The Ghost of Christmas Past: Nostalgic Eating

Ralphie, the main character in A Christmas Story, wanted an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle more than anything from Christmas. A Christmas Story really brings back my childhood memories of Christmas morning. Like Ralphie, my brother, sister and I always had that one gift that was the matter of life and death that we just had to get from Santa.

This time of year is a pretty nostalgic time for me. A Christmas Story plays into my thirst for reminiscing nostalgic times as a boy in Alliance, Ohio. Food nostalgia is a major part of these childhood remembrances. I grew up in an ethnic family with a first generation Hungarian American father and a naturalized Swiss American mother. European culture during the holidays heavily involves food. The biggest influence on my food traditions are the Hungarian delicacies that flowed from the ethnic kitchens in my grandmother’s neighborhood. Each lady outdid herself with masterpieces of buttery flaky pastries and desserts.

Christmas is when I am tempted by the Hungarian foods from my past. Dobos Torte (sponge cake iced in chocolate butter cream with a sweet walnut filling), Fluffo (flaky star cookies with jam centers), Kifli (nut filled crescent shaped cookies), Zserbo (walnut and apricot filled bars iced in chocolate) and Beigli (Hungarian nut rolls) are all so tempting to me. As you might suspect, none of these pastries are bariatric friendly.

Healthy eating at Christmas requires a totally different strategy than Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving dinner is a one time event that comes and goes quickly. The consequences of overeating are minor compared to Christmas. Christmas is a season of seemingly endless eating with parties, office gatherings, reunions, dinners and not-so-good-for-you food gifts. To add to this madness, nostalgic eating kicks in big time in my mind at Christmas.

So what’s a former fat boy to do? My strategy is not to deny myself of these treats. I do limit them as best I can in my diet. Above all, I try to make sure they are not ever present in my kitchen. These are foods from my past that positively link me to good memories of my family and good times. I look forward to my once a year foray into my food traditions. Reliving good memories from the past is part of living the good life today.

That brings me to the point where food nostalgia can cross the line and become a bad thing. It is too tempting to pull out those unhealthy recipes and over load our holiday tables and pantries with foods from our mothers and grandmothers. It’s amazing how quickly the numbers on the scale rise with 2-3 weeks of nostalgic eating. Below are three strategies that I find useful in taming food nostalgia, as well as the temptation to eat poorly during the holidays.

  1. Eat in moderation. Pay attention to the fullness signals from your brain.
  2. Look for alternatives. Holiday food is usually served in great quantity with many options. Take the healthier option.
  3. Start with your proteins. They give you a sensation of fullness and are important to your diet and health.

It’s difficult to avoid overeating during the holidays. Food nostalgia kicks in big time as we yearn to relive the good times of our youth. Be sure to yield to that nostalgia and savor the memories. Just remember that if you eat too much “you’ll shoot your eye out”. That was good advice from Mrs. Parker, Ralphie’s teacher from A Christmas Story. It’s sane advice to anyone struggling with maintaining a healthy weight.

Merry Christmas to my blog readers! May your holidays be healthy and happy as you prepare for a wondrous new year.

Tom Bilcze, Beariatric

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