I think that eating well should provide joy before, during and after the meal.
My first December working at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia taught me a lesson I won’t forget. I was very pregnant with my daughter, my third child, and December was very festive at the hospital. There were holiday parties and catered lunches in every department (my department consulted most hospital departments, so we were invited to many events); patients were very generous with treats throughout the month. Outside of work, the food-oriented gatherings of the holidays were extensive. (We are indeed lucky to have so much good food—maybe too much—around us, and let’s not forget to be grateful for that.)
On my next monthly Obstetric check-up, I realized I gained double what I normally would have added that month.
That December was the last December I allowed the abundance of tempting food to overcome my better judgment. Now, I go for the chocolate only if it’s my favorite, otherwise I (mostly) ignore the cookies and candy that are everywhere. If I attend several parties a week, I will resolve to eat only my regular foods—in reasonable amounts—and enjoy the social component of the party, which is the best part after all.
Most people cannot afford to feast several times a week without suffering consequences, and neither can I
But, can one big feast ruin your health?
There are some studies that suggest that there are measurable changes—such as blood fats and sugars—that go up after even one big fatty meal. On the other hand, a stressful emotional argument will have measurable effects too. For most people who don’t have metabolic disorders or very fragile health, one big feast won’t change all that much, won't make you gain any significant weight, and any lab tests would normalize quite quickly.
Yet, December has become, for some, a month of non-stop overindulgence, and I think that can make a difference. Here’s where my “joy before, during and after” rule comes in.
When you’re presented with food that’s indulgent, or circumstances in which you’d be tempted to eat much more than usual, it’s worthwhile to pause and consider. If this food is like the really expensive vacation that still brings a smile on your face, go ahead. It’s worth it. But if this food is just there and it doesn’t pose much more of a benefit than filling you up, do yourself a favor and skip it; choose a healthier alternative instead.
That explains the “during and after.”
The joy before the meal is a little harder to explain. Whether it’s a meal I make, or a meal made by others, I like to think of and enjoy the food well before the first taste. Considering where the food came from, who made it, its cultural connections, and (ideally) knowing that it was ethically produced, can give joy before it's consumed. I love relishing the smell, the colors, the presentation, and even the atmosphere in the room well in advance of that first bite.
I hope you enjoy the bounty of this season, the parties and the feasts. But bear in mind that the net effect of all celebrations should be joy. There’s no happiness in a week (or more) of binge eating and drinking when you’ll have to pay for it later, with heartburn, hangovers, extra pounds, diets and guilt.
Wishing you all happy holidays, and the best of health,