiday pounds!” 

So we go through the holidays being pulled in two directions.  Wanting to cook something special for our family maybe because we enjoy it or maybe we just enjoy making the extra effort for them during this time of year.  And at the same time we go through the season miserable because we feel guilty licking the damn spoon once in a while.  We hold our wooden spoons in the air and shout “Why?!” and “It’s not fair!” 

And we are right.  It’s not fair.  And I will tell you why.

Now I don’t know that the women’s magazines purposefully seek to betray us.  In fact it is more likely their editors feel they do just the opposite.  But we are so used to these mixed messages we barely recognize the damage they do to us as women in our society; a complacency rooted in our patriarchal culture.  Okay, you’re thinking—what kind of feminist rant are we in for now.  For crying out loud, they are just innocent magazines (and let’s not forget all the fitness commercials) trying to make a buck.  They don’t do any harm.  But that is not exactly true.  (Well the ‘trying to make a buck’ part is.)

What happens to us when we are subject to these mixed messages?  Messages that tell us to put ourselves last, that we don’t deserve the same goodness that everyone else does.  We start to feel guilty.  And that guilt begins to manifest as anxiety and negative feeling about how we look and how we perceive ourselves as a person.  And that is damaging.  Not just to ourselves, but to our daughters that witness and ultimately imitate our self sabotage.  Ensuring the cycle continues.

So this holiday season I want you to keep in mind a couple simple things they don’t tell you in those magazine or commercials.  First of all, it is perfectly natural for mammals to gain some weight in the winter; just as it is natural for mammals to shed that weight in the spring.  Dieting only interferes with your body’s ability to take care of itself and be healthy.

And secondly, your great aunt Mary baked that homemade pie from scratch, not because she enjoys slaving in the kitchen, but because she loves you and she enjoys watching you enjoy it!

So sit down and share a piece of pie with great Aunt Mary.   After all, how many more pies will there be?  But most importantly, make sure you invite your daughter to share a piece with you too.

6 Comments to “the HAES files: holiday food for thought”

  1. I think Thanksgiving should be a time of celebration and eating good food with family. I never force my body to eat more than it needs. I still stay full, but never “stuffed.” I leave that for the turkey. I love my body and I want to treat it with respect which is why I will never eat enough to have to undo a button to keep comfortable.

  2. I’m looking forward to making mince pies. I make my own because my wonderful wyfe is allergic to oranges, and all commercial mince pies have at least orange peel in, and usually orange juice as well. The first year that I made mince pies for her she cried with happiness as they were the first ones she’d been able to eat in 15 years.

  3. i love the truth that says mammals gain wright in the winter. when i listen to my body i never binge. my head may want to overeat but my body wants to be comfortable. so this year i give myself the gift of conscious eating, non judgement for any emotional eating i might do because of holiday stress. i do my best with what i have been given. a crazy culture of soul destroying messages. i am grateful as i can be for the many blessings in my life. i learn to trust the process of life within and without.

  4. Deb, this is a great post, and I think we need more media literacy, not less, so don’t apologize or defend “innocent” magazines! When I work with my students and clients, I make it clear that there are people sitting in board rooms right now trying to come up with new ways for us to hate ourselves. A particularly “favorite: quote of mine by Ellen Goodman (I believe she used to work for US magazine): “The big success of our industry is our abiliy to export insecurity. We can make any woman anywhere feel rotten about her shape.”

    Nothing we see in magazines is accidental!

  5. Good advice, Deb, and a good analysis! But you may be too kind to the magazines. I don’t think they believe they are performing any kind of service to balance the food articles with the “avoiding holiday pounds” tips. The number one priority of print magazines is almost always to keep the circulation up at all costs, since ad revenues depend importantly on circulation. The editor who ignores this principle will soon be out of a job. The food articles cause lots of impulse buying of the magazine. The diet articles are the same. It is possible that many of the same individuals who pick up the magazine due to being attracted by the food articles, subconsciously believe it’s ok to do so because there will be tips on dieting as well.

    The media will make you crazy at holiday time!

  6. I love hearing about your Gram’s special recipe. Every year my sisters and I cook with our grandmother in our holiday kitchens, even though she is still only with us in spirit, her recipes and memory live on.
    My way of protesting the crazy-making mixed messages of lady magazines is a series of satirical fake magazine covers, always pairing a fake fad diet with fake fad recipes and article titles. My 2011 holiday insanity magazine is meant to point out the ridiculousness of it all.
    Smiles and happy holidays!

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