The Not So Happy Labor Day

Picnic Table Full of Food

Happy Labor Day everyone!

I wanted to share a story with you about a past Labor Day that was not a happy day in my life. The fact is that I often had a hard time not using the holidays, any holiday, as an excuse to overeat. I know that Labor Day isn’t a holiday typically associated with a certain food, but I made it a holiday all about food.

On this particular Labor Day, which was probably in 1996, my girls were 5 and 2 years old and I weighed over 300 pounds. Our Sunday School class from church had been invited to a Labor Day picnic at a class member’s farm and we were all pretty excited.

There would be bonfires, hayrides, and tables and tables of food. I was tagged to bring some desserts, which was my favorite thing to cook. I made cupcakes and cookies, dressed the girls in matching outfits, and John and I headed to the farm.

Once we got there, the girls found their little friends and played nearby while John and I visited with the grown-ups. I hovered near the food table, just waiting for the “dig in” signal from our host and hostess. On that table was potato salad, hot dogs, chips of all kinds, barbecue chicken, several desserts, baked beans, some fresh veggies (as if), and assorted other side dishes.

Our host finally said the prayer and we started to line up to get our food. I was holding two plates; one for myself and one for my littlest daughter while John handled his plate and my oldest daughter’s plate. Just as I began to get some food, my friend standing behind me said, “So, Diane. How is Weight Watchers going?”

I looked at her and wished that she had stayed home. She just ruined my whole picnic by asking me that question.

I stumbled around with my answer and finally said, “Oh, fine.” I went through the line picking up the healthy foods and leaving all the tasty food on the table. I got a hot dog, which at the time qualified for a healthy food, some of those boring vegetables, and some fruit. No dessert, no chips, nothing fun. All because of those words my friend uttered.

I was so upset that John noticed my bad mood. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked. I told him nothing but inside I was seething because my day was now ruined.

Looking back I realize how disjointed my thinking was. Instead of having fun watching the kids play, visiting with friends, and sitting around the bonfire with our class, all I could think about was the food.

After we left the picnic, I made John stop at Chick-Fil-A and get me some more food. I sullenly ate my sandwich, fries, and drank my coke but cheered up when I finished off the chocolate milkshake. The rest of my family didn’t eat anything because they ate at the picnic and were full. I wasn’t all that hungry, but felt cheated from the picnic.

The whole time I was eating I felt like a complete failure as a dieter and on some level, as a person. But I couldn’t seem to stop myself.

After 15 years of weight maintenance and hundreds of holidays later, I realized that I always looked at holidays in regards to food rather than relationships.

During my weight loss year I deliberately approached holidays without having the focus on food and it helped immensely. I still visited with friends or family, but forced myself to stop hovering around the food table and focus on the people I was with.

It’s still tempting to focus on food at the holidays, but with a gentle reminder to myself, I usually succeed in focusing on relationships.

I’d encourage you to remember that holidays happen all year long whether you are trying to lose weight or not. Learning to handle them is just one part of your journey into a healthier relationship with food forever.

Have you ever found yourself focusing on the food rather than the relationships at holiday times? How do you shift your focus? Diane

24 thoughts on “The Not So Happy Labor Day

  1. Hope K says:

    I’ve had to change my relationship with food. It used to be about comfort, consoling, and alleviating boredom, but now I try to look at it as sustenance first. I remember eating constantly over the holidays. My grandma would put out snacks like chocolate covered pretzels or a home-made cheeseball with crackers between gigantic meals. And I would just eat the whole time because I thought it was normal. My grandma is passed now and we don’t have elaborate holiday dinners anymore like we used to. But I don’t miss the food — who cares about that anymore? Who I miss is my grandma.

  2. Marc says:

    When I was heavier, it was pizza that I was focused on. When we had company over and I was in charge of getting the pizza, I’d always over purchase. If ten people (including children) were coming over for pizza, I purchased enough pizza’s for twenty grown adults. It was a big waste of money, as not everyone thought like I did…that you had to eat as much as your stomach could hold or it wasn’t fun. But by me being in charge…I knew I’d be able to eat at least 1/2 a large pizza and have left overs for later. My relationship with food was lop sided. I loved it, but it didn’t love me back.

