Learning to eat on Thanksgiving

I wrote this for the Huffington Post, but I wanted to share it here, too: 

I am at a point in my life where I can order pasta.

I know, I know: there are bigger things. There are people starving in the world, and you want a pat on the back for eating some spaghetti? I can practically hear my Austrian great grandmother, who worked in a sweatshop, say it.

But still. Little victories. And the way we women sometimes punish ourselves, deprive ourselves, and criticize ourselves is a big thing. It’s bigger than us—it is as big as a whole culture.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, because of the food, of course. And I’m Jewish, so I have a lot of holidays to pick from. My second favorite is Yom Kippur, which has no food at all, only fasting. I think they balance each other out.

My dad, a diabetic who can’t eat it himself, makes an amazing moist stuffing. He makes an amazing turkey, too. One of my grandmothers makes a magical dish we’ve always called “green rice,” which has just a tiny bit of broccoli mixed into rice and a lot of what appears to be and probably is Cheez Whiz. My other grandmother is family-famous for her scrumptious plum cake. My mom, along with providing a host of somewhat less exciting but healthy veggie dishes, makes this decadent pasta casserole: penne with melted gruyere and caramelized onions and green beans. Oh my god, it is heaven.


Four years ago, when I moved to New York, I stopped ordering carbs when I went out to eat. I was always too “full” for dessert, too. It’s normal, this pattern—you see it everywhere.

I wasn’t overweight, but I didn’t feel thin enough. It’s not always clear where thin enough is, where to draw the line. Especially when, like me, you are struggling with other aspects of your appearance. You think, “If I was just thinner the rest wouldn’t matter as much.”

Somewhere along the way, we learn that food is out to get us. It’s dangerously seductive, like a young, buxom woman in a red dress when you’re a married man with two kids and a senate seat. We women are always cheating on our thinner selves with food. We’re always apologizing for eating, making excuses, laughing at ourselves.

“Oh you know me, I can’t help myself when there’s chocolate around! I’m a bad girl!”

Straight to my thighs…” we mutter as we bite into something mouthwateringly good.

“I shouldn’t…”

We live deep inside a culture that is always yelling at us to diet. That assumes we all, every single one of us, want to be thinner.

And you know what they say about people—if you tell them enough times how they should feel, they might just start feeling that way.


I don’t know if they say that. Maybe it’s just my mom who does. But I think it’s true. We get told so many times that we’re supposed to be working on our bodies, making ourselves prettier all the time, and prettiness and weight-loss have gotten all tangled up together in one big miserable snarl. Sometimes we are shocked when a heavy woman likes her own body.

I was twenty-two, and I wouldn’t let myself eat pasta, because I didn’t want to get into a bad habit, since I knew this was only the beginning of a long life of gradually gaining a little more weight. I used to weigh myself anxiously after Thanksgiving.

I believed at the time, as so many women never stop believing, that the way I looked was the most important thing about me.

If you’d asked me, I would’ve denied it fiercely. I was a grad student! I was writing papers with clever wording and long bibliographies! I was reading Foucault! But actions speak louder than words. Every day, I was quietly dedicated to making sure I looked better than I’d looked the day before.

It’s hard to explain what changed. I graduated and started writing about body image. I ate cake. I was a little more honest with myself. I met a lot of women from all over the world who had learned to hate themselves for no good reason. They were learning to love themselves again.

And four years later, a week before Thanksgiving, I am in the West Village with two girlfriends, and all three of us order pasta.

“How’s yours?” we say.

“Amazing. How’s yours?”

“It’s awesome.”

It might not sound a lot like a battle cry or look a lot like a victory dance, but it’s definitely something good.


These days, I sometimes catch myself not caring what I look like at all. Not even a tiny bit. I didn’t know that was an option before. Of course, plenty of the time, I do care, but it doesn’t feel as stressful or essential. And I’m thankful for that.

That’s the other cool thing about Thanksgiving– the thankfulness.

