Why do we eat?
In the America of 2011, we eat for the same reasons we buy new TVs, redo our kitchens or replace our perfectly functional cars. We eat not because we need to, but because we can. Eating is cheap, pleasurable and soothing. It's kind of an adult "blankie."
With that in mind, let's look at when we need a blankie most. We want to be soothed when we are stressed, when we are reminded of unhappy memories, when the skies are dark, when winter descends, when we feel tired and overwrought.
In the America of 2011, a supermarket is like a wonderworld of shiny new toys, each one affordable and promising a thrill. The packages say "Fun! Fun! Fun!" while the labels say, "Heart Healthy" and "Cholesterol Free." It's ok to be seduced, it's ok to give in. Heck, it's even virtuous.
Combine these two stimulants to eating and you have the dangerous food period between Halloween and January 1st. As the skies darken over Ohio and the leaves fall from the trees leaving depressing skeletons, the food intensity ratchets up. Seasonal foods make their appearance. Starbucks puts peppermint back on the menu, along with gingerbread. Cooking magazines, newspapers and food channels exhort us to bake, bake, bake...as if this will somehow stave off our anxiety.
While the holiday season is undeniably magical, it's also a fact that as we get older, this time of year reminds us more and more of our own mortality. The holidays remain a wonderful time, but we can't help but remember how many of them there have been and of loved ones who may now be absent. Our kids may have grown up and live far away. They return for the holidays, but no matter what we do, we can't return to the time when they ran down the front steps dressed as ghosts and princesses. We compare today's holidays to those past and to the celebrations of others. Anything that reminds us of the passage of time tends to make us introspective and unsettled.
So...let's eat! Let's drink!
How do we successfully negotiate such a difficult period and not gain weight? The answer lies in creative thinking. Maintaining a new, healthier body requires a new, refreshed look at life. Instead, most of us tend to repeat the same patterns. Left unexamined and unchallenged, life tends to break people down. But it doesn't have to. If you as an individual keep creating, keep innovating and keep expanding, the things life removes will have a lesser impact. You will be more expansive.
Here are some questions for those who want to maintain--not gain-- from now until 2012:
Do you REALLY need to bake this year? If baking gets you out of control, are you willing to take the daring step of experimenting and letting someone else make the cookies, cakes and pies? What would happen?
Suppose you didn't have a single piece of Halloween candy this year? Would your life be different? Or would it be the candy manufacturers who suffered most?
Imagine that you designed a completely Primarian (ancient eating) plan for Thanksgiving and decided that you would fill you plate with turkey, salad, veggies and maybe a dab of cranberry sauce. Suppose you vowed not to have dessert this year, except for coffee and fruit. Would your enjoyment of Thanksgiving be less?
Suppose that you decided to do something really radical this year and ban fattening foods from your home over the holidays. Suppose that you decided to give yourself a much bigger gift than that new iPhone you've been eyeing? Imagine that you daringly and creatively decided to stick with a primal eating plan and keep the starches and sugars to a bare minimum. Would you have lost an entire year of holiday joy?
I can answer these questions because these are changes that I made personally almost 10 years ago. Here are the answers.
The holidays are just the same. It's still great to see everyone and it's still sad to miss Uncle Monroe, Uncle Aaron and Aunt Ellie. It's still great fun to smell the peppermint and have an occasional gingerbread latte (with Splenda). It's still a thrill to see the holiday decorations go up and to enjoy the lights, the music and the sentiments. It's still wonderful to eat dinners with friends and family, and not a soul cares that I don't have the brownies or the stuffing.
But here's what IS different. For the past ten years I have not had to worry about my weight, my blood pressure, my blood sugar or my cholesterol. My weight and health have allowed me to live so much more creatively...running, aerobic classes, tennis. Sometimes I'm just so grateful that I can easily squat down and pick up something I dropped. Alot of people my age can no longer do something so simple. Being lean and eating the right foods means that you are quicker and more efficient in every way. My brain works better without the S Foods (starches and sugars), which means that I can take up chess, learn how to use Twitter and blog to the point where you are probably sick of me.
These are the greatest gifts.
So as you approach the holiday season, think bold. Uphold your chosen eating plan..whatever that may be. Consider the possibility that a good part of our holiday eating may be motivated less by happiness and tradition than by habit and anxiety. Enjoy and celebrate by continuing on your journey of self-creation. To life and a year of truly happy holidays!