Great Barrington — We are entering the time of year when food takes on all kinds of new and different meanings. It is often a time of excess – too much food, too much fun. It is fraught with emotions, good and bad. And it is filled with traditions. And all of this gets reflected in the decisions we make about food. In my experience, more people beat themselves up more often about what they do and don’t eat during the “holiday season” that starts when the Halloween candy goes on sale and doesn’t end until after New Year’s. Last year, I started baking for Thanksgiving and when New Year’s Day was over my husband said “No more!” And I did not bake again until the spring holidays rolled around. And the funny thing is, the vast majority of what I bake is not bad for you; it was just too much.
So, how do we cope? The first thing to do is to acknowledge that this time of year is fraught with emotion and filled with food. The second is to be kind and gentle with ourselves. If you have a favorite holiday treat, do not deny yourself. If you are making it for a crowd, have a piece, enjoy it and send the rest home with someone. If you are just making it for yourself, make it small and enjoy a piece every day until it is gone. If you can invite a friend over to share some, all the better. I once bought a whole cake for myself and ate 1 piece/day until it was gone. It was not easy to convince myself that it was OK, that I deserved to have the cake I loved, and that I would not gorge on it. It was a sort of challenge of self love.
Halloween became a challenge the day the Halloween candy went on sale. Who doesn’t have a favorite? And who can resist a bag of their favorite in miniature? “I only have to have a small one. Or two. Or three. But they’re small. And I’ll save most of them for Trick or Treat (which is in three weeks).” How we fool ourselves. One website (click here) tells you how long you have to walk to burn off the calories from a given amount of candy, but remember, the calories are only 1 part of how that candy is going to affect you. Think mood. Think food chemicals. Think fatigue.
- Try thinking about candy the way you think about it the rest of the year. The strategy is to not keep it in the house, but to not deny yourself for an occasion.
- Think about your health. How much of that candy is going to give you pleasure and how much of it is going to make you feel not well? Either on a physical or emotional level.
- Don’t fret about wasting it by throwing it out. An old friend of mine would say, “It either goes to waste or it goes to waist.” Where would you rather it go?
- And enjoy that piece of candy unless it causes you immediate distress, digestive problems, headaches, joint pain – yes, candy can cause all of those symptoms,
And if you’ve already overdone it for Halloween, you have plenty of time to fix it.
Next comes Thanksgiving. This is when the emotions start to run high. The good memories, the bad memories, the reverting to childhood behaviors when you go home, or resenting that you are now the adult. The desire to recreate happy family occasions. And the reality that it sometimes doesn’t measure up, no matter how good it is. The welcoming of new family and friends, the loss of some old ones. All of these things stir up food-related emotions in us. And then there is the fact that there is always too much food.
The first thing to remember about Thanksgiving is that this is not the time for restricting. If you are spending Thanksgiving alone, get yourself something special. If you are entertaining, it’s OK to go all out – you may want to consider sending some food home with your guests so you are not faced with how to get rid of too much food. If you are visiting, don’t fret over what is being served. Eat it and enjoy the company.
If you have necessary food restrictions, this can cause more stress, especially if you are visiting. You can volunteer to make some dishes to share. You can volunteer to bring food that you can eat so your host or hostess doesn’t feel they have to do anything different. You can eat before you get there so you can make do with the foods that you can eat. If you are making the meal, I can tell you from personal experience, you can recreate almost any traditional favorite and don’t need to tell anyone the gravy was made with gluten-free flour or the mashed potatoes don’t have milk in them. And it is OK to ask others to bring traditional foods that you don’t make or eat, or buy them elsewhere. It helps to remember that celebrating with family or friends is really more about the company than the food.
Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanza, or any other festival of light that you celebrate in the winter months can cause the same angst. First, we are often faced with holiday celebrations – work, community, friends. The number of “special occasions” at this time of year can push anyone over the edge. As I said, I started baking in November and was not done until the year ended. (We have a couple of birthdays in the middle, too.)
- If you are faced with the plates of holiday goodies that show up at every work place, public office and some private homes this season, be prepared. Have something available to eat that is nourishing so you are less tempted by the treats and only allow yourself to have some if it is a favorite of yours. I always keep nuts and fruit, KIND bars and other healthier snack bars available so I am satisfying my sweet tooth without too much sugar, and with some nutrients, so I only eat the irresistible. And don’t forget the Halloween question above – how will I feel when I am done and is it worth it?
- If you are going to a restaurant for an occasion, check out the menu. Think about ordering a lighter dinner if you know dessert is part of the celebration. If you are not in control of what is served, consider starting with a salad at home to make sure you get your vegetables and are less hungry when you get there. If you are allergic, make sure there are options for you or make sure you eat well at home so you don’t make yourself sick.
- If you are going to a friend’s house, volunteer to bring something. I always recommend volunteering to bring something healthy, but if you have something you make that is special or that is requested, go for it. Remember, it is an occasion to enjoy your friends and if being proud of your signature dish is part of that, enjoy.
The most important thing to remember is that just because you allowed yourself a treat (or two or three) today does not mean you have blown it for the season. You have allowed yourself to enjoy celebrating the season. And tomorrow, you can have some vegetable juice, have a large salad at lunch, cook a healthy dinner. You can make vegetables and proteins the centerpiece of your meals and snacks. You can drink lots of water and herbal tea.
Make sure you get lots of sleep. Make time for exercise. Walk a little farther, make a point of getting to the gym or pool if that is your usual exercise. Meditate – you can find great guided imagery on an app called the Insight Timer that you can use any time or any place to help you center and make decisions you will be happy with.
Here are some links to some of my favorite recipes from those healthy meals you’re going to cook between the special occasions to healthier homemade goodies for celebrating with:
www.eatingfromthegroundup.com – good homemade food;
www.nourishingmeals.com – gluten and dairy free;
www.elanaspantry.com – grain free.
And this is the dish I am asked to bring to holiday dinners:
Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower
2 heads cauliflower
1 large bunch of broccoli crowns
Wash and cut into bite size pieces
Toss broccoli in 2 Tbsp olive oil, with ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp black pepper until coated and spread on a large cookie sheet
Toss cauliflower in 2 Tbsp olive oil with ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp black pepper until coated and spread on a large cookie sheet
Bake at 350 until fork tender and lightly browned – @ 45 minutes
I toss them in a pretty casserole dish that can be put in the oven to keep them warm
I like them just like this, but you can drizzle a sauce made with juice of ½ lemon and ½ orange, 1 Tbsp olive oil whisked together with a little grated orange and lemon peel over them and top with chopped fresh parsley if you want to get fancy.