This time of year, by tradition, involves resolutions. Well, not here, of course – apart from a sense of resolve that no resolutions will be made and, therefore, none broken.
Have you noticed how the bulk of the resolutions that you hear about are negative? In effect, they are about denial; about changing behaviour that was, presumably, quite enjoyable, to behaviour that is, following this logic, less enjoyable.
So someone’s giving up booze, for instance, or chocolates. Or going on a general diet.
Why now? Do a massive number of people really eat and drink so much over the festive period that they actually need to diet just to get back to where they were before Advent?
And if they do, will these be some of the same people who, after the flush of new year’s resolution self-satisfaction has worn off, will find Lent cropping up to keep them on the straight and narrow?
If anything, Lent is even more confusing than these new year resolutions.
In recent years, one of the glories of the internet has been the discovery that the popularity of Lent seems to be growing among those who have no religious interest in it.
It has become a time to give up something for something you don’t believe in.
Unless, of course, you do believe in it – and then you get to play pick and mix. I recall an incident a few years ago of a young woman on an internet forum arriving online to declare, with great pride (a sin, surely?) that she was giving up something or other for the duration.
Now, this was someone who had also declared, more than once, her core religiosity.
So, because sometimes I can post faster than it takes my brain to re-think myself out of writing something, I asked whether she hadn’t considered giving up sex outside marriage first (or at least contraception) since these two were far higher on the list of her chosen religion’s ‘bad list’ than the consumption of a few Mars bars.
Then, just as you’ve reached Easter and been able to cheer yourself up a bit, it’s time for the new diet to give you your ‘beach body’.
If you’re really desperate, there’s the much-advertised one where you substitute two proper meals a day for a bowl of torn cardboard pieces, as recommended by a certain major manufacturer of said cardboard bits in a nod in entirely the opposite direction to really sensible and sustainable eating habits.
So it seems that culturally, we spend half the year at least in a state of denial of pleasure – and let’s face it, in the UK, ‘use up your flour and eggs) doesn’t even offer a meaningful blow-out before Lent kicks in.
It all begs a few questions. A cycle of binge, purge, binge, purge is no more healthy than binge, binge – so why not just get your lifestyle sorted out if you really believe that’s a problem?
But then again, is it any coincidence that so many resolutions – at new year and later – involve dieting?
In Western Europe, sales of weight-loss products, excluding prescription medications, topped £900 in 2009. In the US, the weight-loss industry is apparently worth more than $50bn – that’s a whopping £32.4bn. [Story]
The cycle of diet and binge may not do us any good, but it's not bad for some businesses and, therefore, for the economy as a whole.
And when we realise that faddy diets, the desire to be ultra skinny and the obsession with celebrities’ weight are not new, but can, in part at least, be viewed as products of an era that has been characterised as generally puritanical, then it’s hard not to see something inherently unhealthy and unbalanced in the entire matter.
So the only thing I’m going to resolve this January is to try to make this as voluptuous a year as possible.
Here’s to 2012.