If there’s one thing people like to do, it’s gather together for a special event and eat a lot of food. Evidence of feasts has been found from as far back as 12,000 years ago, and feasts are one of the common traits across every culture on earth.
Anthropologists have even classified the different kinds of feasts people participate in:
Events like weddings, harvests, and cultural holidays bring us together on common terms. In the past, these feasts were an important method to help communities form cohesion and harmony. To have a feast, the group must plan ahead and divide labor and resources to deliver the big meal on time. Feasting is one of the tools we used to go from small isolated tribes to large cooperative villages with interdependent members.
Many celebratory feasts survive to this day. Diwali, Christmas, Chuseok, Lunar New Year, Ramadan, and Thanksgiving are all modern versions of past feasts linked to important dates on the harvest calendar.
In this feast, one of the members is of a higher/richer social status and is expected to distribute that bounty to those below them. This creates trust and loyalty between the lord and vassal. In the modern world, we see this when the boss takes the staff out to dinner, or when an older, wealthier person treats a younger person to a fine meal.
In this type of feast, one or both parties attempts to impress their wealth and prestige on the other through higher quality or more exotic foods. The feast is a vehicle to curry favor or even intimidate the other party.
Modern examples include a company wining and dining an important client to get their business, or a state dinner in which one country’s leader hosts an elaborate meal to gain favor from another leader.
The practice of feasting is the inevitable outcome of living on a planet that’s tilted at 23.5° to the sun. Those 23.5° degrees mean that as we make our yearly orbit, the hemispheres go through a cycle of high solar exposure (summer) and low solar exposure (winter). The life on this titled planet has evolved to maximize survivability through these solar cycles, usually producing more seeds, fruits, and offspring when the sun is strong, and going into a quieter, dormant period when the sun is weak. This creates times of plenty, and times of scarcity.
In times of excess, humans will gorge on the riches of the warm seasons, hopefully filling fat storage enough to bridge the energy gap that winter’s pall creates. It’s not hard to imagine taking that next step and turning this time of gorging into a proper party, with special traditions, decorations, entertainment, and social rituals.
In this way, feasting is integral to the human experience. If you look back at joyful times in your life, more than likely you’ll find a few feasts scattered amongst your memory banks!
There’s just one problem with feasts in the modern world. Through technology, we’re no longer lashed to the wheel of the seasons. With the global supply chain, you can get strawberries in October or tomatoes in February. You don’t have to wait for a spring-born piglet to become a Christmas ham. The salmon aren’t just running in fall, they’re running all year long in the freezer section of your local supermarket.
We evolved on a planet where abundant food was a rare treat that happened just a few times a year, but we now live in an environment where every single day is a feast. You can pick up more calories in a quick fast food stop than a villager would eat on their biggest feast of the year.
If we were logical, calorie counting machines, we’d take our modern surplus into account and eat a sensible amount of food during our culture’s feast days. But our ancestor’s traits still dwell deep within, and most of us find it hard to not go overboard during a time of feasting. It’s one of the most human things we can do, after all.
The impact of a few days of feasting can be quite significant. It’s possible to consume two WEEKS worth of caloric value over a three day holiday period. But the trouble doesn’t stop there.
Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of focused, diligent trainees get knocked off track by a time of feasting. Their reports sound like this:
“I was doing great until Thanksgiving, but after that I couldn’t stop myself from overeating.”
“Diwali really threw me. I hadn’t had much sugar until then, but after that my sweet tooth came back with a vengeance.”
A feast can open the floodgates and break up all the good habits you’ve cultivated. The aftermath brings on feelings of doubt, guilt, and self-reproach.
And how do people deal with those negative feelings? More food!
How can you navigate holidays and feasts without these setbacks?
Put your focus on the deeper meaning of the feast, beyond the food.
Remember the anthropological reason for the feast. These events are how we create stronger, more harmonious communities that work towards common goals. The beauty of joining the feast is the companionship. You don’t need to stuff yourself to get all that goodness. In all the laughter, singing, and fellowship no one is going to notice that you take a smaller portion or leave some on the plate.
Keep the three bite rule in mind.
When you eat a rich food, the first taste will create an explosive wave of sensation across your palate. Delicious! The second and third bites will be amazing too. But after three bites your brain starts to downshift the neural response and the taste, while still good, becomes flatter and duller. If you want to enjoy special seasonal feast foods, you really will get most of the satisfaction from the first three bites. If you stop there you won’t have missed out on anything, but also won’t have broken the caloric bank.
Make conscious decisions to enjoy a feast with no guilt.
Holidays and feasts are a wonderful part of life, and there are times you’ll make the call that the joy and pleasure you’ll get from eating freely is worth it. This is a good, healthy place to be mentally. What you then shouldn’t do is, once the holiday is over, start to crank up guilt and shame, or tell yourself you’ve broken your “perfect” streak. There are no perfect streaks, just progress of various velocities. It’s ok if that velocity slows down sometimes as you savor other parts of the human experience.
Don’t try to offset feast days with overly-strict diet before or after, or by adding lots of exercise to burn it off. Just get back to normal.
It’s easy on paper to think about how much you ate, and then try to make your numbers add up by offsetting that caloric load by eating less or exercising more. This rarely works. At best, it gets you thinking and living in a yo-yo pattern which is detrimental to long term success. At worst, you don’t ever get around to the diet and exercise, and are then filled with all the negative emotions that drive you even more offtrack.
The smarter play is to just get back to your usual routine after a feast, and work off the excess over a few weeks, not days. This approach not flashy or hardcore, but trust us, it works better.
Throughout your year, you’ll be presented with all kinds of events where you can eat, drink, and be merry. You can participate and respect the power of the ritual, but stay mindful that, in the modern world, every day is a feast day. You DO have the ability to opt out of the over eating and drinking that can derail your larger wellness goals.
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder