Enjoy your Christmas without the guilt

Originally written for www.stuff.co.nz, published 24 December 2014

Christmas and guilt, they go together like pavlova and strawberries. And cream. When it comes to Christmas, food and overindulgence, I could give you all the usual advice about moderation, sensible choices, staying active and stuff you’ve heard before, but I’m not sure this would be useful.

It’s been reported that most people put on around half a kilo over the Christmas/New Year period. One year I went back to the parents for 3 weeks and put on 5kg. That’s when I realised I wasn’t as young as I used to be. Year after year clients trickle back into the gym with a similar (maybe not as extreme) story, expressing guilt and remorse for the excesses of the silly season.

Christmas is about family and friends, relaxing and recharging, celebrating and connecting. There’s really no point feeling guilty about it.

Seriously, there’s actual proof – in 2013 researchers at the University of Canterbury, Department of Psychology investigated whether eating-induced guilt (they used the universal guilt food, chocolate cake) helped or hindered weight-loss efforts. The study concluded that guilty-eaters did not have more positive attitudes or stronger intentions to eat healthy than celebration-eaters. Guilty-eaters had lower perceived behavioural control over eating and were less likely to maintain their weight over an 18month period. Guilty-eaters with a weight loss goal were also less successful than celebration-eaters at losing weight over a 3month period.

So my advice this year is this: stop the guilt. It’s clearly not helpful.

It’s obvious that your decision to partake in the offerings that abound at this time of year will impact on your health and advancement towards your overall health goals. But to partake and then feel guilty defeats the purpose, so if you want to be all in, be all in. You can choose healthier options at the next meal, do something helpful for your recovery the next day, or increase your activity levels but don’t let the guilt of your decisions eat you up.

The problem is if you decide to be all in, all the time. In that case, I’d suggest taking responsibility for that decision and dealing with the consequences.

On Christmas day itself, yes, that extra serve of Christmas dinner will be delicious but your decision is either: eat it, enjoy it and feel like you’re going to explode or don’t eat it and have some leftovers next time. You’re not going to miss out.

As for all that packaged food you might receive around Christmas – chocolates/shortbread etc – don’t feel like you have to eat them. You could donate to a food bank or charity (even better if you do it before Christmas so someone can enjoy it on the day). That way, you can feel good you helped someone else who otherwise may have done without.

Lay off the guilt this Christmas and enjoy yourself. It’s better for your waistline.