By Craig Harper
Before I even write this piece, I know that I will ruffle some feathers. I know that this topic will polarize you, the reading audience. I’m okay with that. I’m okay with your opinion, as long as you’re okay with mine. We don’t have to agree with each other, merely listen and consider. Feel free to share your constructive thoughts at the end. I’m happy for you to disagree with me, but I won’t give attention to any comment which is abusive or not constructive. Had a few of those lately. When all else fails, go the insult!
I was on ABC radio here in Melbourne on Saturday discussing how we might enjoy the Christmas cheer without enjoying the traditional Christmas weight gain, and let’s just say that my thoughts weren’t met with universal approval from the listening audience. How dare I suggest that we don’t gorge ourselves on Christmas day. I was unaware that ‘moderation’ was a synonym for misery and deprivation. I was also unaware that we ‘deserve’ to eat ourselves to oblivion and that my thoughts on the matter are unrealistic and impractical. The message I got from some listeners is that there exists a direct correlation between calories consumed and ‘Christmas spirit’. And that there also exists a strong link between how much food is on the Christmas lunch/dinner table and having a good time. Lots of food = good time. Not so much food = bad time.
According to some listeners, I’m an idiot and a dickhead. How dare I suggest that we include some healthier options on our Christmas menu and that maybe we don’t continue eating until we explode. What am I thinking? Apparently, the point of Christmas is food. You know that whole ‘three wise men, the manger, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus’ thing? Well, turns out that the real meaning of Christmas is to see how much pleasure we can give ourselves via an inordinate amount of calories. Who’da thought?
How could we possibly have festive cheer without the gluttony? It’s what we do. And not doing it, is a form of deprivation. It’s disrespectful. It’s breaking with tradition, and who are we to question our parents and grandparents who paved the way by over-eating before us? We’ve even taken our ‘Christmas cheer’ to a new level. They’d be so proud.
The crazy thing about Christmas is that we actually plan to overeat and we think that’s normal and acceptable. It’s what we do. It’s how we celebrate. And if we don’t indulge ourselves we feel like we’ve ‘missed out’; a little neglected even.
Maybe I’m a freak, but the notion of planning to over-eat on a given day seems kinda stupid to me, especially when I live in a country with one of the fastest growing obesity rates on the planet and more fat (sorry, full-figured, big-boned, voluptuous) people, with more obesity-related medical conditions than ever before. Call me crazy. Call me boring.
Note to self: Craig, don’t describe fat people as fat; it’s offensive, politically incorrect and unprofessional. Not allowed. Calling tall people tall – fine. Skinny people skinny – fine. Funny people funny – fine. Fat people fat… not fine.
I wonder if I can say that I used be to fat? Not full-figured, big-boned or voluptuous… just really fat. A whopper. It’s okay if I’m talking about me, right? Probably not, someone will get grumpy. Okay, we’ll stick with ‘full-figured’, it sounds much nicer. And we love nice. We’re comfortable with that. And we’re addicted to comfort. Reality… not so much. Okay, full-figured it is. Did I ever tell you that I was full-figured teenager? Quite Voluptuous actually. Would have been a great athlete if not for my big bones. Nup, it just doesn’t sound the same.
Isn’t it funny how some of us continue to find a way to get offended, rather than find a way to get healthy? Isn’t it also amusing how people get mad at me for stating an obvious reality (that an individual might be obese, for example) but not mad at themselves for what they have done to their body. Of course I would never walk up to someone and call them fat, but when I am discussing health and all it’s related issues in a professional context, I will speak the truth, and I will call obesity what it is; an over-fat body. While some people may use the term ‘fat’ in a derogatory sense, I don’t. I am using it in a scientific and pragmatic sense. I am referring to a person’s physiological state. Full stop.
While I had my share of supporters (back to the Saturday radio thing now) who thought I was speaking some common sense, there were others who asserted that “people like me are perpetuating eating disorders” and that I was “a self-righteous moron”. One woman told me that I was “dull and boring” and that I was a member of the “fun police” because I suggested that we moderate our food intake on Christmas day. I also had numerous abusive text messages. All in all, a fun time for me.
