At the lovely small Chanukah party I attended earlier this month, I did not taste the latkes, those delicious potato pancakes fried in oil and typically served with sour cream and applesauce. My hostess offered them to me repeatedly, proudly noting that she’d used her Polish grandmother’s recipe. But I politely said “no thank you,” I’d just started a diet. “Who starts a diet in December?” someone asked. Someone else pointedly wondered “How can you not eat latkes at Chanukah?” but I quietly insisted that I needed to refrain. I promised, though, that I’d have some next year, once I’d shed the extra pounds that were making me uneasy in my own body.
In my Middle Eastern Jewish home it was the height of rudeness not to partake of what someone offered you to eat. So my refusal was difficult on many levels. But in fact, we never ate latkes at Chanukah. Instead we had deep-fried beignets, little balls of dough, sticky-sweet and drenched in rosewater-scented sugar syrup. I wouldn’t be having any of those this year either. And though another friend at the party assured me I didn’t need to lose weight— “You’re zaftig and beautiful just as you are,” she said—I’d decided a few weeks earlier that, Chanukah or no Chanukah, Christmas or no Christmas, this December was exactly when I wanted to begin my journey to what I believe is, for me, a healthier body weight.