by Lindsey Schuhmacher, MA
When I was a teenager, I lived with my older sister. We had an oversized magnet on the fridge that said “Eat, Drink, and be Fat and Drunk.” We thought it was funny. In some ways, I still do. It sets you up for one thing, but then surprises you with an irreverent version instead. But now I see things other than humor in it. I recognize a deep paranoia that accompanies the idea of letting go and really enjoying something. I sense a fatalism that says that if we eat and drink what we like, it will inevitably lead to outright gluttony.
With the holidays fast approaching, I encounter that paranoia on a daily basis. “Oh no!” I seem to hear everywhere, “There will be loads of yummy food around! This is terrible!” While this may seem like a “good problem” to have, considering the privilege involved in having access to parties and copious amounts of food, if you believe that a morsel of yummy food will start you down a slippery slope towards excesses you dare not imagine, it makes sense to be terrified!
Before I started my journey into HAES®™ and body positivity, I read diet stories in fashion magazines. Around the holidays, there would always be tips for avoiding any potential pleasure at parties or family gatherings: “Keep a glass of water in one hand, and your purse in the other. That way you won’t be able to hold a plate or feed yourself!” Or “Fill up on celery and carrot sticks before you show up. That way you won’t have room for the rich food!” Why not just out with it – “Better yet, avoid social gatherings altogether!” *Sigh*
At the time, I thought that avoiding holiday food was a healthy way to get through the season. I hadn’t heard about intuitive eating, or the idea that you should “honor your hunger” and “eat what you like” in order to heal your relationship to food and improve your health. I hadn’t encountered the philosophy behind the Slow Food movement that encourages conviviality and stresses the importance of food’s deliciousness. I hadn’t realized that refusing to eat the food that had been lovingly prepared by friends and relatives put them at arm’s length and infringed on my ability to participate in some of the most pleasant aspects of my culture.
The paradox of all this is that my fear of holiday overeating would inevitably become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because I thought that I should not have even one Christmas cookie from the colorful platter my sister always prepares, as soon as I did eat that one cookie (I always ate the cookie!), I would feel guilty and out of control. Those feelings were typically followed by a bout of extreme cookie-eating, of course.
It has taken time to get to a place where I truly believe I can eat a cookie if I want. But now that I’m there, I rarely eat a lot of Christmas cookies, mostly because I’m saving room for something I like even more! I can eat any food that I like, at any time. I can enjoy a party without planning out exactly what I can and can’t eat beforehand. Rather than standing in the corner with a glass of water and my purse clutched in my hands and a pit of anxiety in my stomach, I have the use of both hands to eat, drink, hug people, shake hands with newcomers, gesticulate wildly while telling funny stories, play with my two year old, cuddle my 4 month old, play cards, help in the kitchen, pet my dog and cat, throw my arms around my husband, and anything else I might want to do. I am not bound to a constrictive set of external rules; I am following my own internal cues. I am free.
This holiday season, I wish blessings on everyone in this essential HAES community, and all those who have yet to find it. I wish for everyone to feel comfortable in their bodies and participate in activities that let them partake in togetherness and nourishment. I wish for everyone to eat, drink, and be merry.
Lindsey Schuhmacher is an aspiring writer and an English and Humanities Instructor. She teaches the Portland State University capstone “Every Body Matters: Embracing Size Diversity,” a service learning course that looks closely at size discrimination and public health issues surrounding fat phobia. She is passionate about promoting body positivity and the principles of the Health at Every Size™ (HAES) paradigm. Lindsey also teaches English at Clark College in Vancouver, WA. Her academic interests involve writing, literature, science fiction, rhetoric, philosophy, food studies, and fat studies. Lindsey has a B.S. in Philosophy, an M.A. in English, and is completing an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and a Health Studies Focus Award.