A few days ago a bunch of us were out for lunch and talking about whether learning that Santa wasn’t real traumatized us as children. Did we mind that we’d been lied to? Did the meaning of Christmas change for us? Did the fervent belief in Santa just sort of fizzle or was there a dramatic moment of truth?
I recalled Christmas Eves where we listened to the radio reports of Santa’s progress. We convinced ourselves, looking up at what was probably an airplane’s blinking lights, that we could see Rudolph’s nose.
For at least a few years I heard Santa land his sleigh on the roof of our house. And I spent quite a bit of time as a kid worrying about the chimney and whether it was the right kind of chimney for Santa.
That magic falls away for all of us at some point. But we can resist it for a time. For a little while, for example, I chalked it up to coincidence that Santa’s handwriting so resembled my mother’s.
But you can only cling to a myth for so long. Christmas and the impending “fresh start” of the new year carries a lot of other myths, too.
The worst of it is the myth that this time, THIS TIME, it will be different. We will go on that diet after the holidays and lose that weight and keep it off. This time, this time.
The magic promise of dieting is kind of like the magical Christmas’ of our childhood, when the belief in Santa made anything seem possible.
But just as eventually the evidence all around me — the handwriting, my friends telling me there is no Santa, the confusion I experienced when someone talked to me about the impossible logistics of Santa’s task on Christmas Eve — forced me to face up to the lie that was Santa Claus, so it is with that post-holiday diet.
We’ve talked so many times on the blog about how diets don’t work. It’s depressing but true. It may be that the prospect of a post-holiday diet frees people up to enjoy the delicious food that’s on the table at this time of year.
But chances are that the diet mentality leads instead to binging and overeating instead of truly enjoyable experiences of special holiday foods.
When we approach the festive table with the idea, even when it’s lurking in the back of our minds, that “I really shouldn’t,” and we add to that the idea that “I’ll diet when this is over,” we are more likely to rebel. Faced with the prospect of deprivation (an impending famine), we go for the feast.
There is also the related idea that we can “work it off.” Significant lifestyle changes can, indeed, change our bodies. But the idea that we can literally “work off” a meal is not the best way to inspire us to find activities that we enjoy. And if we don’t enjoy it, we’re not likely to stick with it.
So what’s the alternative? For me, once I grasped the reality of the situation, I couldn’t cling to diets and unreasonable workout commitments as magic solutions to holiday indulgence. Instead, I’ve made it my objective this year to achieve just one thing at every meal: to leave the table without feeling uncomfortably full.
This is the same goal I have all of the time, not just during the holidays.
Setting that as my main goal for each meal means I can think about what I want to eat and eat it. But when I start to feel I’ve reached capacity, or even just before that, it’s time to stop. For me, that takes a lot of awareness and sometimes a fair bit of effort. It’s not yet second nature to me. But that’s where I need to go if I want to live in reality.
So forget about post-holiday diets and dramatic changes to my workouts. They have their allure, as all magical things do. But they’re no more real than Santa. And I don’t believe in them anymore.