Learning to say “no” to ourselves and to others is like building a muscle — the more you exercise your ability to say it, the stronger your resolve grows. And while you are working on your emotional fitness, it might help to keep one very important mantra in mind before joining friends and family for the holidays:
Food does not equal love — only love is love.
We all have pals and relatives whom we know will have a difficult time with “alternative” food choices. People from all cultural backgrounds and walks of life frequently equate certain foods with feelings of being cared for and caring for others in return. While these are beautiful and well-meaning sentiments, they are not always healthy perspectives from which to view the subject of nutrition.
The emotional value placed on the having and giving of treats¹, especially those which are holiday or celebration-based, is tremendous! Think about all the weddings and birthday parties that just wouldn’t have seemed the same without the central focus – not the people, but rather the cake! What essentially amounts to a pile of sugar, food colouring, milk, eggs and flour has the power to steal center stage – which is pretty crazy when you think about it!
Be it Hallowe’en candy, Valentine’s Day chocolates, Christmas cookies, special cultural and/or family dishes, excluding yourself from direct participation in traditional eating rituals may induce feelings of guilt, disappointment, and even anger in us and others. Saying “no” in these situations can often be difficult, and at best, uncomfortable.
Prepare yourself for the fact that your aunt, for example, may interpret your refusal of her Cinnamon Sugar Coffeecake (which you have happily eaten every other time it was offered in the past) as a sudden rejection of her affections. After all, it isn’t all that unusual for people to have strong reactions to unannounced changes in perceived routine. If you suspect this might be the case with your own family, it’s probably a good idea for you to share a little bit about your health and nutrition goals before you all sit down to Christmas dinner.
¹For the purposes of this post, I am defining “treats” as any food stuffs associated with a holiday, celebration, or achievement which have little to no nutritional value, (e.g., gingerbread houses, stuffing, cupcakes, shortbread cookies, chocolate eggs).