Many Holiday traditions focus around rich, decadent food, but there are good reasons for this, even beyond the obvious ones, like the fact that we humans are built to enjoy food because well, if we didn’t enjoy food, we’d probably have died off a long time ago. It’s hard work to get food, after all, and we’d likely have given up on it if we didn’t have a strong drive to eat and derive enjoyment from said eating.
In tropical climates, there is not as much seasonal change and less need to “store up fat” for winter. I suspect that traditions of Holiday food there are very different than here in the north where I live. Europe is a dark place in the winter, and it may seem like the sun and growing season will never return.
In the years before we had easy transportation of food from other climates, it was important for most people in this climate to put on a little weight after the Harvest and in the early part of winter, when food from the harvest was still plentiful and had not yet spoiled. Putting on ten pounds at Christmas time was a survival mechanism, to help get through winter months until spring, when the earliest crops could be harvested and eaten.
We think of peasants in the Middle Ages spending every minute of their lives doing hard labor, but it isn’t true, especially during the winter. Most people who worked on a farm did much less work over the winter holidays. They still had to wake up to do milking and there were other jobs to be done that didn’t have to do with planting, like fixing equipment that had been broken during the summer season or sewing clothes, but peasants also spent a lot of time sleeping, conserving energy so they didn’t lost any more weight than they naturally did as they transitioned into the lean months before food was readily available again.
In these harsh conditions, it makes sense that people ate as much as they possibly could. Meat, any kind of fatty foods, sweets, were in some sense good for them.There are both historical and cultural reasons that this tradition has remained.
But since we no longer live in a time where hunger is constantly looming overhead, I suspect our Holiday habits will change. I don’t know if most people gain weight during the season, but it may be that those who are trying hardest not to gain weight are most likely to do so. Some ideas I have if you are concerned about weight over the holidays:
1. Let yourself have the one thing that you care about the most. Think about what treat you love the most and indulge in that one freely, without recriminations. You may be surprised to discover that you don’t want the others as much.
2. Train yourself to notice the sensation of fullness and stop when you are actually full. When I was growing up, my mother was always telling me to clean my plate. Well, that didn’t teach me to pay attention to my body signaling whether I wanted more or not. And that in turns leads to over-eating and then feeling bad and feeling sick and painfully gorged. I don’t like that feeling and most people don’t.
3. Eat slowly. I’m not saying you have to eat tiny bits or chew for hours. Just enjoy the conversation and other things around you.
4. Don’t go to holiday meals starving. Don’t feel obliged to eat a salad beforehand to counteract the bad food, but don’t starve yourself all day, either. That will only make you more likely to eat too much, too fast, and end up wishing you hadn’t.
Have a Happy Holiday Season. Don’t try to lose weight, and don’t make yourself miserable. Regular good eating habits are pretty much going to work now as they always do. Trust yourself and if you gain a little weight, what’s New Years for?