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Ditch the shame – eat cake

As was probably obvious from my editorial from a couple of weeks ago, I’m not a Christmas fan. Apologies.

There are some things my Grinch-like self looks forward to. Particularly the Christmas kai. A sumptuous cheese board, roast spuds, and my Dad’s famous Black Forest trifle. Heavenly.

What I dislike, however? The holiday-themed weight-loss advertising tagging along behind.

Chances are, you’ve seen the “Life and Style” headlines popping up like a game of Whack-A-Mole. “Five easy ways to lose Christmas weight.” “The season of overindulgence is upon us: six ways to beat the muffin top.” “Worried about holiday weight gain? Go vegan.”

In the Southern Hemisphere, we get a double whammy: The “Beat the Christmas Bulge” messages intersecting with the “Get Shredded For Summer” promotions. Nothing tastes as good as a swimsuit body feels, apparently. Not even Mum’s pav.

It’s a strange contradiction. Christmas revolves around food, and the sharing thereof. The roast dinners, chocolate Advent calendars, office parties with extravagant buffets and free-flowing bubbles – it’s all there in the manual. Even the “patron saint” of Christmas, Santa Claus, is known for his love of mince pies and cookies.

And yet, every December, the food-shaming runs higher than our grocery bills.

The chief culprit in this tragic tale is diet culture. Psychologists define this phenomenon as a belief system that associates food with morality, body size with health, and thinness with goodness. To achieve thinness, diet culture instructs us to cut out whole food groups. It categorises foods: Clean and dirty, real and fake, “good” and “bad”. It tells us food must be earned – then burnt off.

Diet culture is driven by structures of power: Patriarchal ideals about women’s bodies, a Euro-centric medical system and, of course, capitalism.

In 2022, the global wellness industry brought home a cool 4.4 trillion US dollars. With a profit of $946 billion, the weight-loss industry contributes one of the biggest chunks of the pie. Companies such as Weight Watchers regularly bring in yearly earnings upwards of one billion.

There’s good money in body dissatisfaction. And it’s gotten worse with social media — with influencers discovering they can make a pretty penny hawking kale smoothies and “miracle” teas on Instagram.

We know, thanks to new research, that the relationship between weight and health is not clear-cut. We know health is not solely determined by dietary choices – a recent report from the US found at least 50 per cent of an individual’s health is dictated by social determinants, such as food access, transportation, and physical environment.

We know preoccupation with weight has been repeatedly linked to body dysmorphia, eating disorders, anxiety and depression. A 2022 report from an American eating disorder association found a high correlation between negative body image and poor physical health outcomes

And we know, from multiple studies, that 95 per cent of dieters eventually regain weight.

And still, the profit machine keeps churning. And what better time to capitalise on our insecurities than Christmas – a time when many of us are already feeling anxious, isolated and burnt out?

Health is complicated – and if you’re on your own wellness journey, I salute you. But, it’s been a tough few years. So I give you my Christmas blessing – tuck into that cheeseboard. Go back for seconds. Pile your plate high with dessert. I know it takes a lifetime to heal a difficult relationship with food. But you deserve a day where you can ditch the shame and enjoy a good feed, with good people. That day may as well be December 25.

Bon appétit, Wairarapa. And if you want a swimsuit body, keep it simple: Put a swimsuit on your body.

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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