The following is an email I sent to Redbook magazine after reading the last page of their November issue. It was a flowchart of various aspects of the decision making process about whether to indulge in what you want on Thanksgiving.
Reading the November 2011 issue of your magazine, I was concerned when I got to the last page and saw your “Be good or indulge?” chart. As a person who has lost 70 pounds by eating healthy but never restricting myself from eating my favorite foods, I’m troubled by some of the messages in this chart. I realize that this is just supposed to be for fun, but you have included many misconceptions that can have troubling effects on women. First, I want to say I appreciate parts of it. Considering whether a treat has nutritional value, and whether it is a “gateway food” [note: the article meant this as whether it is likely to lead to eating more and more foods, like how getting an extra piece of turkey leads to more gravy which leads to a buttered roll] is a great idea. However, the question about whether you are okay with looking like Mrs. Claus is problematic. First, it suggests that the reason people should eat healthy is primarily based on the results it has on appearance, as opposed to general health. Second, while it is obviously an exaggeration, the idea that one meal will make one gain a lot of weight may be an idea that really is something people are concerned about (otherwise why would multiple articles talk about making good decisions at this one meal), so this just is perpetrating that idea. Instead, it’s better to consider the value of everyday decisions about eating, as opposed to just worrying about holidays. Next, I was concerned about the question about whether you could compensate by just eating celery the next day. This is a terrible idea, but unfortunately it is one that I see people engaging in after they eat too much one day. Just eating celery the next day will do nothing except make the person miserable and crave more food, and the resulting cycle of overindulging and then not eating is not healthy. Finally, the premise of the whole page is that there is a dichotomy between being good and indulging, and this is simply not the case. By “be good” you must be referring to doing that which is best for your health (and appearance), but the way to be able to maintain a lifelong lifestyle of eating healthy is to frequently indulge in small amounts of one’s favorite foods. Very few people could go most of their life without indulging in their favorite foods, but luckily a healthy lifestyle does not require this restriction.
Many women get advice from your magazine, and features like this could have implications for their thinking about food, so I urge you to consider this before you print ideas like this in the future. I’d like to end by saying that the Ask Hungry Girl short article just a few pages before was an excellent one which had good messages and excellent ideas for how to enjoy yourself without overindulging.