I am so thankful for my family, most of all. For the love that makes life meaningful. I am thankful for my health, and the health of the people I care about (still praying for someone to get around to curing diabetes one of these days!) And I am also thankful that I can order pasta. That I am learning to forgive myself for craving and deeply enjoying delicious food of all sorts. It’s supposed to be like that: food is awesome.

And on that note, I am very much looking forward to a Thanksgiving of acceptance, no scales, and some seriously yummy stuffing.

(victory dance! source)

*   *   *

Happy Thanksgiving, people who are celebrating it! If you are, what’s your favorite Thanksgiving dish? What are you thankful for right now?

Unroast: Today I love the way I look in a form-fitting black shirt




Kate on November 21st 2012 in beauty, body, food

25 Responses to “Learning to eat on Thanksgiving”

  1. Life [Comma] Etc responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 8:02 am #

    So. Much. Yes. So much yes. Just yes.

  2. Jenn responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 9:04 am #

    Stuffing. With gravy. And after a bite of mashed potatoes. Before a bite of cranberry sauce.

  3. Stephanie responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 9:41 am #

    Hi my name is Stephanie and I can’t say no too pasta. Did I just make fun of myself!? Yes I think I did…. :/

    Not funny.

    Seriously I absolutely LOVE pasta. Love it so much I had to capitalize it. I take no shame in eating my full meal. I’m the one complimenting the food over and over during the meal because I take such pleasure in eating.

    That photo of pasta actually made me crave it. It’s the cream, YUM.

  4. teegan responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 9:44 am #

    Favorite Thanksgiving dinner food? Sweet Potatoes and apples roasted with butter and cinnamon.
    Favorite Thanksgiving Day food? (to be eaten during the parade) Banana bread with mini chocolate chips and (this year) fresh local cranberries! And coffee. Mmmm…

  5. Erin Lee responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 10:15 am #

    My favorite: Turkey + mashed potatoes + biscuit with butter all in one bite. So good.

  6. Kate responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 12:22 pm #

    I like how we’re already talking about the order of bites. That is so crucial.
    I like to get ALL of the flavors. Turkey with gravy and then a bite of cranberry sauce, and then stuffing, with gravy, too.
    This is also why I always order dessert with dinner. Or, when I cook for myself, put a cookie or something on the side of the plate. This stuff is important :-)

  7. Cate responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    Hi Kate,

    I love this piece. It reads really beautifully, and has a lot of different colours very subtly woven through it; points which are clear but not laboured.

    We don’t have Thanksgiving here (I am in England!) but I am already planning my Christmas food ;) . Do you have Yorkshire puddings over there? Here they are http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/yorkshirepuddings_86010 in case you don’t. A good yorkie filled with gravy, with cranberry sauce, is Amazing…

  8. Kande responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 1:05 pm #

    My eldest child daughter loves Poutine. When we were out for lunch, she asked for one.

    I could have said no. She dances three times a week for 3 hours, will be resuming swimming lessons soon, and plays outside 3x a day at recesses. But she is not thin. I joke that I have healthy, hearty, peasant-stock children. Children who come by it honestly as I was the same as a child – reasonably active, healthy eating as much as possible, but never thin. I will never be thin – my kids will never be thin – unless we restrict our diets so much that we could not be active, would not be healthy.

    I could have said no. She is active but has visible pudge, she eats healthy options but has cravings for carbs, and we have more processed food than truly healthy people would consume ( but far less than average for sure!!).

    I could have said no. Instead I bought one – one for us to share. And as she started to gobble I gently reminded her that when it is gone it’s gone, so if she loves it should eat slower to make the experience last. I told her to pay attention to how she feels – if hungry eat more, if no longer hungry to stop. She ate half of her half, then paused for five min. Then started again as was still hungry, then put down her fork when full. We enjoyed a leisurely conversation and laughter filled lunch.

    I could have said no. Instead I chose her how to eat mindfully, how to enjoy treats in a healthy way, how to start figuring out her body signals, how to eat a delicious treat with no remorse, and to not foster poor self esteem by making her question her body image or self esteem – merely because she, like me, doesn’t fit into a typical body-size-and-shape box.

    I am so grateful I said yes.

