How I Learned To Eat Without Guilt On Thanksgiving

11/19/2012 11:28 am ET Updated Jan 19, 2013
homemade stuffing with gravy...
homemade stuffing with gravy...

I am at a point in my life where I can order pasta.

I know, I know: There are bigger things. There are people starving in the world, and you want a pat on the back for eating some spaghetti? I can practically hear my Austrian great grandmother, who worked in a sweatshop, say it.

But still. Little victories. And the way we women sometimes punish ourselves, deprive ourselves and criticize ourselves is a big thing. It's bigger than us -- it is as big as a whole culture.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because of the food, of course. And I'm Jewish, so I have a lot of holidays to pick from. My second favorite is Yom Kippur, which has no food at all, only fasting. I think they balance each other out.

My dad, a diabetic who can't eat it himself, makes an amazing, moist stuffing. He makes an amazing turkey, too. One of my grandmothers makes a magical dish we've always called "green rice," which has just a tiny bit of broccoli mixed into rice and a lot of what appears to be (and probably is) Cheez Whiz. My other grandmother is family-famous for her scrumptious plum cake. My mom, along with providing a host of somewhat less exciting but healthy veggie dishes, makes this decadent pasta casserole: penne with melted gruyere and caramelized onions and green beans. Oh my god, it is heaven.

Four years ago, when I moved to New York, I stopped ordering carbs when I went out to eat. I was always too "full" for dessert. It's normal, this pattern -- you see it everywhere.

I wasn't overweight, but I didn't feel thin enough. It's not always clear where thin enough is, where to draw the line. Especially when, like me, you are struggling with other aspects of your appearance. You think, "If I were just thinner the rest wouldn't matter as much."

Somewhere along the way, we learn that food is out to get us. It's dangerously seductive, like a young, buxom woman in a red dress when you're a married man with two kids and a Senate seat. We women are always cheating on our thinner selves with food. We're always apologizing for eating, making excuses, laughing at ourselves.

"Oh you know me, I can't help myself when there's chocolate around! I'm a bad girl!"

"Straight to my thighs..." we mutter as we bite into something mouthwateringly good.

"I shouldn't..."

We live deep inside a culture that is always yelling at us to diet. That assumes we all, every single one of us, want to be thinner.

And you know what they say about people -- if you tell them enough times how they should feel, they might just start feeling that way.

I don't know if they say that. Maybe it's just my mom who does. But I think it's true. We get told so many times that we're supposed to be working on our bodies and making ourselves prettier all the time. Prettiness and weight loss have gotten all tangled up together in one big, miserable snarl. Sometimes we are shocked when a heavy woman likes her own body.

I wouldn't let myself eat pasta when I was 22 because I didn't want to get into a bad habit, since I knew this was only the beginning of a long life of gradually gaining a little more weight. I used to weigh myself anxiously after Thanksgiving.

I believed at that time, as so many women never stop believing, that the way I looked was the most important thing about me.

If you'd asked me, I would've denied it fiercely. I was a grad student! I was writing papers with clever wording and long bibliographies! I was reading Foucault! But actions speak louder than words. Every day, I was quietly dedicated to making sure I looked better than I'd looked the day before.

It's hard to explain what changed. I graduated and started writing about body image. I ate cake. I was a little more honest with myself. I met a lot of women from all over the world who had learned to hate themselves for no good reason. They were learning to love themselves again.

And four years later, a week before Thanksgiving, I am in the West Village with two girlfriends, and all three of us order pasta.

"How's yours?" we say.

"Amazing. How's yours?"

"It's awesome."

It might not sound a lot like a battle cry or look a lot like a victory dance, but it's definitely something good.

These days, I sometimes catch myself not caring what I look like at all. Not even a tiny bit. I didn't know that was an option before. Of course, plenty of the time, I do care, but it doesn't feel as stressful or essential. And I'm thankful for that.

That's the other cool thing about Thanksgiving -- the thankfulness.

I am so thankful for my family, most of all. For the love that makes life meaningful. I am thankful for my health and the health of the people I care about (still praying for someone to get around to curing diabetes one of these days!). And I am also thankful that I can order pasta. That I am learning to forgive myself for craving and deeply enjoying delicious food of all sorts. It's supposed to be like that: food is awesome.

And on that note, I am very much looking forward to a Thanksgiving of acceptance, no scales and some seriously yummy stuffing.

For more from Kate, check out Eat the Damn Cake