It’s the time of year for cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. The time of year when food = love. It seems so much more appealing to stay inside with a few fresh cookies and a cup of cocoa than go outside for a run.
It’s also the time of year for food guilt and body shame. Every party and family gathering seems to have at least one person who comments about how they shouldn’t be eating that pie. Or how “those sweet potatoes were so delish! I’d just love to go for seconds, but that’s just not a good idea.” Or that they’ll need to spend some extra time in the gym this week.
Even worse are the family members who comment on the weight of others. But it’s always so fucking passive aggressive. “How is the food at college? It seems like it’s pretty good!” “So when is a little one coming our way? You seem to be filling out for that.” The worst: “Do you think that second piece of pie is really a good idea?”
Of course it’s a good idea. It’s fucking delicious. It’s a once-a-year treat. I’ll have both the pumpkin pie and the pumpkin cheesecake because I’m the woman who gets excited about pumpkin spice Cheerios. I will almost always lust after the offspring from the flavor orgy that is cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and vanilla.
What’s not a good idea is all of the holiday body guilt. That guilt deflates the mood worse than the cousin that did whippits with the Redi-Whip before dessert was served. Your attempt at self-deprecating humor really just makes everyone else feel bad about that pie in front of them. It makes them feel bad about creamy, rich eggnog in their hand. It sours the lingering sweetness of homemade Christmas candy.
Your body guilt makes kids question their bodies.
How do I know? I saw it first-hand in my own daughter.
I was talking to myself the other day as I looked through my baking supplies. As I mulled through my ideas for Christmas goodies, I muttered to myself, “like I fucking need more cookies laying around.”
“Why don’t you need cookies, Mom?”
My daughter was standing right behind me. “Well, Mom needs to lose some weight, and I really need to not eat so much junk food all the time.”
“Is it because you think you’re fat?”
I was taken aback by her bluntness, and the only response I could think of was, “Yeah, kind of.”
She thought for a moment. I knew I hadn’t said the right thing, but in that moment I couldn’t think of the correct thing to say.
“I like cookies, Mom. I guess I shouldn’t eat them because I don’t want to think I’m fat either.”
Her words hit me like Santa’s sack filled with stale gingerbread. I don’t want to think I’m fat.
My daughter is a beanpole. She is blessed with her father’s metabolism and height. She is constantly running, skipping, jumping, or dancing. She is a healthy, beautiful girl who shouldn’t fear Christmas cookies.
What have I taught her? What has she learned from others about her body? She’s fucking five-years-old and she’s already worried about how her body is perceived.
“Honey, it’s totally fine for you to eat some Christmas cookies. They’re a special Christmas treat, and it’s okay to have treats sometimes.”
I looked her in the eyes, “Sweetie, do you think you’re fat?”
“No. But I don’t want to be sad when I eat cookies because they’re making me fat. I want to have fun eating Christmas cookies.”
I hugged her. “Oh, honey. You are so amazing. You are beautiful, healthy, and incredibly smart. I’m so proud of you for thinking through all of this. Don’t worry about eating Christmas cookies. They’re a happy treat. When you eat your Christmas cookies with your cousins and brother and family, be happy that you’re able to share cookies with them. Be happy that everyone can be with you. Don’t be sad or worried about getting fat from a few Christmas cookies.”
My daughter doesn’t need this. Neither do the kids in your life.
Nothing I say will change what you think as you change into your pajamas each night. I can’t change your inner monologue as you debate going for seconds.
But I want you to think about what you say around the dinner table this holiday season. Does it benefit anyone for you to body shame? Will anything good come from your “jokes” about getting fat? Does implying the 15 pounds your niece gained is a bundle of joy help spread holiday joy?
So instead of asking your teenaged niece if she really needs that extra slice of pie, ask her if she’d like some whipped cream. Then ask her about what’s new in her life.
Holiday treats are just that: treats. They are mouthful of homemade joy and love. They are cinnamon-laced hugs for your tongue. There are other days for eating quinoa and kale, for hitting the treadmill. For today, enjoy a real conversation with a family member instead of shame.
Enjoy that sloppy, sugary cookie decorated by your four-year-old niece who thinks sprinkles are edible magic. Because they so are.