Why oc­ca­sional in­dul­gences can make you happy and healthy

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The cur­rent ob­ses­sion with ‘clean eat­ing’ has much to an­swer for. The or­thorexic stars of In­sta­gram, in­ven­tors of this purist style of con­sump­tion, have fed the na­tion on their mud­dled ob­ses­sion with healthy food, cre­at­ing a whole new set of di­etary dik­tats that brand foods as ei­ther ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – de­spite the fact that, for in­stance, our bod­ies can­not tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween or­ganic honey and white su­gar.

But pro­fes­sional nu­tri­tional ex­perts agree that it is de­nial and guilt that should be cleared off our plates com­pletely if we are to be happy, healthy eaters. Ac­cord­ing to Re­nee Mc­Gre­gor, a per­for­mance and clin­i­cal di­eti­tian, the pro­lif­er­a­tion of the new ar­bi­trary al­i­men­tary rules ‘set up a de­pri­va­tion cy­cle that preys on the wor­ried well, for whom go­ing gluten-, su­gar- and dairy-free seems like sim­ple guide­lines to live by. De­mon­is­ing food re­ally wor­ries me’.

Hygge, by con­trast, is nour­ish­ment for both stom­ach and soul: find­ing joie de vivre in a glass of red wine, say­ing ‘yes’ to a slice of cake af­ter a coun­try walk, sip­ping a frothy cap­puc­cino (prefer­ably with your near­est and dear­est), down­ing a warm­ing bowl of home­made soup with a slice of freshly baked bread, just be­cause it tastes so good. And the rea­son it does taste good is partly be­cause the feel-good hor­mone, dopamine, in­creases im­me­di­ately af­ter su­gar and fat in­take. More­over, as the nu­tri­tion­ist Eve Kalinik points out, eat­ing foods you like is ben­e­fi­cial. ‘If you don’t re­ally en­joy what you eat or take your time to rest and di­gest a meal, your body is in a con­stant state of stress, which af­fects the di­ges­tion.’

Ian Mar­ber, the au­thor of How Not To Get Fat, agrees. ‘The plea­sure of an oc­ca­sional hot choco­late far out­weighs the risk of type 2 di­a­betes. Good eat­ing is about be­ing con­sid­ered and kind – all this ric­o­chet­ing from “good” to “bad” foods makes for an awk­ward re­la­tion­ship with our meals, where we in­dulge one day only to pun­ish our­selves the next, caus­ing in­evitable weight gain. The truth is that choos­ing what you want to eat three times a day should never cause angst.’ That mod­er­a­tion he speaks of may not work so well on In­sta­gram, but it is a far health­ier, more en­joy­able and more sus­tain­able way to eat. ky

First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wil­son, £12.99 (4th Es­tate)

Sweet Al­mond & Mac­a­roon Scented Can­dle, £42 Jo Malone Lon­don

Dark Choco­late Brazil Nuts & Sea Salt, £8.95 The Choco­late So­ci­ety

The Happy Mol­e­cule, £20 Foun­tain at Net-A-Porter

Re­vi­tal­is­ing Hand Cream, £14 Green & Spring

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