author: marty grande-sherbert | oped editor
Every holiday season, I look forward to receiving the classic Terry’s chocolate orange. Everything about it – the flavour combination of orange and chocolate, the perfect satisfying shape all the wedges are in, whacking the thing as hard as I can on the coffee table – just feels like a good tradition. In fact, a lot of holiday traditions for me and others seem to revolve around food, whether it’s turkey, latkes, Chinese takeout, gingerbread cookies or any variety of your family’s homecooked traditional cuisine. For this reason, some modest weight gain in between one semester to the next is to be expected. After all, all that good eating is teamed up with weather that makes any rational person hesitant to go outside, and the holiday rush means there isn’t much time for a regular workout routine. It makes a lot of sense.
Why is it, then, that so many people insist on getting down on themselves for their holiday habits? One thing I notice being just as common as holiday food every year is holiday self-admonishment; people telling themselves that they’re going to have to workout extra hard to get rid of this “winter fat,” that they’re overdoing it on the cookies and chocolate, that they turn into a pig as soon as school is out. There is nothing wrong with being aware of your health and how you treat your body, but health is about making good choices and being at peace with them. It’s not about feeling adequately ashamed for things that make you happy.
I honestly cannot enjoy my holiday when the people around me are talking about how fat they’ve gotten. This is largely because those people are almost unanimously thinner than me, and although I have gained a lot of weight over the past few years, I have also learned a lot more about self-acceptance. When I was a teenager, wearing small and extra-small sizes, I avoided holiday treats whenever possible because I was terrified of weight gain, and every time I enjoyed a meal, all I could think about was how to make that weight go away. Now I wear an extra-large – a reality that would have horrified me five years ago – and not only do still enjoy what I eat, I understand that eating more means gaining weight, and that’s a morally neutral thing.
People gain and lose weight constantly throughout their lives. If you want to make the decision not to eat sweets or carbs over the holidays, please do. Taking care of yourself is good. But you’re not really taking care of yourself – or the people around you – if your diet comes with an attitude of shame toward people who aren’t doing the same. I am tired of hearing veiled comments from others about how “they’re already so full” when I’m still eating, about how “they could never handle” the things I treat myself to this time of year. I sympathize with how hard it is to change your diet and to struggle with body image, but please don’t assume I don’t have that same struggle. After all, we all live in a world where dieting is applauded even when it comes at the expense of our psychological (even physical) health.
So, when I make a committed decision to eat my Terry’s chocolate orange, I’m going to make an equally committed decision to withhold judgment on myself for it. I’m going to do so because I want holiday food traditions to be memories of comfort and joy, and not the anxious nightmares they were for my younger self. Trust me – the season is sweeter that way.