I do much better things with this holiday than celebrate it.

At least, after years of making myself miserable at the holidays, I’ve found a way to take care of myself. While my friends engage in what seems to me to be institutionalized abusive eating on a holy day, I choose to eat more simply at Christmas than I do all year. There’s no clearer, kinder amount than zero when it comes to my holiday trigger foods.

In Suppers I have learned to distinguish between treats – foods I can have occasionally – and triggers – foods that I can’t touch because they open floodgates. My diet program makes no such distinction. So for years I’d trigger binges at the holidays by tasting old family favorites I thought I could control by counting calories.

My formula for a perfect storm is being with my family combined with a buffet table. I have a history of eating to numb myself. I have a history of needing to numb myself when the family gets together. Confronted not only with Aunt Sally but Aunt Sally’s sweet potatoes with marshmallows, I’m likely to cave in and plough right through to the pies. I don’t even recognize marshmallows as food the other 364 days!

Sometimes I don’t feel related to my family. They seem to enjoy these family recipes without beating themselves up. Not me. Fortunately I’ve lost the taste for them as long as I avoid triggering situations. But that’s the key: avoiding triggers. In normal circumstances, even the sweet potatoes would be too sweet for my taste buds now that I’ve retooled my palate for whole food. In the old days I used to eat leftover mincemeat pie with hard sauce for breakfast!

Triggering was such a problem that for a couple years I had to avoid work-related parties entirely because I couldn’t manage social anxiety without starting a cascade of unhappy eating. Now I go but I arrive late and leave early. What’s the point of staying longer if I’m not eating and drinking myself into a stupor that puts me on the same level with everybody else? And with my family I’m having a Carol Christmas. I’ll prepare my favorite almond muffins – a treat that isn’t a trigger – to eat before I go so I don’t feel deprived. I’ll even light a candle and think about what this holiday is supposed to be about. Then, with a full belly and a kind heart, I’ll go and give everybody a hug, catch up with Aunt Sally, sing a few songs and head home before things start to deteriorate.

This is the best I can do this year to take care of myself. I don’t want to spend another holiday in isolation, nor do I want to trigger myself into several weeks of eating that require a New Year’s resolution and willpower to stop. Maybe another year I’ll have the strength to remain with the revelers and not indulge. Not this year. My palate is smart enough, but my flesh is still weak.

Wednesday Night Suppers Meeting Recommendations for Holiday Harm Reduction

  • Don’t ever go to a party hungry if you know you’ll be among people who use guilt to get you to eat the wrong food.
  • There is nothing like planning ahead. I make doubly sure to have delicious food on hand at this time of year. I also plan emotionally in case I meet any saboteurs.
  • Skip no meals.
  • I have to work at giving myself permission to be my top priority. I keep the focus on my own needs. I take food I know I can eat and enough to share.
  • Drink lots of water. It’s good for just about everything.
  • Volunteer to bring the guacamole and bring veggies instead of chips.
  • Avoid trigger foods 100%. Enjoy an array of treats that aren’t triggers.
  • Remember alcohol breaks down all kinds of barriers. It may be harder to resist the canapés with a drink in your hand.
  • Seek out the healthier choices like nuts, cut up fruits and veggies and hummus.
  • Serve yourself on small plates.
  • I stay in my process of self-reflection. I track my progress. There is something about tracking the changes in my taste buds and ideas about quantity that makes me feel stronger.
  • Take your conversation away from the buffet table and chat at the other end of the room.
  • My family is threatened by my success. They are invested in keeping me the same. I give them the choice of having me come and accepting that I eat differently or not having me there at all.
  • I treat Christmas like Lent. If I give up one ingredient like sugar or flour, it’s easy to avoid the foods that get me into the most trouble.
  • Take more yoga classes.
  • If alcohol is the issue, visit when there’s least likely to be drinking, or maybe host a holiday brunch yourself (without the champagne).
  • Guilt trip if you don’t clean your plate? Remember no food is wasted if you compost!
  • If necessary, resort to little white lies and get out of Dodge.

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