Did you have an extra slice of pumpkin pie over the weekend? Or some extra buffalo tofu wings with whatever football game you were probably watching? Or, for those of you who were just enjoying a regular old weekend, an extra brownie? An extra scoop of ice cream?
If you did, and I hope you did, I trust that you truly and mindfully enjoyed your indulgence. But if that extra piece of pie is weighing heavy on your mind, let’s talk.
I hear from a lot of people struggling with food guilt, and I hear and see it around me every day. From the colleague who has a ‘naughty’ bread roll with her soup to the friend struggling to kick a daily sweets habit, food guilt is rampant among the health conscious, and it can become seriously damaging if left unchecked.
So, where does food guilt come from anyways? First and foremost, I blame the mainstream media for both perpetuating the myth of an ideal body type and for labeling foods as either good or bad. We’ve been lead to believe that indulgence is a bad thing. Many popular ways of eating (diets, for lack of a better term) are constructed around avoiding indulgence altogether and foods are labeled as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. We’re taught/conditioned/told to avoid ‘bad’ foods, and feel bad about ourselves when we give into temptation.
I refuse to think of treats, or any food for that matter as bad. Your mom’s chocolate chip cookies? Fresh baked bread? Pizza? Ice cream? Not bad! Shoving chocolate chip cookies into your mouth day in and day out? Well that’s not a healthy and balanced diet, but let's be clear on that being very different from occasional indulgence.
We all overindulge from time to time. It happens, and that’s ok. But if every time you have a little bit of chocolate or a bread roll you’re battling with excessive shame, guilt, and regret, this is a sign of something more serious.
So, how do we avoid food guilt?
1. Stop labeling foods as good or bad.
Right now. Stop it. All food is inherently good, and we should be thankful for it. Rather than looking at certain foods through the lens of good or bad, focus on balancing your week. A Saturday afternoon indulgence of pizza and beer doesn’t look so bad when you look at it in the context of an entire week of mostly balanced plant-heavy eating.
Also, don’t be so hard on yourself. You are not good or bad based on what you eat. Your character, identity, and values don’t go away just because you ate a bowl of ice cream. Remember that food is fuel. It nourishes us, it doesn’t define us.
2. Listen to your body.
If you’re hungry, eat! Many guilt-inducing binge outs occur because we simply get too hungry. When you get into that place you lose the ability to portion control, and often just reach for the first thing we find – not necessarily the food choice we would have made if we weren’t irrationally hungry.
3. Plan indulgences!
I’m a huge advocate of this! It’s so much easier to stay on track with healthy eating 80% of the time if you know something great is around the corner. Trying to cut something you really like entirely out of your diet doesn’t work. I’ve seen many people try to completely give up sugar (or whatever) only to crash and binge.
I plan small indulgences during the week, like a couple of squares of really dark chocolate with my evening tea a few times a week. But I save my big indulgences, like brownies and ice cream, for the weekend.
Once you start planning indulgences and allow yourself the foods you love, you’ll notice that food isn’t such a big deal. It’s no problem walking past the office cookie drawer on Thursday knowing you’re going to have amazing brownies and ice cream on Friday.
4. Eat mindfully.
Mindful eating can be a real challenge, but an important one. It means not eating in front of a screen, robotically shoving food into your mouth not even really tasting it.
You can cook mindfully too! For example, one day recently I was really craving a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup on a day I would normally have salad for dinner. I told myself if I really wanted this I could have it, but I’d have to make it myself. So I took the time to make the soup from scratch. I found really good bread for the sandwich. And when I meal was ready, I put down the spoon or sandwich in between each bite and didn’t pick it back up until I was truly ready for the next mouthful. Until I did this exercise I didn’t realize how often I eat mechanically, never letting go of my utensils.
5. Take joy in food!
Remember that food is pleasure! We tend to eat treats in shame when we should be embracing them. If chocolate cake is your thing, plan for the best chocolate cake there is. If it’s pizza, go for a gooey slice. Choose something you know you’ll really enjoy, at eat slowly to ensure you’ll savor every last bite.
You’ll notice there are no recipes on The Muffin Myth with words like ‘skinny’ or ‘guilt-free’ in the title. That’s been a very conscious decision on my part to not buy into ideals that create guilt around food. The Muffin Myth is a guilt-free zone, so let's work together to end food guilt.
Struggling with food guilt or trying to eat more mindfully? Let’s talk!