Ghosts of Holiday Meals Past

The holidays are a bittersweet time of year for me.

Not because of loved ones who have passed or gifts I never received. It’s bittersweet because I love holiday food and holiday meals but I hate what they do to me.

I love frosted sugar cookies shaped like snowmen, peppermint hot chocolate, corn bread stuffing, and pie a la mode. I love those mini pretzel twists with Hershey’s Kisses melted on top. I love White Trash. I love a good turkey dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy. I love Christmas tree shaped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups!

I hate being bloated. I hate itching. (thank you gluten sensitivity) I hate the pain I get in my liver from eating too many carbs. I hate tight pants and I hate gas. I hate the feeling that everyone’s looking at me because I can’t stop grazing.

Now it’s widely accepted – even expected – that we’ll gain a few pounds during the holidays. Starting with Thanksgiving dinner, it’s a barrage of parties, Christmas cookies, and gift baskets right through Christmas Day. It’s all so good (except the fruit cake). How can we possibly resist? It only lasts a few weeks, right?

The eating lasts a few weeks. The recovery takes two or three times as long – just in time for Valentine’s Day! What a vicious cycle. It’s a cycle I’ve lived far too many times. Some days, I feel like the only way to escape it is to barricade myself inside my house. Other days, the last thing I want to do is escape. On those days, life is short and food is good. The side effects go away eventually. (Except for the biggest side effect – what I see in the mirror.)

Breaking the Chains of Old Holiday Habits

This year I finally reached the tipping point. After partaking in a holiday pancake breakfast at work, the side effects hit…hard! That was a miserable afternoon and evening. I got up Saturday morning and realized what I had to do. I had to stop, right there and then. Even though my birthday was the next day and Christmas was right around the corner, I had to put an end to it.

My wife usually bakes me a Funfetti birthday cake with Funfetti icing. (I know. I should be stripped of my man card for writing that.) It’s the most delicious cake…EVER! I so look forward to it. More so because I always forget about how I paid the price after eating it the year before. But this year I had to tell her, “Sorry if you already bought the mix and the frosting but I don’t want a Funfetti cake anymore.”

I couldn’t do it to myself, even if it was just for a day. Even if I said, for the millionth time, this would be the last. Instead I found a gluten free bakery. It was too late to order a cake so instead I grabbed a six pack of mini cupcakes. Jenny put candles in them and we went to town. They were good, too, and no leftovers!

It feels weird not to feast on the Funfetti. Definitely some cognitive dissonance kicking in. But what doesn’t feel weird is my stomach. It feels normal. I’m writing this at 10pm on a Monday night and I’m wide awake. I’d usually be in a Funfetti-induced coma right about now. Because I said no to the cake, I was able to resist the treats my colleague’s wife sent to work today. Brownies, fruit filled bars and cutouts. They looked so good. But this was a new path I’d started walking and there was no place for wheat-filled treats anymore.

The Perils of Turning Over a New Leaf

If you’ve been down the same road I have, I bet you found it exciting at the start. It’s an achievement to find healthy alternatives that taste good. You feel good and you like what you see in the mirror. But it creates a whole new set of problems. I’ve had friends experience what I’m about describe. Perhaps it’s happened to you too.

Let’s say it’s time for a holiday meal. As the dishes are passed around the table, you choose only the healthiest ones. One small helping of each and a polite “no, thank you” to dessert…

“Oh no you didn’t!”

Here come the looks. No words, just disapproving looks and sneers. You can feel the out and out disdain. If you’d broken wind, at least someone would’ve giggled. Without a single word, the message comes across loud and clear, “How offensive! Don’t you know all the effort that went into this meal? How dare you not take a little of everything and stuff yourself so full you can’t breathe!”

It’s sad, really. You’d think your friends and family would be happy to see you trying to live a healthy lifestyle and not head down a road that leads to gluttony and physical pain. Maybe they’re happy at first but then worry sets in. “It’s the holidays but it’s not the same anymore. This year he’s eating turkey with no gravy, next year he’ll be giving us a sermon on the dangers of cranberry sauce.” Sometimes people make assumptions based on their worst fears. Your courage gets overlooked when others start thinking of how change affects them.

When the Road Forks – Which Way Do You Go?

The biggest thing I’ve learned from others and my own experience is to be prepared. It’s called the road less travelled for a reason. It’s lonely and it’s long and there’s not always a familiar face waiting for you at the end. Let nothing come as a surprise and, most of all, don’t let others’ reactions cause you to regret the decisions you’ve made.

In any social group there are people who successfully march to the beat of a different drummer.  They don’t graze off the buffet until they’re stuffed.  They sip one drink the whole night while others toss back one after another. They leave when they’re ready to go, not feeling one bit compelled to close the joint down. Didn’t happen overnight. They stuck it out and eventually gained acceptance for all of the right reasons and none of the wrong ones.

How did they persevere? They figured out how to meet their emotional needs the right way. Remember those emotional needs?

Validation – importance, recognition, being valued

Security – comfort, safety, stability

Excitement – variety, risk, exhilaration

They figured out comfort doesn’t come from food, it comes from knowing you’re developing self-discipline and cherishing the only body you’ll ever have. The chef’s approval of your second helping isn’t true validation. True validation is valuing yourself enough to make the right decisions about your health. Excitement isn’t the thrill of trying everything on the buffet. It’s getting up in the morning and feeling well rested because your body was rejuvenating itself rather than processing excess waste all night.

We’re closing in on Christmas but there’s still plenty of time to decide that this year will be different from all the others. No tummy aches, no loosening your belt, and no eating Funfetti birthday cake for breakfast. That’s how your health really can be the gift that keeps on giving.

Give it a try. ‘Tis the season!

Todd K Marsha is a Catholic husband and father living in suburban Kansas City. Through his writing charism he tells the powerful story of his conversion to the faith, his triumphs through God's grace, and his continuing struggle to live a more Christ-like life.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.