Okay so here’s exactly what I think about ho, ho, ho-ing into those Christmas calories:
1. Of course it’s okay to enjoy food, look forward to a meal (or ten) and to incorporate some ‘treat’ foods into your Christmas food plan. The occasional splurge is fine, but not when it lasts for two weeks or two months. The biggest eating issue at this time of the year is simply the ridiculous volume of food we consume… and not for one day. We eat because it’s there. Because it’s free. Because it’s at our finger tips. Because we’ve worked hard all year (and therefore we must overeat – go figure) and one of my personal faves… because it’s all paid for! Wouldn’t wanna waste anything would we? Imagine a world where we ate because we actually needed food, rather than wanted it, medicated with it, socialised with it or rewarded ourselves with it. What a concept. Crazy, I know. That’ll never catch on. Needs-based eating… not a chance.
2. It’s not okay to plan to overeat. I know this kind of thinking puts me in the minority, but I don’t care. People can rationalise over-eating with whatever weird-ass, self-serving psychology they like, but the truth is, it’s destructive and bad for our bodies. I am amazed at the ability we (we the society) have to justify stupid behaviour because it simply makes us feel good (for about an hour). One woman said to me recently “but yer gotta live” and when I asked her “so if you don’t over-eat at Christmas, does that mean you’re not living?” She got grumpy. Of course. When there is no logic left for you, reach for the insult or the indignant eye roll and heavy sigh.
3. Some traditions are stupid and destructive. I don’t care how long you’ve been doing it ‘that way’. My great grandparents, my grandparents and my parents all smoked… quite the tradition really.
4. We are pleasure addicts and we associate food with pleasure, therefore more food equals more pleasure. But what happens five minutes after we finish our Christmas lunch binge? We feel physically ill, we feel tired, we regret eating so much and we put our body in a state of stress because our digestive system is working triple-time trying to deal with an extreme over-supply of food. Excess food that our body doesn’t want, but our mind tells us we need to enjoy the ‘Christmas experience’. What a load of crap.
5. I love food. It’s why I was a fat kid. Sorry, voluptuous. Full-figured. And I know that food can be a source of pleasure in a healthy, sensible eating strategy. I look forward to my mother’s Christmas lunch and yes, I will enjoy some ‘Christmas foods’ and some pudding. But no, I won’t eat mountains of it. And no, I won’t feel sick or regretful afterwards. I know that I don’t need to over-eat to have a good day. Actually, I may substitute the pudding for cheesecake.
6. “But surely Craig, you are being a little ‘food police’ on us; it’s only one day?” Good question. I actually don’t care too much about that one day of the year. If it was only about over-eating on one day out of three sixty five, I wouldn’t write this piece and we wouldn’t have a problem, but you know, and I know, it’s not. It’s about the entire Christmas/New Year period. Some of us over-eat for a month. Some of us for a lifetime. It’s the psychology and the mentality behind the Christmas excess (not just that one meal) which is of concern to me. I have worked with many people (over the years) who have gained between 3-5 kgs (6.5-11lbs) over the Christmas/New Year period. They always regret it. Emotionally, mentally and physically, they feel horrible. I worked with a guy a few years ago who gained 10kgs (22lbs) between Christmas day and the end of January – quite the effort. It took him three months to lose.
7. Do not mis-interpret what I am saying. I am not saying don’t eat or don’t enjoy your Christmas meals. I am saying don’t use Christmas as a way to justify gluttony. Eating – fine. Stuffing yourself with an excess of food – not fine.
For me, Christmas is about giving, laughing, relaxing, hanging out with my family, being grateful for what I have and listening to my Dad sing (for want of a better term) all those carols. Again. I really wish he’d get a new CD.
Craig Harper is one of Australia’s most respected professional speakers and educators in the field of human performance. He is a highly sought-after corporate coach and is considered to be a leader in the areas of personal development, having worked with hundreds of teams, companies and organizations on numerous continents over the last twenty years. Visit him at craigharper.com.au.