“Feast Your Eyes”
As the holidays approach, the universal stresses and worries crop up. Here’s one reader’s dilemma that I’m sure a lot of folks can relate to as the big Thanksgiving feast zooms towards us and family gatherings loom. While there are always tons of articles that appear in publications on reducing the stress of entertaining, cooking, serving the big meal, etc. few address the endemic family histories and dynamics that underpin the entire affair. So here’s food for thought.
Thanksgiving’s coming and I’m feeling distressed. After having my second baby last March, I decided it was time to lose the extra weight I’d gained. I joined a program that worked, lost forty pounds and feel better than ever. My problem is the more weight I’ve lost, the meaner my mother-in-law has gotten. We didn’t get along good in the beginning, but after my first son was born and I was heavy, things with her got better. I thought it was because I’d given her a grandson. She’s very overweight and it never occurred to me that the heavier I got, the more she favored me. My husband’s a tall drink of water so it’s hard for him to understand. Anyhow, every since I started to lose she’s grown more insulting and nasty, refuses to go to lunch or shop, and several times embarrassed me at the table over my choice of foods. She’s having the family feast this year and yesterday reminded me not to be impolite by not eating everything she’s going to a lot of trouble to cook. I don’t want to back track after working this hard to lose the weight and I’m so apprehensive she’ll embarrass me at the table in front of everyone.What should I do? Is this something others worry about? I don’t want to have an argument and I don’t want my husband to get angry either. I feel nervous about the whole occasion and wish I could stay home and avoid it. Is it OK for me to not go?
God bless the holidays. You’re definitely not alone in facing this annual dilemma that causes so much stress and strive in families everywhere. Whether it’s about eating too much or not eating enough or even more sadly, about not having enough to eat, millions struggle with getting through the holidays without setting off an explosion in the midst of the family gathering, so it’s perfectly understandable you’d feel stressed and anxious about this upcoming occasion.
First of all, you have lots of options. It’s always helpful to be reminded when we feel our back’s against the wall that there’s more than one exit. Of course, you can always choose not to go. While that may lead to some challenging conversations, even confrontations with a number of people including your husband, you can decide always not to walk into any situation that’s not good for you.
However, since this is your husband’s family and you haven’t indicated that your marriage isn’t working or that you don’t intend to stay involved with him in the future, sitting out this dance may, in the long run, not be the most beneficial way to go, for it could open you up to more ongoing insults, back stabbing and a whole host of unpleasant and manipulative actions and sabotage at which family members seem to be adept.
Before we consider other choices, it’s important to applaud and appreciate the choices you made to lose the weight and regain your health along with your self-respect and esteem. You also deserve to receive ongoing encouragement and support for not allowing anyone’s behavior, not matter who they are or how toxic they act, to undermine or weaken your commitment and resolve to take good care of yourself. Bravo for the hard work and great results!
Nor do you need to explain, defend or apologize for the choices you make about the foods you eat or refuse. Since you appear to be dealing with a woman who seems quite unhappy and insecure with herself and her body image, you’re caught up in a situation that you can’t change. Only she can. But you can put a few essential boundaries around yourself and attempt to shift the dynamics of events that may or may not occur.
Since I don’t know her, I don’t know if she’d respond to kindness and empathy. Oftentimes, people who behave as you’ve described do so because they’re not getting enough love, attention or praise in their own life and have to diminish someone else in order to feel more powerful or in control. In one scenario, shifting the dynamic and putting the attention on her might help redefine the focus of her unhappiness with herself.
If she does responds to attention and flattery, given of course, in a genuine not disingenuous manner, her ego might blossom. You might consider telling her for instance, if it’s true, how beautiful the table looks or how fabulous the feast is and how amazed you are at how she pulls it off with such ease. Saying these things not all at once, of course, but perhaps as part of a toast during the meal. Trying to find compassion for someone who has treated us dispassionately can sometimes put us in touch with emotions and outcomes that can be both surprising and rewarding.
In another scenario, you might have a private moment with her a few days before the holiday and tell her, even if she hasn’t offered it, how much you’d appreciative her understanding and support as you continue to struggle with your weight during the holidays. Thanking someone for something they have yet to give can sometimes help them feel needed and allow them to get out of their own way and give you, in a caring and respectful manner, the very thing you need them to give rather than being confronted and accused of not giving what is needed. Confrontation or blame generally sends a person into a defensive and angry position determined to never give you anything.
An alternate option would be to choose to say nothing, go to dinner, take a lot of food on your plate, move it around expertly, eat a little of everything and take your lumps if she throws barbs or insults at you. Very often, within a group dynamic, the person who’s behaving badly if met with silence and non-resistance is the one who ends up looking like a prat, not the person being insulted. If this tension is, in fact, fueled by the weight issue, then any abusive behavior by her related to you not eating enough will be observed by others and they’ll be able to put things together and realize your mother in law is intimidated by or jealous of your accomplishment.
In any case, there are some things that aren’t negotiable, no matter which scenario you choose or what happens as a result. Please don’t let anything anyone say or does to become personalized and anger you enough to sabotage all your hard work. By placing this in perspective and realizing this is just one afternoon, one meal, and that there will be many more like it, no matter who’s in your life, you’ll be prepared and strengthened to make choices good for you.
It always helps to eat some healthy, appropriate food an hour before going to a party. It guarantees we won’t be starving and thus more susceptible to emotions or nervousness that could cause us to eat things under normal circumstance we’d avoid. Feast with your eyes instead of your stomach. Plan head, go hungry but not starving and don’t take defensiveness or fear along. I often define fear as “fantasy embellishing and augmenting reality.” It’s possible nothing unpleasant will happen and that you might even have a lovely holiday. Either way, knowing where your boundaries are and what you will or won’t do or eat will fortify you. And either way, the next day, you’ll pick up where you left off and continue down the road you’ve chosen for yourself that honors your health and self worth. Happy Thanksgiving!
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