How to Get Over the Relationship You Had With Food Over the Holidays
December has never been good to me in terms of will-power. It gets cold and dark, and there are finals to grade (or take) and presents to buy (or make), and then, on top of all that, I always go home for the holidays and am confronted with one trillion complicated and confusing emotions about my family / childhood / mortality / Santa, etc.
My parents continue to have, as they have always had, a fully-stocked snack drawer.
In Chicago, I do not buy snacks, because I have no power over snacks. Snacks call me to my certain doom, much like the sirens called to the seamen* in The Odyssey. Case in point: last night, Luke and I made enough cookies to feed an entire elementary school and I woke up at 3 a.m., and then 4 a.m., and then 5 a.m., understanding that I would not be able to sleep again until I ate some more cookies. I ate, like, half the cookies.** I couldn't be stopped.
Often, when I come to Portland, my mom intentionally cuts back on the snack-buying and stocks the fridge with things like kale and cashew yogurt in order to “support me.” (She's not trying to fat-shame me; I have complained about her snack drawer and its seductive powers to her a lot.) This maternal behavior sends me into a Hulk-like rage. I go to the market immediately to re-stock the snack drawer. I hate that there is a snack drawer, and yet, the thing that keeps me going is that the snack drawer is there. One of the universe's great paradoxes.
I eat NON-STOP throughout December, because food is my favorite drug. As the great Zadie Smith writes in her wonderful essay “Joy,” "All day long I can look forward to a popsicle. The persistent anxiety that fills the rest of my life is calmed for as long as I have the flavor of something good in my mouth.” This is the truest pair of sentences I have ever read, except replace “a popsicle" with “every food there is.” I do get a little angry thinking about most-beautiful-woman-alive Zadie Smith having the ability to consume one popsicle per day. A box of popsicles very rarely makes it from the store to the freezer when I buy one. (Because I eat them all, in case that wasn't clear.)
I tend to eat all my feelings for the entire month of December, I refuse to exercise because the exercise might make me think I don’t want to be eating constantly, and then by the end of the month I am FILLED WITH SHAME. (And cake.) It is no longer socially acceptable to make New Years’ resolutions at all, let alone to make New Years’ resolutions to lose weight. You have to say things like, “I just want to be healthier. You know, for me.” January comes and it’s even colder, but I’m determined to eat more salads and less everything else — and the salad is the worst meal for a cold day. It’s awful; it’s painful; and it feels like the end of an unhealthy relationship that I knew was wrong, but my friends kind of looked the other way, and I did too, because even though it hurt my heart in the middle of the night (read: heartburn), there were times when it felt sooooo good.
I need to pause here to say this: every body is truly beautiful, and our cultural obsession with thinness is an arguably bigger problem than the pervasiveness of the sugar industry in December.
I hate everything about the ways in which women are expected to talk about food. We can’t be on a diet, but we can be “trying Whole 30” because we “just want to have more energy.” And yet, there isn’t a woman I know who isn’t obsessed with her own weight. We just have to be private about it and any public discussion of weight has to be spoken in code: “I have been eating badly and I think it’s contributed to my depression”; “I am trying to eat exclusively raw this month to cleanse my toxins”; “The greatest act of self-love I can commit is to care about the food the enters my body.” Underneath all of these statements, 99.99 percent of the time, is, “That statement is true … but God, I wish I was thinner / more toned / in better shape / hotter in a bathing suit.” That’s the main demon-thought we’re programmed with and we’re not allowed to talk about it. I wish there was a support group where women could sit in a circle and just say aloud all the things they are thinking, constantly, about food and find support with one another. Unfortunately, the only version of that that exists is Weight Watchers, and that’s all about losing weight, which I don’t think ought to always be the goal. There are better articles and essays about this — Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s piece about diet culture and anything Samantha Irby writes about food are the stand-outs.
But HERE’S THE THING: As much as I wish that every woman I know had filled up on self-love alongside their multiple plates of honey-glazed ice cream (just me?), all these women are punishing themselves about how badly they ate over the holidays! Guess what? EVERYONE eats like shit this time of year. We are all more depressed in winter and we all feel like we need something to dull the pain, and now we are all making a concerted effort to make better food choices, and I am telling you — we need some coping mechanisms to deal with that loss.
