Going to the grocery store between October and February is an assault upon my senses. Holiday displays dominate, inviting me to buy the most decadent food. Why would I spend my grocery money on kale, ground turkey meat, quinoa and soy milk when brie, cocktail wieners, stuffing, and eggnog scream from the shelves “Buy me! Eat me!”?
As hostess, I’m compelled to offer my guests the four major food groups of holiday entertaining: fat, sugar, salt and chocolate. I remember bringing a healthy option chili to a church cook off years ago. Nobody wanted to eat meatless chili with chickpeas and tricolor peppers. I ate leftover chili for days. The woman who won had added sugar and chocolate to a chili whose primary ingredient was sirloin steak.
One Thanksgiving early in my marriage, I decided to create a healthy alternative to the traditional menu. I did concede to a turkey, but I served a lot of vegetarian dishes featuring whole grains, fresh produce, and lean plant proteins. While I was feeling like I’d be very popular with the crowd at Whole Foods, my husband was extremely grumpy that day.
The next Thanksgiving, we invited a friend from church to join our little family of four. He just got a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and his prognosis was grim. He has served as a cook in the navy and enjoyed food. But as a single man on a fixed budget, he rarely ate anything fancy.
Because I feared this was his last Thanksgiving (and it was), I created a menu stuffed with every unhealthy choice possible. This man was going to get the most delicious meal of his life. Bacon, cream, sugar, oil, and butter were the primary ingredients. And I made three times the food I usually make for that number of people. I probably ate a month’s worth of calories in that one day.
When I stepped into the kitchen to get the whipped cream for our pies, my husband followed. He took me into his arms, bent me over into a tango dip, and gave me a long, passionate kiss. I took that as a sign that he had finally forgiven me for the vegan-style Thanksgiving the year before.
As a midlife woman, I have the further complication of producing a lot of holiday events just when my metabolism is slowing down. Most trim women I known who are 50 plus have all but stopped eating simple carbohydrates. These naughty foods are sometimes termed “quick carbs.” Disappearing the diets of many middle aged women are crackers, cookies, pie, ice cream, white bread, sugar, noodles, rice, potatoes and corn. Juice and soda are on the “no no” list as well. These types of foods seem to multiply during the holidays, and resisting becomes extremely difficult unless I just stay home with my celery sticks, bananas and boiled eggs.
Not only do I have a slower metabolism as a fiftysomething woman, I have a family trait for mishandling sugar. I got a diagnosis of hypoglycemia in my mid 40s, I have two family members managing diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2). A third family member has prediabetes. So 4 out of 5 of the people from my childhood family have to constantly manage their ratios of carbs, fats and proteins. I’m constantly running numbers in my head. And if make poor food choices (or forget to eat at all), I end up having a headache, suffering from vertigo, growing grumpy, or feeling fatigued. If I’ve really blown it, I start losing my peripheral vision.
So what’s a girl to do?
How to I stay resolved to buy, cook, serve and eat healthy foods when there is so much pressure to be the great hostess, the cool mom, the one who brought the most-quickly consumed dish at the church pot luck, or the gal at book club who gets the most requests for her recipe? And even if I bring decadent food to social events but stick to raw vegetables myself, I get the side eye from others. I come off more like the emaciated Scrooge rather than that Jolly Old Elf with his ample waist.
As I wheel my shopping cart to the checkout line, I look in my selections. I look a bit bipolar with the spinach next to the Italian sausage, the edamame next to the macaroni and cheese, and the raw salt-free almonds next to the peppermint ice cream.
I’m feeling a bit like a hypocrite when I notice the smiling face of well-dressed gal smiling from me from the cover of a woman’s magazine. She’s wearing a form fitting, red dress, probably a size 4 even though she’s 5’ 7”. And she’s adorned with silver snowflake jewelry.
She’s surrounded by teasers for that issue’s articles: “Diet tips for surviving the holidays” and “How to host a cookie exchange party, complete with mouth-watering recipes.” This prompts me to laugh out loud.