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Monday, 13 December 2021 11:11

Adjusting the Recipe

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With the holidays approaching, let’s talk about those favorite recipes and holiday dishes. We love these dishes because they remind us of childhood, of being together with loved ones. The tastes and textures hit all the right spots in our pleasure centers. We feast on the food, but more importantly, we feast on the feelings associated with the food.

For many of us, years have passed since we first tasted these holiday dishes and maybe years have passed since we first learned to cook, bake, and serve them. In those passing years we have, personally and as a society, become much more aware of nutritional values. We may have also developed an intolerance to some of the ingredients or we’re planning to serve people who have some special food needs. So, we take a look at our recipes with an eye to adjusting them to better serve and better nourish those around our table.

In some cases, we might need to make some major changes. We might want to substitute one of the key ingredients in recipe. We might make two versions of it, for instance with meat and without, or with gluten and without.

Sometimes the adjustments might be minor. Maybe we want less of one ingredient or we want to add some spices in place of salt. I’m always adjusting recipes to make the dish align with my overall health and also to make it more interesting to my taste buds.

Well, that takes care of the food. Now, what adjustments do we want to make to our experience of the holiday events? Big gatherings that happen once or twice a year are not universally happy and peaceful. Differences of opinion, strongly held beliefs, past conflicts, and any number of other emotionally charged conditions can make a holiday gathering feel like a recipe for disaster.

I am one of seven children, and I was fifth in line. After we were all grown, married and had moved away from home we used to gather at my parents’ house to celebrate the holidays. No matter how old I got or how skilled I had become in my life, when I got together with my brothers and sisters, I was still one of the ‘little kids.’ Yes, my older sisters treated me that way, but more importantly, I felt like I was still sitting at the kids’ table.

We had a recipe for how to interact with each other. It was time-worn and familiar. The problem with that recipe was that it included diminishing each other’s abilities in order to keep everyone in line with their order of birth. We were still competing for the attention and affirmation from our parents in the childish ways we had always done.

That began to change when I started acknowledging my accomplishments more often than I beat myself up for my inabilities. When I learned to turn my self-talk from shaming and blaming to more honest and affirmative statements, I began to feel confident. Slowly, with time, I built up some self-respect and it felt pretty good!

The time I spent recognizing my skills and taking full credit for my accomplishments paid off at those holiday dinner tables. I stopped seeing myself as the younger sister and started seeing myself as a capable adult. I began to adjust the recipe for engaging with my family.

First, I decided I wasn’t going to walk through the door as ‘little sister.’ I was walking through that door as a grown woman who was educated, who held down a job, was married, and managed a home. Doing that didn’t change how any of them saw me, at first. What it did was change how I reacted to the comments that used to trigger me. It was easier to let them roll of my back than to rise to the bait I was being offered.

Second, I decided I wasn’t going to follow the recipe when it was my turn to talk. I wouldn’t engage in hurtful teasing or in bringing up stories meant to embarrass or annoy my siblings. Instead, I kept my questions and comments firmly based in the present. I asked about their families, their jobs, and their travels. I wanted to know who they had become now that we were all adults. I knew who we were as kids, so why rehash the old days?

Third, I set the intention to interact as joyfully and peacefully as I could. Yes, I had tried to play peacemaker in the past, but I recognized that wasn’t my job. I could allow my family members to disagree with each other and to disagree with me and feel no obligation to find a compromise or peaceful ‘solution’ to our differences.

I decided that my responsibility was to avoid purposely instigating a conflict. If I knew something was a hot button topic for one of my siblings, I would not bring it up. If it came up from someone else, I could allow the discussion to unfold without trying to smooth things over.

It was hard for me to accept conflict. It took some time to change that part of my ‘recipe’ for behavior. But I found, with time, that they worked things out for themselves. And I realized that all of them used to get mad at me for trying to intervene. I liked this recipe, the end result of my change in behavior, much better.

Each of us has a different experience of holiday gatherings. There are many different ways to adjust the recipe depending on your particular situation. Two different people told me this year they are going to start talking to family members weeks before the gathering, asking for agreement to leave certain topics at the door. Kind of like defrosting the turkey several days in advance, they are cooling off the hot topics before they ever get started.

Another thing we might do is find a way to give ourselves permission to skip a gathering. If we aren’t confident in our ability to interact with a toxic person, the best course of action might be to stay away. We can set up a different day to celebrate with our chosen family and friends on another day.

Holiday gatherings can be difficult, including bruised feelings and conflict, or they can be joy-filled and comfortable times of reconnecting and deepening bonds of love and caring. The important thing to remember is that we can adjust our own recipe and create the holiday dinner of our choice.

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Betty Brink

Betty Brink is an expert on the mental and emotional aspects of dieting and body image. She is the author of "The Main Meal: The New Perspective on Weight Loss." In seminars, speeches, and consultations, she demonstrates practical methods to quiet the diet chatter, and to empower yourself to make conscious choices in diet, in life, and in relationships.

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