I love food. I love making it, I love eating it, and I love sharing it with people. Food is one of the few things left that can bring us all together for a couple of hours away from our smart phones, car seats, and busy schedules. Food can create a safe environment for good conversation, honesty, and community building. Plus, there is the added benefit that wholesome, traditional foods are extremely nourishing for both emotional and physical health.

 

But do not let me fool you. I have not always viewed food as a great bonding venue and elixir of health. The last thing on my mind when I was in high school was to become a nutritional consultant. I was too busy being annoyed with the raw kefir and farm fresh eggs my mother would serve me for breakfast instead of the store bought cookies and fake soy yogurt my cool classmates were eating.

While I was never diagnosed as bulimic or anorexic, I have struggled with both overeating and under eating. I have eaten whole gallons of ice cream at 2am in the morning and I have lived off tea and cookies for days during some of my darker periods in my life.

The day I threw away the cookie jars, the ramen, and the Cheetos in exchange for a glass of raw milk and a large piece of steak, my relationship with foods has changed dramatically. Since then, I have loved, preparing and sharing meals with family and friends.

A few days ago I had the wonderful opportunity to enjoy an early Christmas meal of farm fresh roasted pork shoulder, sweet yams, greens tossed in garlic dressing, sour dough bread drenched in fresh butter, and homemade eggnog in the company of dear friends. As we were savoring this great explosion of flavors, we gave thanks for good food and for the opportunity to be in each others’ lives.

This was a dinner among many others around the winter holidays. These feasts of good food would have scared me a couple of years ago and I might have even starved myself for a few days in advance just so I could enjoy the beautiful spreads without affecting my figure. In now-a-days however that fear has taken a backseat and the fear of eating processed foods has replaced it. Are you struggling with similar issues?  Have you been trying to starve yourself just so you can have a piece of ham or a delicious slice of chocolate cake without feeling guilty? Are you worried you will eat a side dish cooked in vegetable oil or white flour? There are a few things that helped me, if you have similar fears and found ways to confront them I would love to hear about it.

Here some ways that help me deal with some of the panic related to these issues:

1. Extend holiday meals to three of four hours long.

During my first holiday meal in US, I got up from the table starving. I was slowly enjoying my meal  and chatting with friends when everyone started clearing their plates and moving on the next room to play games. By the time desert was served I ravenously ate three pieces of cheesecake and polished any left over appetizers I saw on the coffee table. I quickly learned the rules – eat fast!

In much of Europe, we eat meals a little longer, and often holiday feasts are simply an all day event. Extending meals for longer periods of time will help you avoid overeating in two ways.

First, everyone slowly nibbling on their food for a couple of hours promotes better chewing and ultimately easier digestion. Once you slow down, your brain will register faster that you are full.

And second, food can be a social lubricant. An extended meal can spark some fascinating conversations that can both bring people closer and also slow down food consumption.

Try it and see if it works! Let all your guests know ahead of time and start dinner a little early or serve everything in a few courses. This helps everyone relax and not rush through their meal.

2. Follow the 80/20 principle.

 

I started trying to embrace this principle about a year ago after I realized people began to avoid inviting us over for dinner because they knew we didn’t eat flour, sugar, vegetable oil, or any processed foods. It was a very humbling lesson to discover that my early diatribes on nutrition and food intimidated even some of my most intimate friends to the point that they didn’t want to share their food with me. That was not my intention when I read labels out loud, or asked for my burger with no bun at the restaurant while complaining about the rancid vegetable oil it was probably being cooked in. But it was too much and I can see why now. Moreover, I was making myself crazy by trying to eliminate every last trace of unhealthy food from my diet. If I continued on that road, I would have developed a full blown case of orthorexia.

So I decided that food was not more important than maintaining genuine, open relationships with my friends and ultimately myself. Instead of trying to eat healthy, wholesome food 100% of the time, I now follow of the 80/20 rule. If you feed your body 80 % of the time real nutritious food, it will be able to handle the 20% easier and send the SWAT team – antioxidants – to clean up the mess. If I eat real food 80% of the time I can enjoy life and have a few fries and a burger at the local pub every now and again with my friends without feeling guilty or ruining dinner for everyone else.

Of course some days are better than others. Sometimes the ratio is 70/30, 60/40, or 95/15; 80/20 ratio is not a hard and fast rule – its a heuristic

During the holidays, instead of focusing on a 100% clean, nourishing diet, allow yourself some margin of error. Have a  good nutritious breakfast, eat some quality fermented cod liver oil, and take a multivitamin. Then enjoy a nice long meal with your family and friends and eat that pie crust made with vegetable shortening your grandma made, the white bread your sister baked, or the low fat salad dressing your dad purchased.

There will be other more appropriate times to talk to your friends and family about real food, and they won’t be open to it if they feel judged, especially during the already emotionally charged holidays.

3. Give Thanks for Your Meal

In our day and age we are always in a hurry. We hurry to work, we hurry home, and we scarf down our food while we are driving and talking on the phone. The more technologically advanced we become the more rushed we are. The more rushed we are the more stressed out we are. The more stressed out we are the sicker we get. Giving thanks for our meal encourages us to slow down and take a step back. It forces us to look around the table and acknowledge the people around and then the food in front of us. It helps bring us back in the moment and really be present in our bodies. You can give thanks in any manner you feel comfortable. There is no formula that I am encouraging. It is just a wonderful way to appreciate the people in your life  and the fact that they are sharing a meal with you. Giving thanks before a meal also helps relax your body, and slow down your meal consumption.

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