Ah, the winter holiday season! There’s a crisp snap in the air, homes are filled with the aromas of peppermint and ginger, the malls are potentially lethal, a very few people recall that there are holidays other than Christmas being celebrated, and the world is awash in body shame.
I can’t turn on my computer or television without being assaulted by messages that I’m going to gain gigantic amounts of weight this winter if I don’t stop being so greedy at the same table I’m supposed to fill with homemade goodies until the legs give out. Every ladymag in the universe has a picture of the perfect pie, cake, or souffle I’m supposed to make, alongside a reminder that gaining a single ounce from eating it means I will die well before my time, alone and unmourned as Scrooge in the vision shown him of his potential future. Every year some fanatic out there starts a campaign to make Santa skinny so that he can use his role model status to shame those who carry more meat on their bones.
But you know what? We can opt out of the insanity. We can spend this special time of year failing to hate ourselves. We don’t need to create the false dichotomy of too much food that we are not allowed to eat. You know what we can do?
We can take care of ourselves.
First off, those extra holiday pounds everyone warns us about? Are a natural function of being mammalian. During the cold months, most mammals put on some extra weight as insulation against – wait for it – the cold! You know? That snow outside? The biting winds? The heavy rains? Yeah, that cold. Fur-bearing mammals also add more fur. That’s why cats and dogs and horses and so on look shaggier in the coldest couple months of the year. So don’t panic if you suddenly weigh five or ten pounds more in January than you did in September. You’ll probably shed it again in a couple months when the weather warms up. It’s part of the ebb and flow of nature.
Remember that even when you’re fat, you still need to eat. Yes, even if you weigh eight hundred pounds, if you don’t eat, you will starve, and starvation leads inevitably to death. In fact, it’s a much more reliable predictor than how many pounds you happen to weigh. So do eat regularly, and let yourself eat until your hunger is sated. Then eat again when you’re hungry again.
Just because the food is on the table doesn’t obligate you to be the one to eat it. Look, there will be a lot of good food set out at this time of year, and the temptation on the part of a lot of people is to assume the fat people will take care of any leftovers. It’s not your job. Once you’re not hungry, it’s okay to stop eating. If you would like to take more for later, that’s okay. If you don’t want it, that’s okay, too. If there’s food left over, there’s food left over.
Find ways to tune out the body shame. I don’t know about you, but I’m in love with my DVR. It allows me to watch my favorite shows and zap through the commercials so that I don’t have to see so many diet ads, and promos for shows devoted to telling me my body is disgusting. I don’t buy ladymags. I don’t own copies of any film that someone wore a fat suit in for comic purpose. In fact, I don’t think I own a film that uses a fat suit at all. I do, however, have a book with paintings by Rubens in it. After all, there’s a reason people talk about ‘Rubenesque’ women.
Avoiding shame is great, but finding support is even more vital. Seek out people who are more interested in who you are than what your weight is. Find a community that accepts you precisely as you are this moment. Bask in the love. It’s good for you.
Keep moving, and get your Vitamin D. It’s easy for those inclined that way to fall prey to depression during the darker months. The cold and dark makes getting out for a jog a trickier proposition than it is the rest of the year. The shorter daylight hours mean more of us don’t get out in the sunlight for a good Vitamin D fix. But the fact is that physical movement and Vitamin D do help us maintain our emotional equanimity. So if you can’t get out for your usual walks, at least get up from your desk and do a few stretches. Go dancing one night with friends. Do some wall push ups. Just make sure you do some physical activity every day, that’s appropriate to your physical abilities and fits into your schedule. Oh, and remember: housework or a physically demanding job? Is exercise, too. If you wait tables or fix peoples’ plumbing all day, or spent the day scrubbing your bathroom until it sparkled, relax. You’re getting plenty of exercise on the job! As for the Vitamin D? Drink your milk, if you aren’t lactose intolerant. Take a supplement if you are. It may not be the ideal, but every bit helps. Just keep in mind that it’s possible to overdo even very healthy things, so don’t scarf down half the bottle in one go.
Laugh. It’s a small thing, but laughter really is good for you, both physically and emotionally. It’s a great way to relieve stress, and it tends to make people around you smile. So when the stress is piling up, the traffic is bogged down for miles, every mall in your state is out of the must-have toy that is the only thing in the world your child asked Santa to bring… find the funny. Oh, do let yourself experience the frustration first. After all, I’m not asking you to bottle up your emotions. That’s a recipe for disaster, too. Just once you’ve vented a little, take a moment to find the lighter side of the situation, too. There usually is one.
Help someone else. Look, it’s easy to look around ourselves and think we’ve got it rough. Every time you turn on the television, there’s Martha Stewart showing you that she lives a far more beautiful life than you do. The Kardashians make more money every day for being rich and willing to expose their dirty laundry on basic cable. Someone featured on Yahoo headlines just found a lost masterpiece hiding in their attic worth tens of millions… and you’re looking at that overdue credit card bill and wondering why your life sucks so hard.
But if you think about it a minute, you’re probably not in that bad a place. You’ve got a roof over your head, an internet connection, and probably a few things you don’t actually physically need in order to survive. So share a little. Take a day to volunteer serving dinner in a homeless shelter, go read to someone in a nursing home. Donate a couple sweaters and coats you’re done with to someone who needs them. Ask a neighbor if (s)he needs help hanging Christmas lights or shoveling the driveway. Drop a can of chili in the food drive barrel on your next trip to the grocery store. It’s funny how good it can feel to do something for someone else, even if it’s a very small thing.
If you need help getting through the holidays, ask for it. Look, I can sit here and blithely tell you to avoid toxic situations all I want, but if your job or your family is what’s giving you grief… well, you need more than a breezy blog entry to help you find a way to deal or a way to fix things. If you suffer from clinical depression, ten extra minutes in the sun isn’t going to be enough to balance your moods. If you fear you might do something drastic and irreversible, please don’t wait. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-TALK. If someone in your family is hurting you, call the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 1 (800) 799 – SAFE.
Your well-being is important. You are important. Take good care of you, now and always.