Fall is the season of death and sleep. It’s also the season of the harvest, which is why we put all the feasting holidays at the end of the year. It also used to be the time when the place where I worked would have an annual challenge for employees to maintain our weight. They called it “Hold The Stuffing”. We’d gather in various locations to be weighed and then, in January, we’d be weighed again, and if we hadn’t gained more than two pounds over the holidays we’d get a prize. That’s how it started, anyway. The first few years everyone who kept their weight gain under the limit got a gift card. Then it got downgraded to a keychain or a pen. Then they decided even that was too expensive so they changed it so that there was no longer an automatic reward. Instead everyone who didn’t gain was entered in a raffle for a gift card. Looking back I wish I’d stuck with it because at that point so many people dropped out that my chances of winning were pretty good, but then they were raffling off five gift cards and only five people entered so they dropped the program entirely.
Besides fall and winter are a time when it’s natural that we should put on a few extra pounds—maybe even more than two. As the weather gets colder we start layering on sweaters and hats and wool socks and electric blankets and it makes sense that our bodies add on a few extra layers too. We also burn more calories in cold weather, since our bodies need fuel to fire up the core when the surrounding temperature drops, and with all the holiday goodies that get set out it can be really easy to overcompensate for the loss.
I’m just extrapolating wildly here but I believe holiday feasts date back to when we were still hunter-gatherers, nomadic creatures who hadn’t yet learned to store food for the long term so, like bears, we’d bulk up for the winter months, although we never gained the ability to hibernate since we originated in a pretty warm climate. Still we learned the art of preservation by drying, salting, smoking, and even canning before recorded history, so nibbling, and even occasionally gorging, all through that time of year when the days grow noticeably shorter and the nights get longer, when all the harvesting has been done but it’s still too soon to start planting for the next year.
Fall especially is a transitory time, a time of change, which is why it’s ironic that I’m thinking about how deeply rooted some of our traditions are—how the human tendency to have winter feasts in preparation for the pre-spring famine have been with us maybe as long as we’ve been humans, maybe even longer. And it’s not so ironic that I think about how a dieting program at work went by the wayside, burned away by the harsh realities of dark winter nights when our natural inclination is to gather around the fires and stuff ourselves.