  9. San D responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    So many things to be grateful for, from clear skies to antibiotics and all things in between. Can you tell I am recovering from fire ant bites? Anyway, my favorite Thanksgiving food is my husband’s stuffing, which started with his father’s recipe and was embellished. My only hard and fast food rule is this: if I bite into it, and I don’t like what it tastes like, I don’t eat it, just to eat it. Other than that, I ♥ food. Thanksgiving is by far my most favorite holiday. As I type this the smell of fresh bread baking (for the stuffing) is almost too much to bear.

  10. Mandy responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 1:20 pm #


    You go, girl! It took me decades to figure out some of that stuff–kudos to you for teaching it to your daughter not only good habits, but a positive attitude towards both food and her body!

  11. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    Kate, I honestly think that worrying less happens as you get older. But, as you point out, our culture goes out of its way to lure young girls into the world of “beauty first.” And I wish I had a photo of my friend Isa to share (with her permission). She is a large woman…big and beautiful. And she has such a strong, magnetic, sensual (yet ladylike) personality that men of all ages hit on her. Seriously. She…is…hot! I also believe that just because young women buy into the beauty culture, does not equate to men believing that is the most important thing. My observations tell me that a so-called plain Jane with curves and a whole lotta confidence is way sexier than a young girl who obsesses over her looks. I’ve had young men tell me it’s a turn off how young girls obsess and reveal…and then putting their money where there mouth is when they show up with an older woman, with a real body and the confidence to BE sexy in clothing that leaves something to the imagination. This is rambling…I’ll end by saying that I don’t like what I see in the “young girl community” these days. The “Girls Gone Wild” mentality is a disgrace to all that is feminine. Sorry, I’m probably off track with your intent with this post…but these thoughts came to me as I read your post. Enjoy that stuffing WITH gravy!

  12. lik_11 responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    @ kande- awesome parenting!

    I’m eating Thanksgiving with my husband’s extended family for the first time this year. Usually- we go to Niagara Falls with his parents, but they decided to attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, this year, romantically??? So- we’re going to his aunt & uncle’s. (My family is many states away). I have no idea what food they will have, so I’m excited to try new dishes. Being from the South, I’m used to Turkey and a crapload of casseroles, followed by excessive amounts of pie. yum!

    My favorite- copper carrots or sweet potato casserole covered in marshmallows… but really, I love it all!!!

    I’ve spent Thanksgivings with various groups of family and friends- rarely the same people from year to year. I’m thankful to have so many people in my life to celebrate with!!!

  13. Kimmie responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post! This will be my first Thanksgiving since entering treatment for an eating disorder last spring. Its nice to see that others struggle with the same stresses and anxieties as I have in the past with respect to this holiday. I am looking forward to focusing on the positives this year like friends, family and (yes) the food. And that is something I am very thankful for!

  14. Sarah S responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    Congratulations! I’ve been down that path, and I know how much work, dedication, and love it takes to recover. Freedom from ED is priceless!

    Kate, thank you for yet another deeply-resonating post.

    I’m not a big Thanksgiving person (I usually have to work the entire holiday weekend and don’t get to travel to see my family.), but I do like to use it as an excuse to cook a fancy dinner for a friend or two. This year I’m looking forward to gin-marinated lamb chops with fig-pomegranate tapenade! :)

  15. "You look so slim!" | Lost in a Spotless Mind responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    [...] “We live deep inside a culture that is always yelling at us to diet. That assumes we all, every single one of us, want to be thinner.” – Kate from Eat the Damn Cake, this blog post. [...]

  16. Maria responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    Thank you, Kate, for finally giving me the inspirational kick-in-the-butt to write my blog post. I really do love your blog, and I’m certain it has been an important part in my whole working-out-how-I-feel-about-my-body-and-my-mind-and-all-that-jazz :)

  17. Kate responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    Amazing, beautiful words, thank you & congratulations x

  18. Dane responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    Canadian thanksgiving is already over, but I have to say my favourites are green beans almondine (sp?) and sweet potatoes with pecans. YUM!

