Can We Have A Guilt-Free Holiday?

I’ve always had beef with women’s magazines this time of year. November and December issues bombard readers with ways to avoid holiday weight gain and even shed a pound or two. Exercise twice a day! Bring your own food! Skip the sweets! Say no to the ‘nog! And if you do happen to find your cocktail dress is a little tight, here’s a two-week, 1200-calorie diet to get you back in party form. (Finding a more comfortable outfit never seems to be an option, for some reason.)

christmas tree.jpg

And then there’s the January. Usually only a week or two into December, it arrives with words of punishment and hope, reprimanding us for drinking too much and eating far more, but offering redemption with “clean” meal plans “bikini body” workouts. Fine. We all have our goals for the new year, but the holidays haven’t even happened when January hits our mailboxes. So basically, we’re already fearing and repenting the sins of gluttony we have yet to commit.

It’s an unfortunate and predictable pattern, but it sells.

Never, however, did I expect to read this sort of language in a cooking magazine.

bon appetit mag cover.jpg

Since Gourmet magazine was canceled by Condé Nast in 2009, Bon Appétit and Food & Wine have been the staples of my foodie print subscriptions. I look forward to them both each month, and always dogear at least 20 recipes I want to try. The above January issue of Bon Appétit was no different: Cauliflower Steaks with Olive Relish and Tomato Sauce; Three-Greens Soup with Spinach Gremolata; Skillet-Baked Eggs with Spinach, Yogurt, and Chili Oil… I’d be happy to have any of these for dinner tonight!

Still, I was dismayed to find Adam Rapaport opening his editor’s letter (Rapaport replaced Barbara Fairchild in November, who worked for the magazine for 32 years and edited for 10 of them) with tales of his wife’s three-day cleanse (green juice, no caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and “plenty of vegan snacks”). There’s a section of the magazine’s website titled “Our Holiday Recovery Plan,” which you can find at Still a third article in the magazine (and we’re only on page 43!), titled “The Canal House Cleanse,” asks the question, How to undo months of celebration? It promises real wholesome food, but provides only recipes for broths.crepes on columbus.jpg Crêpes on Columbus: tiger Shrimp with spinach, black bean paste + basil creme; mushrooms, goat cheese + caramelized onions

The rest of the magazine is peppered with scrumptious looking recipes, many of which are decadent and many of which are “healthy.” But do these two things have to be mutually exclusive? Do we have to gorge on rum and cake through New Year’s Day, and then spend the next 29 days subsisting on beef broth and wheatgrass? As fun as anticipating all of this guilt in January is, I think I’ll pass.

In his letter, Adam Rapaport presents his quest for moderation as a revelation. And maybe it is, and maybe that will end up proving to be an effective way for the magazine’s readers to find their own balance of rich and lean foods. I just wish there were a way to make that happen without demonizing ourselves and encouraging feelings of self-loathing and regret.   cookie dough dip.JPG Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip

This is the holidays, after all. It’s a time for warm drinks and ice skating, long walks with friends and long talks with family. Puppies, sugar cookies, candles, and whatever makes you happy. If it’s an appropriate situation (a pot-luck or cocktail party where the host will appreciate an extra dish), by all means bring something you’ve cooked yourself– if you’ve made enough for everyone at the party. And if you feel better running a few miles before a feast, do it! But don’t do it if you feel like you “have” to in order to look yourself in the eye after eating a few too many cookies. This is something I too have to remind myself: life goes on. Next year, you won’t remember that you ate all of the frosting off those German Chocolate Chip Cupcakes, but you will remember the great conversation you had with your Uncle George.

This holiday season, be good to yourself.

I’ll probably repeat that once or thrice before the end of the year. Please bear with me :-) .

Do you experience holiday guilt? How do you deal with it?

22 comments to Can We Have A Guilt-Free Holiday?

  • katie, this is an incredibly articulate and clearly very passionate post, so i just wanted to say thanks for that. i was having some similar thoughts this morning actually, while reading one of my favorite food (not healthy living!) blogs, which said something along the lines of, “start saving your calories for this recipe now!” my reaction this time, as opposed to past years, was simply one of acceptance. i think it’s unfortunate and frustrating that this perspective runs so rampant throughout the female community, but at this point, i’ve realized that i can’t fight it. it’s there, it’s been there for generations, and no matter what we do, where there is food, there will be talk of weight and calories and guilt.

    what we can control is how we react to that talk, and for me, i’ve learned to just ignore it. we’re independent, strong-minded women in so many ways – diving into major life changes time and time again (just look at the year you’ve had!), dressing confidently, taking risks, etc etc. why shouldn’t we march to our own drum in this respect as well and refuse to get sucked into the mass guilt of the holidays? i spent too long beating myself up, but now i embrace this time of year. after all, it’s a rare few weeks when everyone suddenly shares my year-round love of that amazing combination of good food, good drink, and good company.

  • we have been doing a lot of baking here, and not much in the workout department. so yes feeling a little guilty but trying to enjoy the holiday spirit too!! I am sitting here enjoying a glass of wine, and smiling ;)

  • oh my…it definitely sells magazines and that is why its everywhere! I try to indulge in the unique/holidayish items and eat mostly healthy otherwise. I think moderation is key to life, not just this time of year!

  • Thelonius Monkfish

    “…life goes on. Next year, you won’t remember that you ate all of the frosting off those German Chocolate Chip Cupcakes, but you will remember the great conversation you had with your Uncle George.”

    katydid, i love you. this made me wish you were here so i could give you the biggest hug. and then it made me wish george was here so i could hug him too (maybe next week can culminate in some time with ma, pa, charley brown and g&j? let’s talk and see what we can come up with. i want to see you so hard).


