I am a self-confessed, trying-hard-but-still-not-good-enough 89% vegan. If I am not riddled with guilt over the palm oil in my protein bar or the avocados from Peru I’m smashing onto sourdough like there’s no tomorrow, then I’m spiralling into self-loathing over the two scones and outrageous slice of chocolate cake I just inhaled. Which, naturally, only leads to more comfort cake-eating.
Too often, we set impossible standards (or allow society to set them for us) that can only ever result in failure. Aren’t you sick of it? Of lugging around this unidentifiable guilt that gnaws at you for even thinking of desiring something we’ve been conditioned to believe is “bad”? Of obsessively counting calories, of lusting after all manner of gluttonous concoctions, salivating compulsively over something that the second we attain suddenly becomes rancid, poisoned and all we can think of are the miles we need to run or calories we need to restrict in order to nullify it?
This may sound facetious but I believe the answer can be found in laminated butter. I.e. a croissant. Embracing the thing we are most scared of – the “bad” foods, the night off, the pyjama day – ends a hamster wheel of negativity because, in embracing it, in bringing shame out into the light, we are taking control over it. Demystifying it, normalising it, and, finally, allowing ourselves to enjoy it. Setting one small ritual a week – in my case, a mindful pastry – holds the potential for rippling change as it returns enjoyment to us, and brings stability and tranquillity back into too-busy lives.
Indulgence is too frequently equated with negativity and deprivation with achievement. The result is an internalised narrative in which a croissant is “bad”, and its consumption is akin to the one-night-stand you swore wouldn’t happen again: a brief moment of masochistic pleasure followed by shame, regret, self-loathing, and invariably, indigestion. What a waste of churned and salted heaven! My solution? Taking ownership of that shame and turning it into something joyful, anointing it with status, time, and love. Twisting this act of private failure – failing at being a vegan, failing at resisting temptation – into a positive occasion, the ‘mindful pastry’ was born.
The premise is simple: self-love instead of self-sabotage. I decided if I was going to feel guilty about eating something I considered “bad”, I wouldn’t eat it. Not because it really was bad – either for the environment or for me – but because this negative attitude was inhibiting the enjoyment it should excite, which made the eating pointless. If I could promise myself that I could have something without then self-flagellating over my supposed “indulgence”, then it was mine to savour.
The result was surprising and far-reaching. Creating dedicated time to enjoy something I really wanted took away the almost adulterous lust I felt for every other baked good that came my way. Mindless eating and fervent face-stuffing were suddenly not just unnecessary but redundant in the face of something that was becoming almost religious. Why would I cheapen something sacred with a meaningless fling with a cookie that I didn’t want anyway? In the manoeuvrings of my everyday routines, choice and the power of ‘no’ – or ‘yes’ – were bestowed once more upon me as I realised, and forgive me if this is something I should already know, that I could choose either option without an agonising crisis of identity. I didn’t have to seethe with resentment as I ploughed through packed lunches and chowed down on lentils as I hankered for cheese toasties, I didn’t need to spend the entire commute home riddled with self-loathing over the gym class I skipped; I could delight in a ‘night off’ without the incumbent guilt.
I was anchored by the ritual and the promise of mouth-watering delight. My mindful pastry returned awareness to not only the decisions I made on a daily basis but rather how I felt about those decisions. It was no longer about restriction but about ownership and, in being fully cognisant of how I was treating my body and why, guilt dissipated, and happiness began.
However, the pastry itself (delectable and buttery as it is) is only half responsible for this transformation. Turns out, it’s the holistic experience of the ritual I’ve found myself craving week on week. In life’s hectic chaos, enjoying the basic machinations of routine is fast slipping away from us – a mindful pastry affords me a return to the simple pleasure of time.
Time to sit, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, and take in the world unfolding around me. Time to shake out life like a clean linen sheet, wringing it of usual worries and ironing it smooth into an altar of experience. Time, in the frenetic rush of breakfasts gulped over a keyboard and unread emails, dinners hashed together in one-pot frenzy, to be fully present in the act of nourishing my body. It is a gift both liberating and anchoring, sustaining me through difficult weeks and freeing me from that which no longer serves. How often do we dedicate ourselves and allocate our time completely to joy, untethered from preoccupations, guilt, panic? Without checking our phones, without wondering if everyone else in the café thinks we’re sad, without the urge to freefall into frantic to-do lists or look busy?
It is a rarity becoming an oddity and yet it is vital. The art of enjoyment – pure and unadulterated and without inhibition or self-consciousness – is being diluted, forgotten but it is there to be reclaimed in the bubbled layers of pastry.
I am never going to stop adoring butter. Maybe you are never going to enjoy exercise. But we try. Let’s celebrate that effort not with self-sabotaging recklessness but with mindful self-love. Embrace indulgence, whatever shape that takes, and carve it with care and love into your week. Anticipate it. Look forward to it. Treasure it with rolling eyes, inappropriate groans, and hand-wringing reverence. It might just change your life.
Holly Hughes is a writer, avid horoscope reader, optimist, more often cynic, and lover of all things pastry and potato-related. You can find her musings at www.earnestandethereal.com or follow her at @earnest_ethereal for self-indulgence and occasional profundity.