  19. Sheryl responded on 21 Nov 2012 at 7:38 pm #

    My favourite Thanksgiving/Christmas meal memories have always been a combination of the mashed potatoes and gravy as well as the abundance of vegetables. It seems silly, but nothing feels more decadent to sitting down and having four different vegetable options to pick from.

  20. Liz responded on 22 Nov 2012 at 8:52 am #

    Doing Thanksgiving in France again this year, and I love how we cook the same dishes (a turkey with all the fixin’s) but it somehow tastes *different* or it has to be tweaked cause I’m doing it with French ingredients.

    But my heart belongs, and ever will be amen, to mashed potatoes and gravy.

  21. Rapunzel responded on 22 Nov 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    Yes….Turkey + mashed potatoes (with gravy on them) + biscuit or bun.

    Erin Lee and I are vehemently against cranberry sauce since every year we were forced to take a bite to MAKE SURE we still don’t like it. It’s the same with our other two siblings. None of us like cranberry sauce.

    And I wouldn’t have cranberry sauce at my Thanksgiving dinner. Unfortunately, despite the fact that I’M hosting, and this is “your dinner” as my husband told me–the cranberry sauce is awaiting us. My inlaws still have all their gross (to me) side dishes that I don’t like, so I have to make an extra side dish on top of the turkey and mashed potatoes just to make sure I have something else to eat.

    But what am I saying? I sound so ungrateful. I’m very thankful for my family and my twin and my husband. Not so thankful for my inlaws….but, I sort of have to be because they’re “family”? They did raise my hubs, I suppose. So some good DID come out of that family at one point in time…..

  22. Cinthia responded on 26 Nov 2012 at 5:15 am #

    Awesome post–thanks so much, Kate!
    Right now I’m thankful for the electric blanket. It’s -3 degrees and dropping fast. Still, the moon is so damned beautiful. I’m eating popcorn, heavily buttered and salted. The cold makes me hungry, and so I eat. It’s evolution.
    When I was younger I used to eat only oranges for lunch, so I wouldn’t gain weight. I was already too thin but was sure that the thinner I became, the more perfect I would become. I wasted years of my life. I wasted years of lunches! Years of pasta shiny with pesto sauce and bread slathered with margarine. Sometimes I think that this was one of my worst sins, not against anyone else but against myself.

  23. Krystina responded on 27 Nov 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    Better late than never! It’s not thanksgiving without my mom’s sweet potato and brocoli casserole. Yum!

  24. Allyson responded on 27 Nov 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    I’ve never been able to diet; I just love food way too much. I’ve had my share of body image issues, and have attempted to diet, but it’s never lasted more than a couple days!

    Anyway, favorite Thanksgiving food is easily stuffing; even mediocre stuffing is still amazing. And oddly enough, I eat sweet potatoes all the time, except for at Thanksgiving. I always get a ton in my CSA and love them roasted, or mashed, or mixed with other veggies, but I despise marshmallows (weird quark, I guess, something about the texture really weirds me out), but since everyone else in my family loves them, my mom insists on ruining delicious sweet potatoes by smothering them in marshmallow. So Thanksgiving day is typically my break from sweet potatoes :)

  25. Lena responded on 19 Jan 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    This is a problem I’ve never really had. When it comes to food I am indulgent – I eat what I want when I feel like it, but I still try to make better choices. I’ll pick the whole-wheat bread or the soy-based milk, and while I love my carbs and a fair amount of junkfood – I do eat a lot of good, real food.

    And you know what? I’m not obese. I’m not really gaining weight either. I’m a bit chubby, I guess, but my weight kind of hovers within the same 20lb range depending on the season – and I’m okay with that.

    I’m not skinny, but I get to eat cake.

    At some point I sort of had a sit-down with myself and realized that I had three options: believe the bogus diet hype, eat extremely healthy and miss out on a lot, or stop caring and try to exercise a little more. I picked and am sort of failing at the third option.

    A lot of the time I alternate between convincing myself I’m a horrible person because I should care more about what I’m eating, and just being happy – because I don’t have to stress about what I eat, and the world didn’t explode because I ignored the many diet books on my parents shelves.