It’s our fifth day visiting family on the East Coast. I’m sitting in my de facto spot at the third generation, heavily carved dining table with 15 other people, my empty plate waiting for a heaping helping of turkey, stuffing, fruit compote, and perfectly steamed green beans. There is wine on the table, Scotch on the sideboard, and chocolate mousse for dessert. When we all manage to gather in one place for any length of time, we never miss a meal, and there’s plenty for everyone to have seconds and even thirds.
I look around the boisterous table: cousins from one end of the country sit next to cousins from the other; aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and grandparents knock elbows as they dig in. These last few weeks of the year are meant for merriment, family, celebration, and reminiscing about the year quickly slipping away behind us. We are lucky enough to enjoy it in just that way, softening our disappointments and looking ahead to a better new year with the comfort of family to cushion us — that and the undeniable extra pounds bobbing around my middle.
Crispy latkes and sour cream, buttery brussels sprouts, marshmallow topped sweet potatoes, and roasted meats dripping in delicious juices, glittering sugar cookies and sumptuous apple pies, deep, red, mulled wine, sparkling blonde champagne and peppermint martinis (candy cane included) are definitely making themselves known. Pulling on my jeans makes me wince a little. My once perfectly cozy sweaters are a little too snug. Even my bra feels slightly too supportive, if you know what I mean.
I am, without a doubt, snuggled down in the sleepy embrace of the annual holiday weight gain.
Usually, gaining a few extra pounds plagues me. I add another hour of exercise to my week, cut down on the carbs, or go on a three-day green smoothie kick. I know how my body works and what it takes to realign myself after, say, a girls’ weekend of bingeing on Brie cheese, signature cocktails, and brownies straight out of the pan.
Dealing with the slow and steady accumulation of ounces over the holiday season is another story. This kind of expansion creeps up on me and gloms on, eagerly awaiting the next big meal. In years past, I’ve tried to restrain myself in November and December and keep to my regular eating and exercising routine. While those around me feasted and lazed around, content to put their feet up by the fire, I headed off to the gym to sweat away that second plate of roast beef, pissed that I’d eaten it in the first place.
This year is different. I just don’t have it in me to worry about a few extra pounds when we all know 2016 sucked in both big and small ways. I’m not saying there weren’t some bright spots, but the bad seemed to overshadow the good for many of us. Besides the shitshow that was the presidential election, 2016 revealed the worst of humanity including but certainly not limited to the crisis in Syria, the depth and breadth of racism, misogyny and rape culture in America, and the ongoing blatant disrespect we have for the environment.
Maybe this spiral of darkness is nothing new to generations past, but for many of us living in this über-digital, fake news, social media-driven world, this past year felt heavier and more sinister than ever. Add to that the news that both my uncle and my mother-in-law have cancer (one diagnosed in the beginning of the year and one at the end) and 2016 can go to hell.
Enter comfort food and the joy of family and friends. In good times and bad, where do we turn? To the ones we love, and often the ones we love come bearing food or are gathered around our table or invite us to gather around theirs. This year is the first time I really gave in to the solace of food, family, and friends without stressing over it.
This year, every ounce gained represents an ounce of joy. Those peppermint martinis I mentioned? Those were thrown back with one of my oldest, dearest friends in the middle of her kitchen surrounded by our six giggling girls, her extended family, and more of our friends. The marshmallow topped sweet potatoes? A recipe containing a secret ingredient my mom still won’t share with us but we get to marvel over every Thanksgiving. This time spent with loved ones, drinks in hand, salted chocolate caramels melting on our tongues, sticky-cheeked kids running amok, slowly begins to set the scales of life in balance.
I won’t pretend it’s easy for me to give in to the extra pounds — it’s definitely not. I’ve always been vigilant about keeping my weight steady and my body strong, even at the expense of my own enjoyment. Relaxing into the warmth of the season, extra weight and all, is comforting, not uncomfortable, especially after such a rough year.
Come mid-January, I’ll find my way back to those leafy greens and lean proteins; my sweet treat intake will dial back to a few times a week rather than every day. For now, I’m savoring the abundance of love that comes from hunkering down with those I hold dear, the smell of fresh-baked cookies scenting the house and me lounging around in my well-worn sweatpants, the ones with a tad extra room in the butt. And those cookies in the oven? Totally worth it.