The holiday season is a time for family fun, cheerful music, and most of all, decadent feasting. For some, this consists of weeklong parties with never-ending canapés, appetizers, desserts, and the long-awaited turkey (or veggie alternative) with all the fixin’s. As for me, I spent my holidays at a lodge in the remote wilderness of New Zealand. We had one big Christmas lunch, where my husband showed everyone what a real Canadian Christmas feast looks like, and a single New Year’s Eve party.
But it seems that the real hard part about the holidays is what comes after. As a friend once eloquently put it: did you even Christmas if you're not eating leftovers for three weeks? I’m still working my way through our nut loaf and mashed potatoes, and like many folks at this time of year, my pants are definitely feeling tighter.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that puts a lot of emphasis on our weight. Many of us engage in self-shaming rituals as the season comes to a close. It can be done alone, standing in front of the mirror. It can be masked with laughter among friends, and it can definitely be found in the spike of gym memberships as we roll into the new year. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to work off some of our holiday weight, but there are a few things we should remember before tearing ourselves down for gaining a couple of pounds.
Food for the Soul
Food is such an important part of the human experience. We need it as a source of energy for our bodies - especially during the holidays, when we have so many errands to run and fun activities to do. It only makes sense to eat a bit more than we usually would, to make sure our energy levels stay up.
But besides nourishing our bodies, food also nourishes our souls. It characterizes culture and defines holiday traditions, many of which are based on the idea of sharing food with family and friends.
Holiday meals are about enjoying good food in the company of our loved ones.
So don’t feel bad for enjoying something that is part of being human, and dig in! The holidays are a time to feed your soul as well as your body.
Consider the way you talk to yourself. Would it feel nice if someone else commented on any changes in your body in a negative way? If someone were saying these things to your friend, would you just sit by and agree with them? Assuming you have feelings, the answer is probably “no”.
We’ve all heard the same advice about positive self-talk. But it must be repeated again and again, because it takes time to change the wiring in our brains. Understanding something logically doesn’t undo the emotional responses created from a lifetime of propaganda. So I’m here this holiday season to be reminder #29365947 of what we all know, but still struggle with: be kind to yourself.
I still catch myself pinching my stomach in front of the mirror. I still catch myself joking to my friends about needing to eat salad. Self-acceptance is not an easy process: all we can do is practice. So I let the moment of doubt or shame appear, I observe it, then I dismantle it with kinder words, and I go eat my leftover cake.
In the post-holiday season, I like to recall the words of wisdom that my dad proclaims every year: it’s not what you eat between Christmas and New Year’s that matters, it’s what you eat between New Year’s and Christmas.
Ultimately, everything is about moderation and a couple weeks of splurging on calories won’t ruin your overall health. As dietician Erin Naimi puts it in this video about dieting and mental health, our body is like an ocean: it won’t be contaminated or wrecked by one “bad” meal. Just as it has been shown that successful training and dieting includes cheat days in a week, we are entitled to have a couple cheat weeks in a year.
Instead of bringing yourself down, try to savour your holiday memories as much as you savoured the feasts themselves. There’s no need to taint them with shame and regret.