With the Thanksgiving holiday rapidly approaching, I thought it wise to address a stubborn myth about health living, which is that one must be obnoxious about their food choices as guests in other people’s homes or during holidays. My advice? Eat well, but have some manners.
Don’t show up at grandma’s house with your own bag of food. Don’t skip the office holiday party because there’s going to be a lot of pie. Don’t make faces when the composition of the menu at dad’s house isn’t what you would like it to be. There’s a word for people who do these things. I think you all know what that word is.
I can’t imagine living a life in which I couldn’t have a piece of pecan pie with my dad while talking football at Thanksgiving. We’re human beings, not animals. Food isn’t just about feeding our bodies. Preparing a meal for others, or eating a meal as an invited guest, is an act of love and companionship. Your relationships with the ones you love are as important to your health as anything else you do, including the food you eat and the exercise you do. You work against both human nature and good manners when you adopt an air of condescension and restriction at the communal table.
What to do then, if you’re at a table without vegetables, or in a room full of delicious pies, or in the living room when your slightly buzzed uncle starts talking politics?
You do the best you can. Just like you should every day.
- Load your plate up with vegetables first. This will serve as an automatic portion control mechanism.
- No, or few vegetables? I’d err on the side of protein (like turkey) and limit the amount of starchy carbs (like mashed potatoes).
- Put down your fork in between each bite. Pay attention to the conversation around you. Listen to the person with whom you’re speaking. Don’t anticipate what you’re going to say. Just listen. Be thankful for the time you’re allowed to spend with a loved one. (The science linking gratitude to health is increasingly strong and convincing).
- Never, ever, drink with the intention of getting drunk. Not only will you end up acting a fool, but you’ll also probably eat a lot more. Yes, your ultra-lefty cousin is home from college and she’s telling you all about how you should be composting. And your super duper conservative childhood neighbor has some questionable views on diversity. But you’re a grownup, aren’t you? Drink like a gentleman. Consume wine like a grown woman. If you don’t like the conversation you’re in, politely excuse yourself and find a better one.
- When it’s time for dessert, try to eat in a room without a television. Hopefully you’re in a home with good taste in coffee, so they’ve served you a fresh cup of Wood Burl from Press in the Oregon District. Sip your coffee, eat your pumpkin pie. Again, put your fork down in between each bite. Listen to the conversation. Taste the pie. Smell the coffee. Be aware. Be present.
You’re going to be reading a lot of “surviving the holidays” fitness articles in the coming weeks. Few of them will focus on the idea of acting like a dignified human being and practicing the art of conversation. But a healthy lifestyle is a holistic lifestyle in which you’re living, loving, cooking, moving, and feeling well. You don’t have to live like a monk. You don’t have to have the discipline of an Olympian. Ultimately, all you have to do is embrace your humanity, treat both the food and your company with respect, and always–always–eat as many vegetables as you can.