I often have trouble mustering excitement for the arrival of the holiday season. I look forward to visiting family and seeing how much my siblings have grown in my absence, I appreciate the break from everyday routines and concerns, and I find pleasure in all the gaudy wonder of tacky light shows. But there’s one aspect of all the festivities that I am still learning to enjoy.
The table spreads rife with rich food — the same food that friends and family wait all year for and salivate over throughout the days ahead, that takes center stage in most celebrations during this time of year — leave me feeling restless rather than eager.
Backed by a history steeped in perfectionism, gullibility and unhealthy coping mechanisms, I’ve convinced myself over time that these feasts spell nothing but disaster. I know I’m not alone.
As part of a culture that regularly aspires for rigidity over well-rounded fitness, anyone with a tendency toward disordered eating may begin to suffer when dinnertime rolls around. It’s easy to pass off such ordeals as run-of-the-mill First World problems, only relevant in societies above the poverty line with easy access to privileges like large holiday meals, but they represent a widespread and multicultural phenomenon. No matter how you celebrate or what sits on your table, holiday food and celebration often strikes a chord in anxious minds.
While some concern themselves with not over eating, others worry about not having enough to satisfy, or concentrate on the moral sanctity, and healthy versus unhealthy choices.
Among the variety of preoccupations that invite themselves to the party, the concept of imbalance unites them all. Black and white thinking becomes an easy trap that hyper-focuses on just one piece of the greater puzzle, instructing its victims that bald salads are the only option or that they had better enjoy heaping plates of delicacies today before it’s back to the diet tomorrow. Financial woes instigate these mindsets as well; for those who save up in order to pull together a nice holiday meal, the pressure to conserve the food that they’ve gathered, or to consume everything while it’s still there, can be exhausting.
Holidays are special and deserve distinct consideration, but only when that consideration contributes to the overall joy that these occasions are meant to generate.
By embracing balance this time of year, we can enjoy exceptional dishes without resorting to under-eating, over-eating, discriminatory and selective eating, or the apprehension that accompanies any of the above. This means working to believe there is in fact space for a little bit of everything on our plates, from kale salads and roasted brussels sprouts to good red wine and pumpkin pie (my favorite). On these holidays, and all other days in between, balance brings us home.
Exploring the full spectrum of opportunities, both on the table and beyond it, makes for stable footing and equilibrium — concepts that don’t have anywhere to settle within a brain that operates on extremes alone.
My own goal this holiday season is to remember the benefits of balance, starting with a piece of my grandmother’s luxurious lemon bars alongside the greens and lean turkey breasts that are easier for me to handle.
The challenge lies in allowing ourselves to break with rigidity, even in the name of health, and understanding that a healthy life is also a forgiving one. This year, try looking at holiday nutrition on a holistic level that satisfies your macros and your taste buds, balanced with your need for speed. On your plate and in your mind, there is room for balance.
What’s your secret to finding balance with food over the holidays? We want to hear from you. Comment here or over on our Facebook page. Click here to find holiday endurance events to help motivate and inspire you over the holidays!
–Author Lucie Hanes lives and thrives in Golden, Colorado, where she seeks out long days filled with rock climbing, trail running, skiing, and trying not to faceplant while doing any of the above.