  3. Kyra says:

    I find holidays like Labor Day and 4th of July easy to make healthy (when the BBQ is going, it’s just so simple.) I have no problem with foods on these warmer holidays, because it’s easy to avoid and 80% of the offerings are healthy (plus I’m not too keen on a lot of it.) I’m more interested in hanging out.

    It’s the winter holidays that there are a lot of food traditions that I have to navigate. Special recipes and so on (gingerbread houses, etc) where the food isn’t just about the food. That’s when I have to be on my guard and decide what it is that I really want to partake of, and what’s just extra food where I can skip it without feeling left out. I have found my own ways to navigate it, but I have to say that being that holidays are often when certain relatives are gathered who you would like to slap upside the head – well, that’s what makes focusing on the food sometimes the only option (otherwise, you sit there and seethe, OR you say something you shouldn’t.)

    For me, the best holidays are the ones we spend with friends, or on our own. When they’re like that, they’re manageable. When they’re filled with people I’d rather not see, THAT is when I face the challenge of not diving head first into the food.

    I do think that was a rather off timed question by your friend about weight watcher’s though. I get what you are saying about how you shifted your focus, but I found that part a bit… odd (aggressive by your friend?) I wouldn’t have gone out and eaten an extra meal away from prying eyes, but the comment paired with the timing would have bothered me for the rest of the day.

  4. Kim says:

    I think that sometimes it is hard with get-togethers (whether with family or friends) because it seems like food always plays a key role. When we have friends or family come visit and stay a few days, I always try to keep the meals low-key so that the focus is more on just being together.
    Hard at cook-outs though!!!

  5. Linda says:

    Oh boy, I feel like I could have written your post as well Diane! I’m sorry that your friend made that comment. There were many times where my MIL would say something about my eating that was similar and so I would do the same as you did and eat something healthy out of spite I guess and then pig out in private. What is interesting is that since I have lost a significant amount of weight (still have a long way to go though) and eat healthier, she now makes comments that I am still eating wrong! I tend to feel like Kyra that being with David, certain friends or just on our own (my son and I) is so much easier than actual family. Strange the way that is. To Marc’s reply, my food of choice was pizza as well and I also ordered double and the same when I had to order for work so I had half a pizza available just for myself. My how times change! 🙂

  6. Karen P says:

    Yes!! Raising hand and jumping up and down. I used every picnic, pot luck, and holiday celebration to both buy things, bake things, and to eat every little thing- an emotional/binge eaters dream come true! Unlimited junky foods and an excuse to try a little bit of everything in moderation.

    Now I use it as a chance to bring a whole, real food item to the party, socialize with others, and get some exercise, too. I still go to big parties and pot lucks, but I don’t eat binge/trigger food any longer.

    Great post, as usual. Getting a handle on event eating was key to long term maintenance.

  7. Pam says:

    Life revolving around food is the story of my….well..LIFE! Even today, if we plan a road trip, I always anticipate the restaurant stops more than anything, as hard as I try to focus on other aspects….family togetherness, seeing new things, lively conversations, etc. Food remains way too important to me and I’m working on that, still today, two and a half years into maintaining a 175-lb. weight loss. I’m hoping someday it will get a little easier.
    I have noticed that when I think peo0ple might be judging my eating habits, I’m more careful about what goes on my plate. At birthday parties, I rarely have a piece of cake, for fear of their comments or even their personal thoughts. I have always cared way too much about what others thought of me. But in this case, if fearing their judgement, even if it is just imagined on my part, keeps me from eating too much….I’m okay with it. I will take motivation wherever I can get it. Sometimes when we go to my favorite Mexican restaurant, in order to keep from eating too many chips with salsa before my grilled chicken salad arrives, I try to find a heavy woman somewhere in the restaurant. Once I found a woman who was actually wearing the same blouse I owned when I was obese. I don’t stare and hopefully I don’t stand in my own judgement over them, but watching them makes me realize I never want to go back there. And if that keeps me from eating mountains of chips with salsa, hopefully I can be forgiven.

  8. Janifer says:

    This was so great! I can see myself in areas how Diane was…can totally understand how she felt cheated….of her plan at the picnic! Even though, you ate better at the picnic because of the comment…it was not your plan. Seems like it only all works when we are ready for it to. You must be like a completely new person now!! Best to you!!

  9. MIZ says:

    for me it was a HUGE AH HA! when I realized I could eat the SAME at gathering or restaurants etc and the ‘treat’ was the company and no clean up 🙂
    it sounds so…SIMPLE but took me ages to learn.

