How to Enjoy the Holidays with Food, Family, and Other ‘F’ Words
Written by Stacey Robbins
Here we are. In that weird in-between place of the holidays.
The Snicker Bars and Peanut Butter Cups are long gone and all that’s left of the Halloween candy is the weird, no-name stuff that even the kids won’t touch.
(Remind me to tell you about the year I mixed up saying “Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups” and “Reece’s Pieces” and enthusiastically asked my kids who had their candy spread all over the living room floor, “Who has some Reece’s Penises for Mom?” Which sent my husband into near cardiac arrest with laughter…
The stores are that mix of Christmas music, Pumpkin pie filling, and leftover masks that are on sale, 50% off.
It feels forced and confused.
I know people are saying things like, “I want to have ONE holiday at a time.” Whereas I’m wondering, “Where can I go that has
Maybe that’s just me.
And okay, maybe a few of you, too.
While some “normal” people are excitedly planning what they’re going to cook for Thanksgiving, some are planning on how they’re going to live, eat, thrive, and survive for what I refer to as ‘The Rolling Snowball’ —
otherwise known as:
‘The Holidays from Happy Thanksgiving to Happy New Year.’
This time of year has always been an interesting one for me…
It’s the season when I used to either:
1. Start a diet or crazy food program where it was pretty much everyone eating everything they wanted and me, chewing on celery sticks.
2. Completely abandon ship and live recklessly for two solid months, only to wake up in a fogged-out daze on January 2nd. I’d spend the next few months of the New Year righting all the wrongs I had committed from the months before.
But something has shifted in me over the years. Little ‘a-ha!’ moments that led to more peaceful results.
Not only with food.
But with family.
And some other ‘f-words’, too.
And you know me, if I learn something that lessens the suffering in my life, I want to share it to shortcut any suffering in yours.
So, here we go:
Feast or Famine (aka ‘Food’)
How many Jenny Craig, Weight Watcher, and Lindora meals did I bring to Thanksgiving dinner at my Italian family’s house? My mother would gasp as I carried in the dinky, 5-inch rectangle box of food, while she had the table (with two extensions) filled with a turkey basted and stuffed to perfection, sweet potatoes with maple syrup and marshmallows, rice pilaf, mashed potatoes whipped with butter and cream cheese (simply to-die-for), cranberry sauce, roasted chestnut dressing and broccoli baked with melted cheese AND crushed butter crackers that literally made you “mmmm” for days afterward just thinking about it.
Oh my god. My mouth is watering, just writing this…
If that weren’t enough, there were always at least 5 different kinds of pies – all my favorite – served with either fresh whipped cream or softened vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce (because vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce pretty much go perfectly on almost every pie you can imagine.)
And there I’d be: Opening my can of gelatinous ‘turkey’ (I put that in quotes because I was dubious at some points, if it was even related to the turkey family, let alone real turkey) and swallowing hard to pretend I was glad to eat it and not completely grossed out – and bummed out – all at the same time.
My mother used to ask me, “Why do you do this to yourself? Why not just have a little of the real food? Or wait to go on a diet AFTER the holidays??”
She didn’t understand. This was a woman who lost weight during her pregnancy with me (she ate coffee grounds, tuna fish, and popcorn while I was in her womb) and ended up 5 pounds less than she was before she even got pregnant.
She didn’t understand that our bodies and our self-control were different.
Plus, I had no idea that I had Hashimoto’s (where the body attacks the thyroid and totally screws with your metabolism) and that the answer wasn’t waiting in another effort of self-denial or another box of processed, diet food.
But the other extreme wasn’t the answer, either: Where I would start feasting on Halloween, straight through my birthday on November 14th, Thanksgiving, Christmas parties, then Christmas Eve AND Christmas Day followed by New Year’s Eve (AND day) only to end up in a gluten-filled coma on January 2nd wondering what the license plate number was on the truck that had just hit me.
That didn’t work so well either.
There had to be a better way.
And there was.
Here are some tips I want to share that helped me enjoy the holidays AND respect myself the morning after:
– Eat clean during the week. Instead of having a food orgy for 2 months like it was the end of the world and these were all my last meals, I ate clean during the week and then, allowed myself some indulgences at the special holiday event.
