The Weight of It All

Holidays are designed to be indulgent. Rich foods, cocktails, colorful decorations, and presents combine to make the season festive. Inevitably during the holidays, I will be at a table with people I love, enjoying a nice meal, and someone will comment on the amount of butter/fat/calories in the food we are sharing. As we enter this glorious season, let me go on record as saying I don’t give a damn.

At the worst of my illness, my body was basically bones. I’ve always been naturally petite, but jutting hips and visible bones in my chest were entirely new to me. On top of the weight loss, I had no strength. After three or more days lying in a hospital bed, walking across the room could make me out of breath. My dreams during this period were full of banquets, where silver platters overflowing with food would float around the room. In my sleep I could eat anything I craved, but in my waking life I was ravenous.

Once I was able to eat again I was on a very restricted diet, but I was delighted to discover foods that actually satisfied my cravings. Kettle Sea Salt and Vinegar potato chips were no match for me! I eventually gained back all the weight that I had lost…and kept gaining.

When I was sick and skinny I actually had people tell me that I looked good, which was crazy to me because I was anything but healthy. Once I was healthy I kept gaining weight because I was delighted that I could finally eat. Eventually I managed to retrain myself not to eat from a place of scarcity—I didn’t have to approach every meal as my last—and my body gradually found its way back to a stable weight. But even when I was curvy and a little bit heavier I could recall what it felt like to be sick and skinny. I told myself I would never worry about my weight again as long as I was healthy.

I wish I could tell you that I’ve kept that promise to myself, but what I can say is that I have a much more positive relationship with my body at this point in my life. I know that I will gain a few pounds this time of year because I eat richer foods, wear big sweaters, and typically get less exercise. And I’m okay with that. Yes, I feel best when I eat healthy food, spend time outside, and exercise regularly, but giving in to the biological drive that instigates winter cravings is a fine thing to do this time of year. Just sitting back and savoring a nice meal with family and friends, dessert and seconds included, is part of how I choose to celebrate.

So, in the holiday spirit, I have a few rules and a few indulgent recipes to share. Rules first:

  1. Weight is not a direct indication of health. I was far healthier and stronger at my heaviest than I was at my skinniest.
  2. There are very, very few situations in which it is appropriate to comment on someone’s weight.
  3. If you tell me that you are going on a gluten free diet to lose weight, I may roll my eyes at you.
  4. Decadence is a requirement of balance. Think about that.

And now for some festive dessert and drink ideas that gffriendly folks can indulge in!

Drinks are surprisingly full of gluten, egg, and dairy this time of year. I have a few favorite alternatives. If you like Baileys and hot chocolate try substituting brandy for Baileys (Baileys is full of cream and gluten.) Instead of hot buttered rum, try mixing dark spiced rum with spiced apple cider to get the warmth and spice without the dairy. When in doubt, mulled wine is a warm, comforting drink. This recipe for Mulled White Wine with Pear Brandy is one I’m definitely going to try this winter. Oregon has a local distillery, Clear Creek, that makes a lovely pear brandy.

Holiday desserts are another challenge for people with dietary limitations. Dessert deserves its own post, and that will come later, but in the meantime I would like to recommend these gingerbread truffles. They are easier to make than you think, impressive enough for guests, and entirely gluten and egg free. Another surprisingly Stephanie-friendly dessert is Panna Cotta. The Italian-style custard is made with gelatin instead of eggs. Last Christmas I made these Panna Cotta Parfaits with Raspberry Compote, but  Panna Cotta is like a blank slate—you can alter the flavor with almost any of your favorite seasonal ingredients. You can even make it with coconut milk, the ideal substitute if you’re going dairy free or vegan. I hope these recipes and tips help you fully embrace the extravagance of this time of year!

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