14 Things Not to Feel Guilty About

Feel guilty when you put your feet up to watch a new episode of Trading Spaces? How about when you down a whole candy bar — or you stay out a little later than usual with your book-club pals (or even wish you belonged to a book club)? Guilty again? Time to stop. Turns out that some of the things you think are self-indulgent are actually good for you (and your kids too):

Fantasizing During Sex

It can be good for your marriage. “It’s fine to design scenarios in your head to move your arousal up a notch or bring yourself over the edge,” says Susan Perry, Ph.D., social psychologist and author of Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way. Also, when you fantasize, you take fuller responsibility for your own satisfaction rather than resent that your partner sometimes can’t make it happen. “It’s nothing to feel guilty about, so long as your fantasies aren’t regularly about someone who might become a threat to your relationship if you took real action,” Perry says. Jude Law: harmless!

Eating Chocolate

Hooray — it’s good for you! (Well, sort of.) “Chocolate has more antioxidant power than many nutritious foods, such as strawberries, blueberries, and garlic,” says Jackie Newgent, a registered dietitian in New York City. Believe it or not, you’d have to eat a whole pound of strawberries to get the antioxidants in 2.3 ounces of dark chocolate. Just don’t go loco: We’re not saying you should swap strawberries for candy bars. The fruit has more nutrients and a lot less fat and fewer calories, and it’s much more filling. But you can stop feeling guilty when you have dessert. Thank goodness.

“I used to think that chocolate was taboo,” says Terra Wellington, a mom of three in Phoenix. “I was so self-conscious about my weight that the thought of even one bite would scare me. But I realized that no food is the enemy as long as you control your portions. I satisfy my cravings with a few Hershey’s kisses a day.”

Leaving Your Child at Home

“Getting a babysitter, even if it’s just to run errands, helps me regroup, and it gets my kids used to being around other people,” says Jill Lewis, a mom of three, ages 5, 3, and 1, in New York City. “They also learn things that they wouldn’t from me. Two of our regular sitters are budding artists — I could never dream up the projects they do with my five-year-old.”

Don’t feel bad about having a sitter come in for a few hours, even if it’s only so you can buy lettuce in peace. It’s better for everybody, really. “Many moms might not think to leave their child unless it’s for an evening out. But having someone sit while you get things done on occasion is amazingly therapeutic,” says Peggy Alvarado, a mom of two in Manalapan, New Jersey, and a parent coach who helps new moms and dads adjust to life with kids. “Because so many child-related tasks seem never-ending, the sense of accomplishment can really keep your stamina up, and your child would surely rather be doing something other than all those errands.”

Eating Because You’re Happy or Sad

Comfort food gets such a bad rap. It’s okay to eat “bad” stuff sometimes  — and yes, even when you’re not really hungry. It helps keep you from feeling deprived, says Marsha Hudnall, program director of Green Mountain at Fox Run, a women’s lifestyle retreat in Ludlow, Vermont. Of course, if you frequently eat for emotional reasons — because you’re feeling sad or bored, for instance — it’s important to explore why and find other ways to cope. Otherwise, eating in a basically healthy way on a regular basis means you’re free to eat a plate of french fries on a Friday night (or Wednesday afternoon) just because you’re in the mood  — or just because they taste so good. So dig in, and hold the guilt.

Having a Hobby

Even if it means less time with your child, do what you love. You don’t have to put aside a hobby or interest because you’re a mom. It can be something you work on at home: Sarah Kearney of Portland, Oregon, does needlepoint while her 2-year-old, Phoebe, watches DVDs. Or it can take you out of the house: Kathy Waugh of Ann Arbor, Michigan, loves to act and recently performed in a local amateur production of Chicago. What matters isn’t what you choose to do, but that it makes you feel like you again. You’ll feel rejuvenated by it  — and end up a much happier mom for your kids. “It’s amazing what working out at a health club does for my peace of mind,” says Teresa DeSimone, a mom of three kids under 6 in Prior Lake, Minnesota. “I feel great by the time I get home to my family.”

Watching TV

Seeing funny shows on the tube releases tension and makes people feel happier, a recent study finds. So go ahead and tune in to some Will & Grace therapy, and stop worrying that it’s bad for you. “To chill out, I often watch a couple of hours of TV on the weekend,” says Ponteir Sackrey of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a mom of two. “Frankly, I find it quite restorative. I feel refreshed when I return to work on Monday, and not running around seeking ‘fulfilling’ activities has been a relief.”

