Just this morning, my daughter reminded me of an old story that seems appropriate for the season. And yes, I will find a teachable moment in this. 😉

A couple of decades ago, our family lived in the country, and we had an outside dog — a lab who would eat (or at least chew) anything. In fact, his name was Chewy; my daughter thought he was named for the Star Wars character. I knew he was named for the fact that when hubby and daughter brought him home without telling me we were getting a dog, he had to stay on the back porch for a bit, and he quickly chewed up the phone lines to the house while he was out there.

This is a much prettier tree.

Jumping forward a few years, we usually fit in a visit to my inlaws around Christmas, and one of the traditional items they would give us was a giant, stacked Christmas Tree cookie. It was a fundraiser for their church’s youth group. Often, we’d break into the tree while we were at their house (and conveniently forget it there, oops!); truth be told, it tasted like sweetened mushy cardboard. It wasn’t nearly as festive as the tree pictured to the right; I think, probably in the name of speed and thrift, the youth group shortened the recipe by adding green food coloring, didn’t include icing, and probably used the cheapest ingredients available. In bulk.

For that reason, we asked them nicely to not get us one of those trees. We didn’t say it was because of the taste. But instead, every single season, we’d get one, anyway.

Finally, one year, one of us thought to just throw it out to the dog, since Christmas was at our house that year and we couldn’t “forget” it. After all, that dog would eat practically anything. He delighted in two-liter plastic bottles, especially, but he just chewed those up; he didn’t eat them. He once attacked a firework smoke bomb and chewed that (until we convinced him to drop it). And he was, as many labs are, a garbage disposal on legs. We could get rid of any number of leftovers by giving the remains to him. **

Well, apparently his limit was green youth group Christmas trees. Even after a couple of weeks, it lay completely untouched (and unchewed!), and we finally had to take a shovel and remove it. Trust me — a couple of weeks in rain, outside, did nothing to improve the looks or taste.

While I have, in my past, sometimes been a human version of Chewy, willing to eat just about anything and everything put in front of me, there’s one other thing in common: it’s okay to be picky. Especially during the holiday season.

Two of the mental tenets I conveniently forget when I’ve been eating too many of the wrong things: first, I already know what most things taste like and can imagine the taste without eating them. Sure, it’s rewarding to actually eat something that we’ve been longing for, but we long for it because we know it tastes good. And that means we already know what it tastes like. It’s a taste memory. In fact, sometimes when I can’t get my mind to settle down at night, I’ll imagine sitting down to a feast of foods I don’t normally eat. I’ll savor the imaginary taste of each bite, each sip, each nibble of dessert. I’ll imagine myself fully satisfied.

No, of course, it’s not the same thing as sitting down to a feast of your favorite foods. But once you’ve sated yourself after a big, indulgent meal, do you taste any of those foods anymore? Can you imagine savoring them, all over again?

Some might consider that self-torture. For me, it helps stave off cravings for certain foods, because I know that once consumed, the only thing that remains is the memory of them.

The other tenet is that some foods just aren’t worth the dietary expense paid for eating them. They’re the gawdawful green youth group Christmas Trees. They’re the mediocre fast foods we shove in our faces without even tasting them. They’re the shredded-carrot-orange-jello salad at the family potluck that you feel obligated to put on your plate, lest you be told you’re insulting a family member by not loving it. It’s the foods we don’t really like, but eat anyway, for whatever reason. In that regard, Chewy had lessons to teach. Don’t eat that nasty giant Christmas cookie if you don’t really like it!

Making dietary choices that result in a healthy body makes me choosy about what I want to eat. I also practice intermittent fasting, so I don’t feel tied to a clock that tells me when I should eat. If there’s not anything for me to eat at those typical times of day we all think about food, I don’t worry about it; I just let hunger pass until the next time I choose to eat.

The problems come when I forget those tenets, and let’s face it — it’s pretty typical to not want to remember such things during a time of year when feasting is pretty much expected. What, when, and how much I eat is my decision only.

** This was long before we knew some foods could be harmful to dogs. We know better, we do better. Much to our current dog’s disappointment, we don’t give dogs table scraps.

Please do not disown me for this.

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