– Have clear boundaries at the party. I’m really clear that ‘indulging’ doesn’t mean red wine (which makes me barf as soon as it hits my liver) or gluten (which makes me feel like someone hit me over the head with a baseball bat AND punched me in the gut at the same time). I can’t enjoy the party – or the rest of the holiday season – if I’m busy recovering from the lines I crossed. It took me a while to get to that point of clarity and a lot of trips to the bathroom to learn these lessons but eventually I understood that indulging a little didn’t have to mean ‘ruining me’ in the process. Keep your boundaries clear.
– Stay hydrated. As I wrote about in my book, “You’re Not Crazy and You’re Not Alone”, when we have Hashimoto’s it’s easy to be under-hydrated – especially in winter time when we’re colder, we tend to lose our sense of thirst. It’s a really conscious effort to have a warm cup of tea or warm lemon water nearby throughout the day so that I am giving my body the most hydration it needs during a season that tends to demand a lot from me. Being under-hydrated can increase feelings of fatigue and anxiety so, having that extra cup of bone broth or warm cider can keep your energy up and your anxiety down.
– Have an abundance mentality. Remind yourself that you can get these foods all year-round. We sometimes forget that we can make a pumpkin pie in February or have that turkey and mashed potatoes in July. Remember that special occasions don’t mean scarcity. Keep your abundance mentality and you won’t feel that need to hoard the food on that one, special day.
– Choose your alcohol strategically. During the holidays, I often will pick two days of the week where I’ll have some wine since I know I get invited out a lot and don’t want to feel like poop-on-a-cracker for another two months because I over did it. There have also been years where I didn’t have any alcohol at all. I listen to my body and what it’s speaking to me. A happy liver is part of a happy thyroid and so, if I am having some libations, I’ll focus my alcohol intake to one or two days a week and likely add some milk thistle (a supplement that supports the liver) to my regimen the rest of the week.
– Enjoy the people you’re with. The really special thing about this time of year isn’t about the food and drink; it’s about the people. The ones you only get to see once or twice a year and have that catching up, celebrative time with. So, laugh and look into each other’s eyes when you’re talking and really let that be the feast that fills your soul – you’ll find yourself less consumed with the food that’s on your plate or the drink that’s in your hand.
Speaking of which…what if the people you’re around inspire you to drink?
This is something I talked about in YNCYNA, in the chapter in my book called:
“With a Family Member Like that, Who Needs an Enemy.”
Not always the easiest subject to deal with.
So, let’s go there…
I spent my childhood on the East Coast attending HUGE Italian gatherings with people dressed in black, with big glasses of red wine and big hand gestures, talking in loud voices with New Jersey accents, while we ate 17 courses of the most amazing Italian food you’ve ever had in your life.
Grudges were held.
Cousins were bonded.
And we snuck smoking cigarettes with our spicy Aunt Nancy – the ‘fun aunt’ who let us break all the rules.
The men smoked stogies while they played scopa at the folding table. The women were bitchy in the kitchen while they cleaned it to perfection. And we all ended the day playing Bocce ball and having meatball sandwiches….just because.
That was my childhood.
I’ve spent my adult years on the West Coast, celebrating the holidays with my husband’s Filipino family – where people spoke softly, dressed in bright, tropical colors and we had theme food parties: Maybe it was Mexican one time or Chinese another – and even occasionally Italian. But not the Italian like I grew up with.
Either way – my youth or adulthood – holidays meant ‘family’.
You know, that other ‘F-word’ that can make us climb out on the ledge.
Because family always gives us “opportunities.”
(That’s what I like to call it when people make us crazy, push our buttons and make us feel like we’re a hormonal 12 year-old with a big, ugly pimple on our nose, who just got rejected at the middle school dance.)
How do we enjoy the holidays with our family when they feel less like ‘friend’ and more like ‘foe?’
Here are some ways that have helped me to keep my peace (and my sanity) when I’m around people who are giving me lots of ‘opportunities’:
– The Opportunity for Self-Care. Before an event, we can get in a fluster with the kids, the food prep, the presents and the busy-ness of making a holiday happen. Some of the best times I’ve had AT an event were when I took care of myself BEFORE an event. That time of lighting a candle or some incense while I’m getting ready in my bedroom. Or putting on some soothing music. Or taking 5 minutes to meditate or do some deep breathing. Those times of self-care before an event, centered me to be more grounded during an event.
