It’s not ‘naughty’ to indulge over the holidays and this is why

The season has barely begun but the preparations for post-festive guilt are already in full swing.

Lest any of us plebeians indulge this month, the ever-noble weight loss companies have our collective backs.

Indulging is not the problem, our attitude to our bodies and food is. Credit:Stocksy

One email I received last week proffered the “leading” dietitian, of one well known weight loss company, who promised tips on “surviving the traditionally gluttonous Christmas period… with the button on your jeans still intact”.

We need such tips because December is a time we like to “load up on all the food many of us have allocated to the ‘naughty’ list”, the press release explained. Thankfully, it continued, we can get our new year’s resolutions on track with their assistance.

In the spirit of Christmas I will assume that it was not a manipulatve ploy to recruit vulnerable souls experiencing food guilt following the festive season.

Weight loss is one of the top resolutions people make each year and it’s not surprising given we’re perpetually being told that indulgence is somehow bad, “gluttonous” or “naughty”.

"This is a really difficult time of year," says Louise Adams, clinical psychologist and founder of Treat Yourself Well. "The weight loss industry turns the volume up to maximum, and two conflicting messages are being poured down our throats: One, that this is the time of year to be ‘naughty’ or ‘gluttonous’, and, two, that we shouldn’t really be doing this/immediately be preparing to starve ourselves in January.

"All of this is fuelled by playing on our fear of weight gain."

The problem is that food guilt begets over-indulging, and over-indulging begets food guilt. And somewhere in the turbulent cycle of dopamine highs from eating to subdue negative feelings and of stress hormone lows from the hangover of shame, we mistakenly think that our weight is the problem. This distracts us from looking at the way we feel about food and our bodies and the way we treat ourselves.

“All too commonly we attach value, meaning and a sense of worthiness to our eating choices which is steeped in the perception of morality and virtue – that I'll be a ‘better person if I eat this’ or ‘I should feel bad if I eat that’,” says Fiona Sutherland, an accredited practising dietitian and co-founder of Body Positive Australia. “We lose the joy in eating, and it becomes something to track, count, or ‘make up for’."

Interestingly, the word "indulge" has roots in the Latin for being kind or tender. To allow ourselves to enjoy food in this sense is an act of kindness, not self-abuse. But its provocative, “naughty” connotations tempt us to take it to extremes – “allowing” ourselves a moment of “sin” where we over-indulge, making ourselves sick with food and drink before we punish ourselves with banishment or restriction.

"Making some foods ‘naughty’ can paradoxically increase our desire for them – whilst ensuring that we feel guilty about it," Adams says.

It needn't be like this.

We can “indulge” and, in doing so, treat our bodies with kindness by enjoying what we consume and listening to their cues of satiety and comfort.

In this way we start to have a healthier relationship between food and our bodies.

“At this time of year, we are saturated in the language of diet culture – the ‘shoulds’, ‘shouldn'ts’, the ‘naughties’ and ‘nices’,” Sutherland says. “Seeing food and eating in such a dichotomous way is a recipe for a poor relationship with eating and our bodies which saps the fun and joy out of the holidays and leaves us stressed out and feeling awful.”

Eating food is normal and we should not be made to feel bad about it, even when we 'indulge', Adams adds:.

"Eating food with our families during the holiday season is lovely… Food is just food, and all foods are allowed. Tune into the sensory experience of eating, and stop allowing those weight loss companies to bury into your relationship with food."

Sutherland's tips to shift your language

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