  10. Mark says:

    I’ve been there so many times and my wife has too. We are supposed to be dieting and then boom, there is a picnic or a holiday or some other event. We used to just eat whatever we wanted and throw our dieting plan out the window. I HATED it when people asked, like your friend did, how my diet was going because that meant I had to eat “good.”

    Now I am trying to just eat like I know I should no matter what day it is or what is going on. Picnic or no picnic, I’ve got to get the rest of this weight off. Thanks for sharing your story – it’s one many of us can relate to.

  11. Laura says:

    I’ve done this too!!! It can be so hard to eat right when there is so much junk around. I could actually feel how frustrated you were with your friend’s comment because I have had people say that to me.

    I wish I could say that I do great with these kinds of events but alas I don’t.

  12. Mona says:

    Thank you for being so honest! I have such a hard time saying no to party foods no matter if it is a picnic or a holiday.

    I could feel your pain when that girl asked you about your diet. I bet you wanted her to disappear!

  13. Sam says:

    This is me, well was me. I have done lots better by bringing my own food but it is still a struggle. The food all looks so good. It’s funny that although I know I don’t need it, I still want it on some level.

  14. Keisha says:

    I’m the opposite from you because I would not have eaten anything at the picnic or any other event. I eat by myself when no one is around or when it is just my family.

  15. Kaye says:

    I too would have been sad if that girl had said that to me becuase I used to live for picnics, parties, holidays because the food was so extraordinary. The range of food always appealed to me and no amount of dieting would stop me from eating, unless someone said something to me!

    I’ve done much better over the past months and need to stay “good” because the holiday season is now here! Thanks for sharing.

  16. Nancy B. Kennedy says:

    At our family gatherings, I’m the salad lady. The table is generally full of junk food like KFC chicken or pizza or subs, which don’t tempt me in particular, but I would eat if there were nothing else. Because I bring a salad, I know I’ll have something to eat that I enjoy, so I won’t feel deprived. I’ll take some meat and cheese out of a sub, or some chicken (minus the skin and breading), and make a chef’s salad out of it. The extra ingredients feel like a treat, so I’m not even tempted by the desserts, which are generally store bought anyway, so they really don’t tempt me. But if someone’s made cookies, my resolve is tested! One bonus is that salads are simple to make… it’s been years since I’ve been responsible for cooking anything.

  17. Dr. J says:

    I fear society needs a complete paradigm change to where food is not the central theme of every gathering, but rather the people with whom we share some food with.

    • Janis says:

      I think avoiding some of those people is probably partly why folks DO make the food central to the event, at least in some cases … 🙁

  18. Marz says:

    I so know that feeling. So many times I’ve looked forward to a gathering for the food, and yep, I’m familiar with that feeling of being ‘cheated’. That same feeling lead to many late night pizzas when I was in college living on bad dorm food (many years ago), because it just didn’t taste good. Or if I have a bad day and am trying to make myself feel better, I might attempt to get some very yummy food and if I don’t, I feel cheated. Or if friends are going to one of my favorite places then change it at the last minute to say, sushi (which I really don’t like)..same feeling. Even knowing its there and what it is doesn’t always make it easy to ignore.
    I also noticed at a family gathering this summer just how much its part of our family ‘culture’ to eat and eat and eat, and how much my cousin the hostess pushes food. Push push push all day long, and then for taking left overs home. Even when people try to set boundaries, she just pushes right over them. She did this as long as I’ve known her, and even now post WLS, she still does it. I don’t think she’s quite aware of it, and in her mind is being a good hostess, our grandma used to do this too…but oh boy is it dysfunctional once you step back a bit.

  19. L says:

    This post is a great reminder to put the holidays in their place, and not make them all about the food. I did okay with the food yesterday, and felt I ate just enough to satisfy and still stay within my calorie limit. Thanks for another great post!

  20. BlessedMama says:

    Hi, Diane, I have an award for you at my blog. I know you don’t normally do awards here, so you don’t have to worry about following all the rules. I still just wanted to pass it on to you. 🙂

  21. PlumPetals says:

    “I realized that I always looked at holidays in regards to food rather than relationships.” This also changed for me when I realized that food didn’t need to be fried and covered with cheese to be tasty and hearing my friends and family laugh around the dinner table was so much more important than eating.

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