I love Thanksgiving – and I can’t wait to fly back to the Midwest this week to celebrate with relatives – but I have somewhat of a turbulent history with the holiday. My parents’ divorce has made me less than eager to head home and face splintered celebrations spread over three different households. One thing I’ve always loved about it, however, is the food. When I was more of an emotional eater, this played out for the worst, as I couldn’t imagine anything more comforting than a table overflowing with turkey, stuffing and pie. These days, I’m eating my feelings a lot less, but I still love to eat – and I wish that fact didn’t come with judgment or worry. This creates a complex dilemma on Thanksgiving: how do you let your body image issues go on a holiday that’s all about food?
I have one goal for myself this Thanksgiving: to give my body the respect it deserves on this food-centric holiday.
I know that’s a far from simple goal. It’s not like I can just snap my fingers and suddenly stop seeing the “flaws” or the caloric number floating above that bowl of mashed potatoes, but this year, I’m going to give myself permission to relax and enjoy those mashed potatoes. Despite all the stresses that can come with family celebrations, Thanksgiving is meant to be a time to appreciate all the wonderful blessings in our lives.
That includes my body. I deserve a break to enjoy how good something tastes without some neurotic voice in the back of my head telling me that I should consider how many grams of fat are in it.
The holidays force all of us to confront the current state of our lives and take stock of where we are. Through explaining our jobs to nosy relatives or wondering who we have in our lives to celebrate with, we become brutally aware of our present reality. None of this leaves me — or anyone — very well-equipped to eat normally.
And enter the machine that is the American diet industry, bombarding us with “tips” on how to make it through the season without gaining weight, or warning us to just suck up the fact that we will all most definitely be gaining five pounds and no, it will not be easy to get rid of.
I know it’s not as simple as passing it off and telling myself to stop worrying about weight and “just love myself” as I take a second helping of sweet potatoes. Of course it’s not that easy. Loving yourself is one of the most important things in the world, but it’s also one of the most complicated hurdles a person can face in this lifetime.
Like lots of - most? - women, my past is littered with a collection of restrictive diets and confusing emotions about food, but I’m grateful to say that for the most part these days, I just eat until I’m full and leave it at that. I enjoy eating and make no attempt to hide that. This Thanksgiving, my hope is that, stress and all, I can spend a moment, on a day that is about gratitude, appreciating my body for all the things it can do regardless of weight. I hope I can eat as much turkey as I want without feeling guilty, and if my pants feel too tight at the end of the night, I hope that I can simply take a moment to laugh about it and not get sucked into a shame spiral.
I know that food talk, both negative and positive, is following us everywhere we go this time of year. The least I can do is make a pact with myself to try to enjoy Thanksgiving and all the beautiful things that surround it, rather than worrying about the food on my plate. I know, I know, you’re going to roll your eyes when I say this – I barely even can stomach it myself sometimes – but we really are all perfect just the way we are. And sometimes, all you need is one person to tell you that, so you can feel validated even after the stress of the season tries to tear you down into feeling worthless. So, here I am, telling myself (and telling you): Take all the joy you want to take and eat all the dessert you want to eat. You are entitled to it. You deserve it. Sayings like that aren’t plastered on all those inspirational posters in 5th grade classrooms for no reason. It just takes a lot longer for us to believe them than our teachers would like. But let’s use this Thanksgiving to try to start.
[Photo from Shutterstock]