Bringing Good Cheer

Now grocer’s trade
Is in request,
For plums and spices
Of the best
Good cheer doth with
This month agree,
And dainty chaps
Must sweetned be.
Mirth and gladness
Doth abound,
And strong beer in
Each house is found.
Minc’d pies, roast beef
With other cheer
And feasting, doth
Conclude the year.

–”Poor Robin” 1677

As you head into Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and then New Year’s and all the attendant feasting, what kind of a plan do you have?

I can’t tell you what plan will work for you; I can only tell you what my plan is. Read it if you like; ignore it if you will; adopt parts for yourself and throw out what you don’t like. It’s up to you–just don’t go over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house with nothing more than a vague hope that you’d like to “eat well.”

To develop a good plan, you need to know the ground. It’s no good figuring out how to arrange the cavalry if you don’t even know in which direction the enemy is. In our case, the preliminary information we need is from our new, and better, understanding of reality.

First, we remember that fat is our friend. Fat protects us from sugar whacking into our blood stream like a freight train, fills us up, and gives us energy.

Second, we remember that no one ever got fat from enjoying Christmas. They got fat from eating like it’s Christmas every day. Eating fudge all Christmas Eve is fine. Eating soda and cookies ever day of the year because you “just need a little snack” is what makes you fat. Don’t pay any attention to idiotic articles like this designed to make you feel guilty for doing something perfectly normal, human, and appropriate: feasting on special, rarely-indulged foods in celebration of a wondrous event and in fellowship with loved ones without stopping to count the calories of every single thing you eat. Though do take it easy on the sugar, ok? Too much in a huge whack is not good at any time.

In fact, not only is feasting behavior normal, human, and appropriate: it is actually good for you. It’s a signal to your body that everything is great, food is in abundance. Feel free to release energy because there’s no danger of starving, you are saying to yourself.  When you eat appropriately the rest of the time, your body loves these times of gorging.

Third, we assume that we’re eating special food during this time. In other words, we won’t be drinking eggnog and cider or eating fudge, candy canes, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, truffles, pies, chocolate santas, popcorn balls, plum pudding, or jello salad three weeks from now. Or in August.

That’s our groundwork. Now we build our plan.

Is there a difference between foods that make me feel bleh (and maybe would make me obese if I ate them all the time)–in other words, foods that are harmless to me when eaten appropriately–and foods that are nothing but unnecessary poison?

For me, the answer is yes. Here are my categories; yours may be different:

1. Harmless sweet and starchy things. This is stuff that I personally cannot eat every day because of the way I react to it, and which no one–no matter how thin or young–should be making the staple of their diets if they can help it. However, they are not poison and are real food. For me this includes things like maple syrup, honey, fruit, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, and unrefined sugar.

2. Unhealthy in all but the smallest quantities and rarest occasions. Here I include things like white and brown sugar, soy, and popcorn or other gluten-free grains. Those are all things I enjoy in the right context and will eat a bit of this time of year–but I won’t eat them for anything but a pretty serious occasion.

3. TOXIC. For me, this is any wheat and anything with corn syrup. I just don’t eat it. It’s not worth it. Five seconds of enjoyment isn’t worth a week of recovery (wheat) or three hours of dragging myself like death around the house (corn syrup).

Two questions: how did I make these categories, and what good does it do to make them?

I made them based partly on knowledge, but more than anything on personal experience. I can enjoy fruit, anything sweetened with an unrefined sweetener, and any non-gluten grain or starchy vegetable, in small quantities, and still feel good. I’ll be more tired than normal, but now that’s an almost pleasant sedation instead of the normal, constant state of life it used to be. I’m extra careful with the non-gluten grain and sugar, because my reaction is stronger, but I do still eat them at Christmas.

But wheat and corn syrup make me feel awful.

What do I do with this information? It helps me decide the next step of the plan:

What foods will I put my foot down about? What foods am I telling people I’m sorry, I can’t eat that?

For me it’s simple: no gluten. Not to make someone feel better, not to “be a good guest,” not for any reason at all. It is pure poison to me, and I won’t touch it. Some people have this guilt if they haven’t gone to a doctor and gotten actual tests to prove it scientifically. I don’t need tests. I don’t need a doctor to diagnose three days of intestinal misery and severe emotional swings, and a week of bleary thinking and false hunger to tell me my body reacts badly to stuff with wheat in it.

