Eating. It is a major part of the holidays. Not only necessary for healthy survival, eating is one of the most sacred of human social customs. Feasts create bonds, heal wounds and inspire the future. Yet, more and more, we enjoy food less and less. The holidays are really the best time to observe this phenomenon. Our gastronomic neurosis, fueled by stick-figure models in advertising and our fear of inevitable death, often prevents the enjoyment of a meal without an obligatory orgy of guilt-ridden commentary. A meal that could be an empowering and unifying experience becomes one of inner torment and shame. The diet and exercise industry could find no more effective way to ensure big sales than to institute a neurosis about eating and body image.
Certainly it is true, that there are cases where gross obesity is not only an immediate threat to health but also a threat to the enjoyment of life. I do not contend that exercise is a bad thing, nor that "eating sensibly" (whatever that means) is wrong; but when we find ourselves unable to really let go and enjoy a hearty meal and fellowship without our little self-condemning litanies, something is wrong. I think that eating sensibly should mean eating what you really like and then maybe going for a vigorous walk afterward to aid digestion. Why agonize over something we were meant to enjoy? So we can entertain the fantasy that if we just buy the right diet book or food or exercise equipment we will one day look like the happy, computer-enhanced folk gracing the covers of those magazines at the grocery check out? Why bother? Why pretend?
Could there be a crueler place to locate such unattainable images?
We subconsciously ignore the fact that what is put before us as a "model" does not actually exist in this plane of reality. Those supposedly chic, cadaverous models are merely the airbrushed creation of Madison Avenue. Some of them might actually frighten you if you met them in person without the assistance of computer image enhancement.
What's so "perfect" about a girl who goes to parties and eats only to yak it all up later in secret shame?
Surely, the fitness freaks might ask, we all want to live to be 100 years old, don't we? Not if it means eating oat bran all my life only to end up on life support because I've "lived" past the time my body was meant to live. Think of all those juicy steaks I would have to pass up for that ignoble ending. We are supposed to be a people of faith but we are all so afraid of death that we postpone our actual living. I don't want to live a long time if it means looking like some of the mummified stars we are meant to admire. I'd rather pass into the next realm with a few good meals under my belt than a list of all the diets I'd been on and all the weight I lost in my lifetime.
Is there anything really desirable about someone who is "trim" yet clearly neurotic about eating? Eat with someone who brings their own salad dressing to a restaurant and you'll know what I mean. Is there something laudable about being a conditioned consumer, dutifully buying into the latest fad in a futile fight against nature? Like it or not, when it comes to body fat, we are fighting against millennia of evolution. The human body stores more food as it gets older because of the genetic wisdom that says food becomes harder to attain as we age. Food isn't as hard to come by these days, but maybe this will not always be so. I'm not calling for an excuse to blimp out, but maybe a little extra is natural, even valuable.
This obsession with fat has gotten so bad that we've created an artificial fat that causes digestive difficulties. How weird is that? Is this a sign of health? It may cause stomach upset and diarrhea, but they at least it doesn't make me fat! We're all going to lose our eyesight squinting at the tiny print on all those nutrition labels.
What we really need is more activity and less dieting. If we all got off our seats once in a while or went for walks after feasts with family and friends we'd end up happier, healthier and probably wiser. Every day, freak accidents happen to people who probably radically altered their lives in the hope of prolonging their life a few years. Wouldn't it be a tragedy to eat sawdust all your life only to die young in a car accident? The bottom line is that we're all going to die of something and, even if we spend our lives fretting about fat content, we might end up having a plane drop out of the sky on top of us.
I'm making my New Year's resolution early this year. I resolve to avoid worrying about my weight this holiday season. Even more important, I resolve to thoroughly enjoy each and every feast I go to, strenuously avoiding any of my tired old litanies about weight and diet. I resolve to move beyond the knee-jerk guilt conditioning I've fallen prey to in the past and I resolve to revel in the pleasure of every bite. Most of all, I resolve to avoid boring my friends and relatives with annoying chatter about diet and fat content. May we all enjoy our abundance in the short time we have to enjoy it, and may we abstain only from the festivals of shame we have sadly grown accustomed to. Carpe Diem, Tempus Fugit.
Lee Carleton is a freelance writer, farrier and adjunct English instructor at VCU.
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