Thanksgiving is upon us and the nation is preparing to loosen its collective belt. Yes, it's the holiday where friends and family gather to feast on heaping helpings of turkey with all the trimmings. They will stuff themselves with stuffing, mash as many mashed potatoes as possible into each mouthful, and slice up second (and third, maybe fourth in my family!) servings of the pie. And I will make myself a small, sensible plate.
People across the country see the day as the single biggest pigout of the year. A day to throw calorie counting caution to the wind and trade the skinny jeans for turkey pants. An all-you-can-eat extravaganza of the biggest kind. But for me, it's just another day to eat small, sensible portions.
Because that's just what I do.
Because I am a small, sensible person.
Which sometimes makes me feel like a big, huge bore.
Whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas, Arbor Day, my birthday, or a fancy meal out I am not one to overindulge. Dressing on the side. Baked, not fried. Steamed veggies if available. One small, sensible glass of wine. A few small, sensible bites of dessert shared with my husband. BO-ring.
And it doesn't end there. I don't stay out past my bedtime. I rarely miss an early morning workout. (Have you crossed me off your party list yet?) Along with small and sensible, I am also sometimes described with terms like "dependable" and "reliable." Ooh, fun stuff.
It hasn't always been that way. I spent most of my childhood and adolescence neither small nor sensible. The child of Egyptian parents, I grew up in a culture where food is used as an expression of pretty much everything: gratitude, hospitality, guilt, sadness, you name it, we eat it on a big platter garnished with olives and a side of hummus. Add to that the loneliness of being a not particularly popular, latchkey kid, and I fed my late afternoon loneliness with a daily peanut butter and honey sandwich and whatever else I could find in the cupboard.
Never a slim child, by middle school I was pudgy. By high school, pudgier still. By college, my hair and my waistline had both expanded to ridiculous proportions. (A health condition and a year in France surrounded by the world's finest pastries were partly to blame.. at least for the pounds. There is no excuse for my hair.) But somewhere over the years that followed I started to take control.
First I tackled the food end of the scale (so to speak). I became a vegetarian and I'd be lying if I said the decision wasn't in part a reaction to the giant plates of meat shoved at me for the first two decades of my life. I started reading labels, cut out the junk, and discovered the joy of cooking with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
A passion for exercise came next. I got hooked on step aerobics in the early 90s, became a gym rat shortly after, and finally discovered running while searching out some much needed grad school stress relief. Through a combination of my two new loves, fitness and nutrition, I managed to drop the weight, get in shape, and aside from two pregnancies (where I gained a small, sensible 20-25 pounds) that's where I've stayed.
So what's the problem? Well, sometimes when you close a door, when you lock it tightly and barricade it shut, the effort of holding it closed begins to consume you. Though my weight has barely budged in over a decade (and I don't even own a scale) I devote enormous amounts of subconscious energy to thinking about gaining weight. I don't count calories or fat grams because I don't have to. There's an invisible line in the sand that my brain just won't let me cross. Not even on Thanksgiving. The little devil on one shoulder says "Go ahead, have some more!" but it falls on deaf ears. Though it's not realistic, in my mind, overindulging at Thanksgiving would just open up the floodgates and reverse everything I've worked so hard for. You can take the pudgy girl out of her husky pants, but you can't ever make her feel at home in a small, sensible shape.
Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of what I've achieved and the healthy lifestyle I'm working hard to maintain for our family. I know we're living in a time of skyrocketing obesity and diabetes rates and I want no part of that. My son could eat fruit until the end of time and one of my little girl's first words was actually "broccoli." Without being too militant about it (I hope) we're a whole grain, non-processed, no fast food, homecooked meals 6 out of 7 days/week kind of a household, and I want to keep it that way. I just wish I personally knew how to dial it back a little for a holiday.
I think there was a time when I was a lot of fun. Yes, that's me in the orange sequined dress, starring in a late night show at the Caribbean resort where I worked. Dare I say it, I was even a bit wild. I was also not a mom. And since that major life change, I've felt the lock in the door turn even more tightly. I feel like now that I have kids, I have a responsibility not just to myself but to them to keep the "bad stuff" away, to stay in control at all times.
But sometimes I wonder what it would feel like to let my hair down (which of course I cut into a short, sensible bob years ago) and just go a little bit crazy. I wonder if with all my sense and sensibility I've lost touch with my senses. I wonder if this Thanksgiving, I could dare to do something different. I wonder if I could show my kids another side, if I could teach them that letting go on special occasions can be... special.
Maybe this year I'll try. Maybe I'll surprise you. Maybe I'll surprise myself. In even just the smallest, most sensible way.