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#FoodForThought: What’s a Celebration Without Food?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Chapel Hill chapter.

Food plays such a huge role in our lives, especially in the United States (for better or for worse). In every town, there are entire streets lined with restaurants from A to Z, store aisles with snacks out the wazoo and even kids’ television programs based on food (I don’t know how many of those actually exist, but there’s at least Veggie Tales).  And, of course, most of our celebrations revolve around food.

Ever since I was little, food has been the most exciting thing about most holidays, parties and other special occasions. Oftentimes, there are designated times for eating things we don’t normally eat (say, Christmas cookies or chocolate-covered strawberries). Sometimes, holidays are just an excuse to be indulgent and have a few more treats than you normally would because, hey, birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas only come once a year!

This is where I really struggle with my relationship with food. I face temptations year-round, and I’m no stranger to cyclical cravings, but there’s an added element of FOMO when I’m faced with what should be a fun, festive event. Celebrating holidays and birthdays is one of life’s greatest joys for me, and the food I eat on those occasions is what brings me a lot of that joy, so how can I make healthy choices without denying myself the things I love most?

As my birthday gets closer and closer, I worry about two main things, getting myself to a healthier state and celebrating my birthday the way I want. I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life, and, personally, that’s a problem. I’ve let myself get to the point at which not altering my lifestyle could lead to serious health consequences, and loved ones have begun to voice their concerns about the extra pounds I’m carrying. This is a much larger issue as a whole, with many different facets that I’m trying to comprehend and deal with in a way that’s healthy for my body, my mental well-being and my relationships. But, for now, my main concern is adjusting to a new lifestyle in the context of celebrations.

Since the New Year, I’ve been using an app called MyFitnessPal to track my calorie intake, and I’ve been exercising every day that I have free time. Sometimes, I jog, using another app called Couch to 5K, and sometimes, I go to a cardio dance class. These changes have been positive in a few ways: for starters, they’re healthier. Often, I feel tired and unmotivated when I think of attending a fitness class, but I push myself to go, and then, it’s done (the instructor also has some real bops on her playlist, which help me get through 45 minutes of heavy breathing, sweating and wobbling). And yes, tracking calories has made me more conscious of my portion sizes, but it also reminds me every time I go to eat that what I’ve been doing all my life is not okay, that my body is not okay right now and that no, birthday cake really isn’t going to help me reach my weight loss goals. I’m still not sure if that motivates me or makes me fell sad, guilty and bad about myself in general. I worry that I’ll become obsessed, but I’ve yet to find a better way.

It’s oh-so-common that you hear someone preach about the simplicity of weight loss. Eat healthier, eat less (within reason) and exercise. Well, duh. But what about the lifelong habits you might have to break? What about the psychological distress you feel when you connect the numbers on a scale or a tape measure to your self-worth? What about the hopelessness you feel when you’ve tried over and over again to make changes, to better yourself for yourself, and it just hasn’t worked out the way you planned? What about enjoying the celebrations you love most in a culture that is simultaneously food-obsessed, body-obsessed and diet-obsessed?

Everyone’s body is different, and everyone faces unique challenges. Some of our struggles are shared though, and I’m sure I’m not alone when I light up with joy at the thought of birthday cake, while also feeling tears well up when I remember what I saw in the mirror that morning. People shouldn’t feel bad about themselves or their physical features, but we’re human and we do anyway. I only hope that reconciling my love for celebrations with my efforts to lose weight will get easier with time because, as much as people may tell me that an apple tastes like candy, and as much as I like apples, apples are not candy. And I don’t think that pretending they are will help me.

Emily Stellman

Chapel Hill '21

Emily is an aspiring author that studies English and Comparative Literature at UNC. She is also minoring in History and hopes to one day become a lawyer or work in a museum. Her interests include music, doting on her pets and all things Disney!