  • Aw Katie, what a great post!
    I sometimes feel guilty that I run out of time to do everything I want– watch every Christmas movie, make every type of cookie, try out every recipe experiment… you’re so right that guilt has no business being in our lives during the holidays!

  • bread'n'withit

    This post should be published in every magazine of every type in the country. When was a girl, back in the 16th Century, the holidays for a time for special treats, especially once-a-year meals and sweets that were only prepared during those wonderful times when the days are short and the nights are long and starry. As an article I read recently noted, while as a culture we stress good, local ingredients, good cooking tools and habits, and the value of preparing meals to share with friends, the media does its best to make us feel bad about doing so.

    Gourmet Magazine, which can in no way be “replaced” by BonAppetit, was “The Magazine of Good Living”. Ruth Reichl, where are you when we need you?

  • Aly

    This is a great post! As a person who experiences a whole lot ‘o guilt whenever she indulges, I appreciate those people/things that help me come back to reality again, and this post was one of them :)
    Keep up the great posts and Happy Holidays!

  • Amen girl! I feel the exact same way. I work at my gym and I always get up in arms about the specials we run in January just to get people in the door. Honestly, the craze NEVER lasts the whole year or else we wouldn’t have to keep doing it year after year. I just wish people would look at the holidays for what they are supposed to be….time of joy, time with family and a time to celebrate all things bright. :)

  • Thank you for this! I’ve been exercising it up this month and watching my food, but a little indulgence (good food, good people, etc), won’t hurt any of us:)

  • Your so spot on! Every single year I’ve felt guilty for what I’ve eaten but life is just too short! I don’t want to eat to ridiculous excess as that makes me feel ill, but I think the reason why I’ve done that in the past is because I have restricted myself and then thought what the hell! I really can’t wait to indulge and enjoy myself this Christmas :-)

  • Thisssss is awesome. You’re SO right, and it’s good to think about things in this light. A little (or a lot) of indulgence will never kill ya..I can’t even remember all the crap I ate last Christmas ( but I survived). I think the less we stress about it, the more healthy we actually eat. Additional hype creates this idea where we think we HAVE to eat allll those cookies and HAVE to feel bad afterwards. not true!

  • word up, miss katie. i agree with leslie – i’ve learned to ignore the bullshit and simply don’t read blog posts/magazine articles that discuss this stuff because i find it rather dull. i know my weight will barely change no matter how many holiday “indulgences” i partake in, and if it does? so what. nobody really cares/notices whatever minimal changes occur in our bodies as a result of eating one too many delicious cookies. sure, i sometimes feel guilty after a week of eating few vegetables and a ton of sugar, but i enjoy the moments shared eating said treats with friends and family enough so that it makes whatever doubts worth it. so when are we getting that pizza again? :)

  • Great post. I agree with many of the above comments- I give those blog posts/articles/annoying people a brief eye-roll and move on. Not worth my time. That sucks that Bon Appetit has succumbed, though. They’re such a great, straight-up food mag. If Chris Kimball of Cooks Illustrated starts writing about his latest juice cleanse, then we will know the apocalypse is nigh.

  • What a great post! I love it. I too have a beef with the women’s magazines (and their Twitter accounts) right now. I love the info they share but am SO sick of hearing about all the ways to “ward off” the “inevitable gains”. Women’s Health even stated in their most recent issue that the average holiday “weight gain” is one pound, and proceeded to give a TON of tips about how to ward that off. One pound, and I have to do all this stuff to “fight” it?! It was so contradictory and the magazine didn’t even acknowledge that. I have never seen one of those mags mention that the average weight gain is not much at all, but when one finally did, I couldn’t believe they didn’t acknowledge that it was quite insignificant. The writing proceeded as usual, as if to say, that one pound is the worst thing ever.

    And I have a relative named George too – but he’s my grandpa. And we have great conversations :)

  • Ginny

    Such a wonderful post!! I concur, completely. So good to read at this time of year!

  • AMEN to that sista. now i’m off to find the best rainbow cookie in town ;) xoxoxoxo

    let’s make it a goal of ours to have a date AT LEAST once a month!

  • aj

    I love that you remind us of this! I too, dread those holiday articles. I find them so… depressing! I hate hearing lists of things I can’t have! I think cleanses are ridiculous. Keeping our body healthy is more about what we DO eat than what we don’t. Everyone of us is going to over indulge at some point over the holidays, and stressing out about it does absolutely no good. I’ve definitely noticed I actually eat like crap when I worry about it. I end up eating a plateful of cookies and treats because I’m so rushed, I don’t even realize the things I’m eating. When I just slow down and give myself permission to enjoy my treats, I don’t go way overboard and I actually feel way better.

  • You said it! I loved this post so much I actually linked to it here:

  • I’m with you on this one. I was watching TV today and reading blogs and felt like I was bombarded with how to make lower calorie holiday treats and weight loss info. I kept thinking “Why would I change a great holiday tradition or recipe?” And then I felt threatened, checked myself, and remembered that I live for holidays like this and indulgence. I miss Christmas in France because there’s so little of this, but such a great focus on tradition, fun activities and family.

  • I definitely experience some holiday guilt, but I don’t fret too much. I exercise, and I expect to indulge. It’s really no surprise when I eat too many cookies. It’s also no surprise when I turn down *some* of the office treats. Give a little – take a little. :)

  • over here in Europe, Christmas time seems even more decadent than in the US. street food is sugary, mulled wine is on every corner, and parties are organized around eating rice pudding (and not the low fat kind). they’re not apologizing for enjoying the holiday season. tis the season for sweaters and a little extra padding for keeping us warm. I’m not really excited to go back to the super self-conscious USA and to feel guilty about eating all of the sweets in my stocking in one go.

  • Lon

    Never tought it would be very easy to claim that significantly about fun vacations for

    Thanks for the details Simone

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