– The Opportunity to Represent Myself. Often, at holiday gatherings, it turned into the sassy, know-it-all relative(s) badgering me about my health protocols. It turned into the War of the Wills over who was right about what I should be doing. Oy vey. Here’s what I noticed about me: When I wasn’t sure of myself, I got defensive. When I needed him or her to like me, I got defensive. When I was afraid of being misunderstood, I got defensive. But as soon as I found peace about what I was doing it and why I was doing it, I stopped being defensive and started representing myself: simply stating what I was up to and how it was helping and then, I’d let it go. I found that the more at-peace I was with myself, the more at-peace I was with others not being at-peace with me. (Did that make sense? I read it like 12 times and I think it did). Whether they agreed with me or not became of no concern to me.
– The Opportunity to Be Gracious. We’re all an ass sometimes and the more I remembered the ass I had been, the more I was able to let someone else be an ass without defining them by it. I remember during my religious years when I was trying to ‘save’ everyone. No one would be around me without a huge glass of wine in their hands. I get it. I’d want to be drunk too if someone were badgering me about heaven and hell when I was just trying to enjoy a nice family gathering. Remembering my weaknesses and loving myself, allows me the space – which I call ‘grace’ – to love someone else in their weak moment, too.
– The Opportunity to Move On. It’s a losing proposition to approach every new holiday by dragging the past 30 years into it. It’s time to let go and move on. People change. Allow them that opportunity to be different in front of you. Letting go of the expectations for people to be the same as they were allows us to see them for who they are and where they are. It’s a ‘Do Unto Others’ moment: I want to be given new chances. If I want that for me, then I should extend it to others.
– The Opportunity to Laugh. When I got more loving of myself, I started laughing more. That meant that I could laugh at others too. Not in a mocking way (okay, I admit, I’ve done that sometimes) but truly in a light-hearted, take-it-with-a-grain-of-salt when someone offers you their ‘fat’ clothes, or someone starts acting like a goober. Just laugh. Like they say on The Muppets: “Peoples is peoples.” Sometimes we have shining moments and sometimes – not so much. Just laugh it off when that left-handed compliment comes in and know that it’s more about them than it is about you and that you’ve said stupid shit, too, at some point. Just laugh. It makes little things go away faster and easier.
And here are the last few F-words for this season:
– Fill Your Cup. We talked about it earlier but that routine I have of getting up and meditating, taking time to put lotion on my body, and actually make my bed (so that my bedroom looks less like a disaster and more like a sanctuary) are the little things I do to center me. I also make sure to take a walk in the middle of my day and to take a gaze at the sunset or the stars (if I missed the sunset) and just breathe. I can’t be all work and all-holiday all the time or I’m going to be all-strung-out by December 1st.
– Focus on the Good. Unless you’re changing religions or moving to a cave and living in sackcloth, you’re going to have many holidays over the next many years so, focus on the good. Notice yourself say things like “Let me just get through the holidays” as if ‘real life’ is starting again in January and, instead, make a commitment to live each day as if it’s a gift and not as if you’re on parole.
– Face-to-Face Time. If you have kids, spend time WITH them: look them in the eyes, have a walk in nature or read a book together. Doing all the preparation to make their holiday great with gifts and gatherings is truly second to what they (and you) need the most: Face-to-face time. It will keep you grounded to what matters most, and best of all: it heals the soul.
– Freedom. Remember that you are a free agent. No one is forcing you to do anything. We didn’t celebrate Christmas for 5 years with the kids. Then, we made it what we wanted: Cookies and pretty lights. We’ve done homemade gifts, or one simple gift and we’ve had really abundant, lavish years. There are no rules. Remember that you’re the one in charge to make the holidays whatever YOU want them to be. You can go on a cruise or spend every day at the Food Bank feeding the homeless. You can say “Yes” and you can say “No”. When you’re clear about your “Yes’s” you will be clearer about your “No’s”. When we remember the truth that we get to write the script to live the Life of Our Dreams, that’s when we really enjoy ourselves – because then, we are living like we are truly free.
I hope that some of those help you to enjoy your season more than before and set you up to win this year. Because between that Chestnut stuffing on Thanksgiving and that Champagne toast on New Year’s Eve, there’s a lot of life and a lot of love to be had. My heart for you is that you would enjoy every drop, feel stronger at the end of the year than you ever have before, and greet the New Year with great hope, health and happiness – because that is the future that is possible for you.
And that great future
starts with the way you live today.
Sending you so much love and sloppy wet kisses….
Read my book You’re Not Crazy and You’re Not Alone: Losing the Victim, Finding Your Sense of Humor and Learning to Love Yourself through Hashimoto’s. Join my online-coaching course that helps you play and win the mental game: The Girlfriends’ Guide to Hashimoto’s. Visit me at Stacey Robbins.