Riots Not Diets

Relaxing by the cheese tray over the holidays

Updated January 27, 2023
An array of cheese on the left side, with a yellow animated scared face on the right.

This is the time of year when people get really EXCITED about FOOD! Bring on the feasts, the traditional dishes, the cheese-centric gatherings! We love to gather ’round with others and have a chance to eat things we may not eat the rest of the year. The food and the people make us feel anchored to cherished memories, or to loved ones who may or may not still be here with us. They remind us of where we come from and who we are. These feelings may be especially high for those who are attending holiday gatherings for the first time in three years.

For many of us, though, the excitement around holiday food has a shadow: guilt and shame. We head home from the family get-together and do an inventory of everything we ate. We wonder what we looked like in other peoples’ eyes. We mentally re-play the microagressions about waistlines and second servings. Or maybe if we restrained ourselves well, we have a little binge when we get home, breathing deeply, finally being able to relax. 

Ah, there’s the word—relax. 

Chronic restriction (aka “dieting”) and disordered eating are tools to soothe and channel anxiety. Sometimes those anxieties are about the size of our bodies, sometimes it’s about being interrogated by Aunt Mildred about why you still aren’t married, and sometimes it’s completely unrelated. Controlling your food gives you the soothing illusion that you can control other things in your life. It’s a distorted path to relaxation, one that points right back to the stress and self-hatred built right in to it.

That’s because the more you try to control your food, the more out of control you feel

The more relaxed you are around food, on the other hand, the more you feel a sense of internal peace.

This sense of peace and relaxation means you are no longer triggered to binge.

But more than that, feeling safe and at ease around sugary, fatty, high-calorie holiday food frees up so much goddamn psychic energy. When you know that those foods are a genuine option for you and not something to fight with yourself over, your mental focus no white knuckling your way through dinner. You realize that none of the food on the table is a threat, so you are simply free to easily and breezily either enjoy them or not—no big deal.

That leaves you with emotional capacity to expend on things that are actually important to you at the holidays, whether it’s maintaining healthy boundaries, enjoying the people you love, breaking your generational trauma, or whatever! 

The only downside is that when we loosen the grip of control around food, we no longer feel the 10/10 excitement that a certain dish can bring. The holidays can remain an exciting time, but it’s no longer because this is your annual opportunity to dive face first into Cousin Cathy’s roasted potato garlic dip supreme. But it also no longer brings the -10/10 guilt and shame that eating that certain dish can bring. Instead, you find yourself at more moderate ratings, like 3/10 excitement and zero shame.

And that may just be the best gift you can receive for the holidays.