Dropping Out of Yoga or Spinning

You heard it here: It’s okay to forget about a form of exercise you really don’t like. Despite its popularity, “om-ing” isn’t for everyone. If the only reason you’re doing yoga  — or running on a treadmill, or taking a spinning class  — is because you think you should, ditch it and find a workout you actually enjoy. “When people ask me what the best exercise is, I always ask, ‘What keeps you coming back for more?'” says Neil Maki, a spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. “Despite TV testimonials and fitness trends, there is no ultimate workout. Do what you truly like, and you’ll lose the baby fat.” It doesn’t matter if you end up dancing, biking, or jumping on a mini-trampoline. If it’s fun, go for it. If the shoe doesn’t fit, it’s time to move on.

Taking a Long Lunch

Whether you’re in your kitchen or your office, making the time to eat a good lunch will help prevent that afternoon dip in alertness, says Cynthia Sass, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “Many moms don’t make lunch a priority because it’s often the busiest time of the day, but whether you’re taking care of a child, working, running errands, or cleaning, your body needs fuel to do that work.” Skip filling up, and you’ll start to feel run-down, irritable, or moody. Sarah Kearney and her daughter take time out of their busy day to sit and eat lunch together — but Mom reads The New York Times while Phoebe “reads” her Sesame Street magazine. Having a break in the day like this helps them both have better afternoons.

Another reason to eat lunch: If you don’t, your body will try to perform with less fuel, and you’ll end up burning fewer calories. “Then later, when most people are less active  — resting, watching TV, reading — they give their bodies more fuel than they need. That’s what leads to weight gain,” says Sass. So, try to schedule at least 20 minutes for a balanced lunch. In the end, you’ll save time because you’ll have more energy.

Getting a Life

Seeing friends is more than just fun — it may keep your mind sharp, according to a University of Michigan study. “I used to feel extreme guilt about meeting up with friends after being at work all day,” says Renée Amellio, a mother of two in Allenhurst, New Jersey. “But I realized that the only way to keep my sanity given my hectic schedule was to think of myself a little bit and have some fun — and that my kids wouldn’t love me any less for it.”

Eating Fast Food

Hitting a fast-food joint needn’t spell a diet disaster. All you have to do is choose that drive-through meal carefully. For instance, a Taco Bell bean burrito, a good source of calcium and fiber, has 370 calories and 10 grams of fat and will surely fill you up. A Wendy’s Jr. hamburger? It has 270 calories and 9 grams of fat and is a source of protein, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. For pizza fans, two slices of Pizza Hut Hand Tossed Veggie Lover’s 14-inch pizza has 400 calories and 12 grams of fat and contains calcium and antioxidants.

Logging On

You have a million things to do and yet you’re e-mailing a friend? Don’t stress over the “wasted” time. If something has happened to upset you (and when was a day with a baby or toddler ever a picnic from start to finish?), sending an e-mail can be a health booster. The reason: Writing forces you to organize your thoughts and helps you understand what’s really going on and how it makes you feel. So vent, explain, hit “send,” and then get back to your to-do list. Amber Warfield of Union Bridge, Maryland, can relate to that. She has two different groups of online friends she e-mails regularly. “I can talk to them about things I wouldn’t say to my friends locally. I don’t feel judged or worry that it’ll get around the grapevine, and it really helps,” she says.

Using Sex to Tune Out Troubles

Feeling lousy about the cost of the bathroom repair? Annoyed at your husband for coming home late? Instead of sticking to your side of the bed, it’s okay if the two of you use sex to soothe yourselves. Experts say it’s normal to deal with emotional discomfort through physical contact. “Some people, men especially, find that sex takes the edge off stressful events,” says Hilda Hutcherson, M.D., author of What Your Mother Never Told You About Sex. “Sex has been shown to decrease stress, so if you can relax enough to get into it, it just might help.”

Getting Plenty of Shut-Eye

Lots of slumber can sharpen your mind, lift your spirits, and keep your weight in check. Experts say eight hours is ideal — but most of us get less than seven. It can seem impossible to find any time to snooze, what with the baby crying, the toddler sick, and the dirty dishes calling. But save the chores for later and take a nap when your child does. Leave the baby with her doting dad and go to bed early one night this week. It’s more than fine — you’ll all benefit.

Being a Single-Tasker

If we’re not doing a million things at once — and doing them brilliantly-many of us feel inadequate as a mother, wife, employee, or friend. But research shows that multitasking is actually counterproductive, since every time you switch from one task to another, you lose time. Focus on one thing and you’ll actually get more done. Which is better all around, since you’ll wind up with more time to do the things you like — with the people you love.

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