So I have revised WikiHow’s entry on “How to Move On From A Relationship” to better fit my food-related needs. I have not changed the first sentences of any of these steps, btw.
- Understand your own feelings. If you need to cry, do so. In fact, do it a lot. And if anyone asks why you can’t stop crying, just say to them, “I can no longer eat my mother’s Twix Buttercream Pie to repress this feeling, so now I’ve just gotta feel it.” Chances are, you will become someone’s true hero.
- Cut off all contact. Get the Skittles out of the house. I know you have an emergency 5-pound bag of Skittles in the back of your closet, and I'm telling you here and now: give it to children. Lifestyle magazines will tell you to hide the snacks and put them in places such as behind celery and quinoa. This is ridiculous. If you have hidden the Skittles, they will call to you in the night. This is a proven fact.
- Get rid of reminders. Who really needs a bathroom scale? NO ONE. Bathroom scales, like Skittles, will call to you. And then they will tell you things like, “You are fat, which is equal to being a bad and stupid person who does not deserve to live.” Or they will tell you, “Ooooh, you have lost four pounds in two days; this is healthy and normal and soon you will look sickly and hot.” Scales are bullies, and bullies are one of the main reasons people need to eat snacks in the first place. Don’t let them remind you of snacks. Stay strong.
- Write in a journal. Last year, as I desperately attempted to lose weight, I took on a bullet journal. It was supposed to help me track my meals and exercises. But things quickly got out of hand and I began to spiral uncontrollably into the bottomless black hole that is Bullet Journal Layouts on Instagram. Looking at all the cute Bullet Journal layouts, I discovered that you could procrastinate doing anything useful with your journaling time by drawing intricate swirly wedding-type borders and making lots of flowers in the margins. In the end, I didn’t track my meals, but hey: I did procrastinate! Any time spent procrastinating on Pinterest crafts is time not spent eating.
- Accept. Look. You love snacks. Over the holidays, you ate a lot snacks. That’s ok. EVERYONE DOES THAT. Now you feel guilty about eating all those snacks, and that’s ok, too! Everyone feels guilty, all the time. It’s incredible that anyone leaves the house, ever. Anyway, I know you want to beat yourself up for eating the snacks, and I know you want to beat yourself up for beating yourself up for eating the snacks, but I give you permission to know that (1) eating snacks is normal, especially this time of year; and (2) you’ll never really believe (1), because you are, at your heart, deeply self-critical — and that’s fine. We are where we are on these life journeys.
- Talk it out. See above about starting a support group with women who just need to talk about their unhealthy relationship with food. And there would be good doughnuts at the end. Snacking is really only a problem when you're doing it alone.
- Spend time with family and friends. Just not ones who keep good snacks out where everyone can see them, and then go to the bathroom for long periods of time so you can easily steal their snacks.
- Consult a therapist. You pay them so you can say all the things you really want to say but are terrified of telling anyone because then everyone will know how petty and shallow you are. Your therapist may think those things about you, but there’s nothing she can do about it; she is a therapist and she is required to listen to you for one whole hour.
- Get a new hobby. I don’t know about you, but every time I read the word “hobby” I can’t really think about anything but painting miniature figurines. But you know what? It’s really hard to stress-eat while painting miniatures. They require deep, uninterrupted concentration. Imagine if you were eating Doritos and painting a little guy with a little business suit on? That cheese dust would get all over it. It would be a disaster zone.
- Set your own goals. OK, can we get real for just a second? Goals around eating are really hard and you should think incredibly critically about why you are setting them. Here are the goals I am setting for myself this year:
- Forgive myself immediately for eating an entire loaf of bread in one hour last week.
- Move forward with the intention of enjoying every meal.
- Seriously: The bathroom scale thing. It’s not worth it. A friend told me that recently, and I appreciated it a lot.
Ahhh. Feels good to let go, doesn’t it?
* ROFLOL - seamen.
** I ate pretty much all of the cookies.