I also put my foot down with prepackaged candy. There’s just no reason. I’ve yet to run across a situation where anyone required me to eat it, or anyone would be offended if I didn’t. It’s just out in a bowl on the table, and no one notices if you don’t have any. Half the people in the room don’t have any, anyway, since the kids eat it all before everyone has even taken their seat.

It’s junk, and it doesn’t even taste good. If you think that stuff tastes good, drop me a message and I’ll send you my orange truffle recipe. They’re easy to make, and once you get hooked on real food ingredients you’ll never be satisfied with soy-laced, corn syrup covered, a-little-white-around-the-edges-because-it’s-so-old crap ever again.

What foods will I normally not eat, or severely limit myself, but for Christmas I will eat freely?

Fruit. That’s #1. Oranges, cranberries, cherries, apples. Yum. Starchy vegetables. That’s #2. Potato and sausage stuffing, sweet potatoes, carrots. Mmmmm. I eat all of those I want.

Do what works for you, but whatever you do, don’t pay any attention to the Grinches that works for the food and health sections of most major news outlets. People like this, with their How to Eat Christmas and Hanukkah Foods, 200 Calories at a Time. Please don’t spend Christmas trying to figure out exactly how many calories of candy canes you’re eating. Just eat them. Enjoy yourself. Do what you were made to do: eat what you actually need and which is good for you most of the time; and when it’s time for a true special occasion (not “It’s Thursday!”) enjoy yourself! Those 200 calorie piles of Christmas food are nonsense. You were designed to occasionally gorge. It’s good for you.

But you have rules! Look, look, you have rules! You’re not just enjoying yourself!

Yep, I have a holiday plan.

Notice that my “plan” is built around something. It’s not keeping thin. It’s not avoiding illness. It’s not keeping my body a sacrosanct temple that doesn’t allow anything not bought at Whole Foods to go into it. It’s not built around protecting the earth, or self-flagellation, or Holier Than Thou-ness.

It’s built around pleasure.

I don’t eat those things I won’t touch because they deprive me of pleasure. If you think I’m depriving myself of pleasure by not eating cake, you’re ascribing to me the emotional maturity of a toddler. Toddlers want it NOW. Whatever gives him pleasure, give it to him this instant, and in the next instant give him something else that gives him pleasure. She WANTS to play with the stove, and then when she burns herself she screams and hits you and wants immediate pleasure again in the form of relief.

I want adult pleasure. I want lasting pleasure. I want to enjoy my holidays, enjoy my guests, enjoy my food, and look back on good memories from a full, satisfied, slightly sleepy, but not sick position. If I eat cake, I get two minutes of instant gratification following by a week of misery. How is that pleasure? How is it denying myself anything to avoid that feeling? Maybe for you gluten isn’t that bad. Great! But if there’s anything that is, get real pleasure by avoiding it or moderating yourself. Don’t make yourself sick with candy for a half hour, and then go to bed with a migraine for three. That’s what toddlers do.

Furthermore, I often meet people who think I’m forcibly denying myself pleasure–for whatever reason–in refusing to eat a Reese cup (for example). Nothing could be further from the truth. After I broke my addiction to carbohydrates and started eating real food, I realized something.

I don’t like Reese cups. They don’t taste good. They barely have a hint of chocolate and peanut butter. All I can taste is empty sweet, and then chemical. That’s not pleasure! I want to eat my own peanut butter balls, with their rich peanut butter flavor and their deep chocolate outsides. I don’t want McDonald’s ice cream. It tastes like soy and chemicals. I want my own cream cheese ice cream, which is rich and dense, creamy, and tangy, and roll-your-eyes-into-the-back-of-your-head-with-pleasure good.

I’m not denying myself pleasure. I’m making choices about what will bring me the most pleasure. That’s what you should do, too. Celebrate. Eat what you enjoy. Relax. Choose what gives you true pleasure.

And have a Merry Christmas.


Plato says he’s hungry

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