I could advise you to avoid emotional eating, to work a little aerobic activity into your holiday, to pace yourself through the big buffet, heck, I could even tell you to not worry about it and eat whatever you want (which is what I actually think you should do), but let me tell you a story which will provide you with the one piece of advice about eating with family that might be the best you'll ever get . . .
Every year we are lucky enough to be invited to Dave's brother's house for Thanksgiving. Jack and his wife Carol have all of their siblings over for a traditional turkey dinner, and since most of them have children, the group has expanded to about fifty people. We've been going to Jack and Carol's for more years than I can count at this point, and it's always a good time.
But one year, I made a fatal error.
Just like most people, we all bring a dish for dinner, and one time I decided to make homemade rolls.
These weren't just any rolls.
They were Martha Stewart Parkerhouse Rolls, and the basic process for making them meant that I would roll out a piece of dough, coat it with butter, fold it, apply another layer of butter, and then repeat. Six times.
They are honestly the best rolls I've ever had. I had made them for my family before, but had never made them for Dave's, and was therefore nervous about everthing going right.
Of course, I had nothing to worry about. The rolls were exquisite. It's hard to go wrong when the main ingredients are butter, sugar, and flour.
My only disappointment was that the rolls weren't the hit I had been hoping for. On a buffet filled with fried turkey injected with cajun seasoning, strawberry spinach salad with candied pecans, and Paula Deen cornbread-and-sausge stuffing, my rolls were easy to overlook. Most people took one, but some of them were ignored, like a sad puppy left outside in the rain.
As it turned out, I was sitting next to one of those sad and lonely rolls ... on our nephew's plate. Jake was probably only ten or eleven at the time, and he couldn't have known how long I'd slaved over those rolls or how much they meant to me.
So he took one bite out of his Martha Stewart parkerhouse roll and put it off to the side of his plate, where he promptly forgot about it.
I watched his roll like a jealous lover, waiting to see if he would finish it or return to it at all. But it was completely neglected. And when Jake put his hand on his stomach and said, "I feel kind of full," I jumped at my chance.
"Are you going to finish your roll?" I asked.
"You can have it," he said, knowing immediately what I was after. He had, after all, been living with a father who had been asking the same question for over a decade.
I can honestly say that that one roll was the best one I had all night, possibly ever. It dripped with the sweet taste of longing and oozed with the satisfaction of fulfilled desire.
It was good that I enjoyed that roll so much because a day and a half later, I was bent over the toilet in our tiny apartment bathroom, emptying my stomach of everything—Parkerhouse rolls, fried turkey, spinach salad, sausage stuffing, everything—I had eaten for days. As it turned out, Jake had been grabbing his stomach because he was in the early stages of a nasty stomach flu, and when I picked up the half-eaten roll off his plate, I picked up his virus too.
I still look at the uneaten food on my nieces' and nephews' plates with longing. I can't help it when they repeatedly leave so much amazing food behind. But never again will I actual give into that temptation and reach across the table to abduct their leftovers—or their germs.
I advise you do the same.