body image · eating · intuitive eating · overeating

At the holiday party food table (why Tracy steers clear of the “I really shouldn’t” trap)

Image description: Christmas tree ornament of a flat ceramic cardinal hanging on a tree, blurred background of coloured Christmas lights, snow falling. (Photo: Tracy Isaacs)

Eight years ago I posted about the mixed messages in magazines and online during the holidays, where we are at once surrounded by incredible recipes for special occasions (see the Canadian Living feature “Holiday Treats Packed with Love”) and by strategic guidelines for navigating the holidays without gaining weight (i.e. “if you’re at a party, position yourself away from the food table” — I said to myself never). My post “Eat! Don’t Eat! Holiday Magazine Mixed Messages” rings true today too, with the more recent twist over this decade of social media as a major source of these conflicting narratives of indulgence and deprivation.

Really what this all means to me is that many people live a tortured, socially and culturally induced relationship with food that makes a direct experience of pleasurable eating some sort of small victory. I don’t even know if it’s possible to make it through an entire evening during the holidays without being exposed to at least one person, if not multitudes, loading up their plate with holiday treats packed with love while saying “I really shouldn’t.”

Do I have a solution for this? Not really. My main strategy is DO NOT ENGAGE. A party is not the time to explain to people that we live in a toxic diet culture that has robbed so many of the simple pleasure of holiday eating. It is, after all, just eating. It does not (as I recently read in Geneen Roth’s wonderful book Women, Food and God) lead to rapture. Neither does eating to the point of the “oh-gollys” (a term coined by a high school friend of mine to describe the feeling of “oh golly, I ate too much.”) No one wants to have that conversation at that moment.

Another reason not to engage is that it is very likely to lead into talk of new year’s resolutions (i.e. “indulge” now and put the deprivation off until later). A food table at a party is not the place to remind people that they will not in fact be a different person on January 1st, and deprivation then will feel just as deprivation-y as it will right now.

The final reason not to engage is that no matter how fortified I feel I am against the onslaught of mixed messages, where what I believe and know to be true hits up against a lifetime of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts,” I too can slide into second-guessing myself if I’m exposed too long to the dominant narrative. I’ve worked hard to combat it and I don’t want to go there, especially when I’m trying to enjoy myself and a delicious piece of vegan brie with hot red pepper jelly on a slice of olive oil-brushed crostini.

I wish I had more of a “how-to” today, but really all I have to offer is my best wishes for an enjoyable season and however much luck you need to get to the other side, where, thankfully, we will all still be the same people we are today.