Our Eating Lives

Food Fear and Self-Loathing in Santaland

Our Eating Lives features stories about how food, cooking, and eating have shaped who we are and how we live.

Do you have close relatives who express their love through making rich, carb-laden holiday recipes that rely heavily on processed foods?

Does the word “potluck” evoke feelings of massive ambivalence?

Does the seemingly universal consumer embrace of pasteurized, artificially flavored, fat-free “holiday nog” weigh upon your soul like a brick?

Do you feel like an asshole for being such a downer food snob in the face of heartfelt goodwill and cheer?

Has vomiting or contemplating vomiting ever been an annual tradition for you in the throes of these wintery grey months?

Welcome, friend, to Food Fear and Self-Loathing in Santaland! Pull up a chair with me by the fire, and feel free to skip the eggless holiday nog; tonight, it’s whiskey, neat, in a cut-glass tumbler.

This is the time of year when abundance and dread bleed together ominously under shiny paper wrappings. This is the time of year when gentle people put giant platters heaped with exactly the kind of food we try to avoid in front of our faces at every turn. This is the time of year when demons dance jigs in the hearts and gurgling bellies of people with eating disorders, and since you are still reading this, I’m betting you are in that club with me. High-five!

I want to be a good sport, but I also just want to be good.

I love Johnny Mathis, I love baking cookies, I love playing board games post-Thanksgiving dinner. Succulent meat picked off the turkey carcass, sparkling wine aperitifs, nibbles of dates and fine chocolates, port wine cheese balls, plump and petite clementines, eggs benedict on Christmas morning, anything made with cranberries: I love love love these things.

I don’t love the canker sores and swollen taste buds that break out in my mouth from overindulging in sweet and acidic foods. I don’t love sleeping badly because I couldn’t help myself from having a giant wedge of flourless chocolate torte at midnight, straight from the fridge, when no one was looking, in about thirty seconds. How many calories is that? Will we even do that family hike tomorrow everyone was talking about before the freezing rain started falling? Do I have parched eyeballs and a pasty tongue because I’m hung over, or because I drank seven cups of coffee while we leisurely extricated all of our tiny presents from our stockings, or because I skipped breakfast and proceeded directly to the slow, endless march of empty-calorie grazing that began at the close of November and won’t stop until well after the second hand sweeps past twelve on New Fucking Year’s Eve.

We just do the best we can do. I try to allow myself a few slip-ups, even though the emotional lacerations of those slip-ups can ruin an entire day. Not to being too hard on myself seems like a good idea, but being hard on myself is, twenty years ago, what helped me triumph over this eating disorder in the first place. It took an elaborately constructed regimen of reasonable portions, sit-down mealtimes, and freshly-prepared, healthful food to keep it at bay, and eventually weeks or even months could go by without even thinking about .

But every year November comes, and, like Scrooges’ ghosts, the Past, Present, and Future specters of my ugly food binges materialize to haunt me. It fills me with this crackling, frantic, unfocused bad energy, and then Johnny Mathis rings hollow; the act of baking cookies, futile; the invitations to buffets, terrifying. Another goddamn buffet. Ugh. It’s like inviting a junkie to an all-you-can-shoot heroin spree.

What I need to do is find one of you people who get so full of seasonal despair you can’t even move, let alone rally to eat peanut brittle. Give me a bell. We can hang out, and my spazzing will neutralize your lethargy.  I’ll be the acid and you can be the base, just like Pepto-Bismol soothing indigestion. I’m experienced at drinking Pepto. I do it straight from the bottle, in shots. It’s soothingly pink and just slightly minty, almost Chritmasy.

But I hope I won’t need it. There’s always hope. This is a season of hope, right? And giving. This year I’m going to give myself the benefit of the doubt. They don’t make that in Santa’s workshop. You have to craft it yourself. I’m going to heap a ton on my plate, because for most of us, there’s no harm in binging on self-confidence. 

 

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About Sara Bir

Sara Bir often cooks vegan food at home, but sometimes she puts chicken or bacon fat in it. Read her blog, The Sausagetarian, and find her on Twitter: @Sausagetarian.