Mardi Gras may be fun, and giving up chocolate for Lent might be virtuous, but I say it’s all bad for you. I have nothing against New Orleans, nor am I calling out the weight or health of Louisianians, but Fat Tuesday is making us fat, and so are all the other holidays that celebrate a binge-and-purge mentality.
Most people who celebrate Fat Tuesday are probably in it for the beads, beer, and bingeing; not the 40 days of sacrifice that follow. But even if you could care less about tonight’s revelry or tomorrow’s start to fasting, you’ve probably participated in a similar tradition: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s are like the trilogy behind America’s perverse relationship with indulgence and penance. We love to work hard then play hard, eat hard then diet hard, and then we like to justify our bipolar behavior by talking about how we’ve found “balance.” But toggling back and forth between extremes isn’t healthy, balanced, or sane. (And it’s more than likely going to make you look and feel like shit, too.)
The word “moderation” practically comes with an eyeroll, yawn, and snore; it certainly doesn’t make a good party theme. Celebrations wouldn’t be celebrations if we only drank one beer and took half a slice of cake, so holidays, special events, and vacations have become synonymous with indulgence; hangovers and holiday weight gain the badge of honor that we all bear to prove that we know how to have a good time. And while a slight twinge of conscience might catch us in the act; we soothe ourselves by promising to repent by going dry, going on a diet, and making the gym our new church. “A dozen martinis might be ridiculous, and I probably shouldn’t eat these cheese puffs, but I’ll more than make up for it with my New Year’s Resolution,” we tell ourselves at ten different holiday parties.
Holding back might seem “boring,” but bingeing and fasting isn’t mentally or physically healthy, either. Your metabolism, stress levels, and immune system all suffer from a lifestyle of extremes (bad metabolism = difficulty maintaining weight; high stress levels = an all-around poorly functioning body and things like lackluster hair and skin; immune system = being sick more often, missing work, and depleting your bank account). And mentally, we’re trapping ourselves in an almost-pathological cycle of extremes (last time I checked, bingeing and purging was a diagnosed eating disorder). If you think that in the end, it will all “balance out,” think again: Putting your body through polar extremes can only equal a net loss.
So what’s the treatment for the Mardi Gras disease? You already know what to do: moderate. Go get a drink tonight (not 10). Have a slice of King’s cake (not two). And if you’re making sacrifices (for Jesus or for yourself), remember that your reward is good health, not an Easter weekend full of debauchery and drinks. This prescription probably won’t be the life of your next party, but getting fat, stressed, exhausted, and irritable won’t improve your social life, either.
Let the good times roll, but don’t let them make you manic and fat.