Food Guilt: The Joy Thief
Oh food guilt, for some people you may never appear, but for others, you can become a thief of the joy that surrounds food. I wanted to get a little more personal today and talk a bit about my relationship with food guilt and also about why you need to tell it to bugger off and get out of your life for good. Most people have felt the pangs of food guilt at least once, but for some people like myself, the guilt can be a daily struggle that can consume your thoughts entirely.
Let's paint a picture shall we? It's Mother's Day, as a treat to my mum I decided to make us crepes for breakfast, sparing nothing when it comes to fillings and toppings so that she feels utterly spoiled - a delicious plateful. Mum enjoys it thoroughly and it makes me so happy to see how much she loved them, but before I have even taken my first bite, in fact, even from the moment the thought of making crepes popped in to my head, I felt guilty. Of course the crepes are delicious, but with every bite the guilt and shame becomes worse and worse. Thoughts like "I shouldn't be eating this" or "you don't deserve this" or "you are going to get fat from this" fill my head and usually ruin the meal. Sometimes they can be pushed out of my head while I am enjoying a meal with friends, but usually the second I leave they come crashing over me and send me in to a spiral of negative thoughts towards myself. On this day though it was Mother's Day, we had the whole family coming over for lunch and Mum and I had cooked up a spread of food - quiche, pasta salad, a greek tart, tagine, bruschetta and lots of puddings. All homemade, fresh and mostly healthy but with every further bit of food and sip of wine the guilt worsens. Sometimes it's not even specific thoughts, just this overwhelming feeling of wrongdoing and shame. After everyone leaves I feel so bad about what I have eaten that I genuinely feel like I have put on weight or my stomach and thighs are suddenly bigger. I don't eat anything for the rest of the day, even though in reality I haven't even had that much. I go to bed feeling disgusted with myself and resolve to eat less and much healthier tomorrow - and I do, I continue to restrict the next day until this cycle starts again.
For some people this may sound utterly ridiculous, and it is, but I know that this will resonate with those of you who have suffered from disordered eating. The sad thing is that most people know how ridiculous these thoughts are, and if you bring up this guilt with anyone they will tell you how ridiculous they are but it doesn't matter, they still fill your head. This mindset that we don't deserve this food and we aren't worthy of a slice of cake is sadly all too common. It manifests itself in many different varieties, some people only feel a bit of guilt if they have a large volume of foods whereas for others it is more about the type of food and then there are some people who are set off by everything and anything. It truly becomes a thief of joy, you can no longer enjoy food or the lovely social occasions that come with it.
Why this Mindset is Bollocks
The truth is, we ALL deserve to eat food and to enjoy it. It is a basic human need to eat food and we should honour our body's need and not feel guilty about it. You should enjoy that cake because it is your brother's birthday, or enjoy the heavy, delicious 3 course meal that your grandma cooked for you from scratch. We deserve to get joy out of food and not have to think about what we ate or what we are going to eat, day in and day out. It is an obsessive, destructive behaviour that isn't going to benefit you in any way. You aren't going to suddenly gain weight because you had a serving of pudding, so stop thinking about it! Enjoy that pudding, enjoy the occasion and tell the food guilt to bugger off and leave you alone for good.
If Only it Were That Easy
Trust me, I know this is easier said than done. I have suffered with feelings like this for years and years and I still do to this day. I am not sure that I will ever just be able to not think about what I have eaten, but I am learning to think about it in a more positive way. The tale I told above is a rare day for me now, I certainly still have little twinges on a day to day basis, but I barely ever get to the point where it makes me restrict and starve myself anymore. Here are a few tips that helped me along the way:
- Learning more about our body's appetite regulation has taught me that our bodies are pretty amazing at telling use when to eat and when not to eat. It helps me to think that if you are listening to these signals and following them, you truly aren't overeating, you are just giving the body what it needs.
- Really focus on how amazing your food is, the effort and money that went in to cooking it and savour it. What is the point in cooking an amazing meal or going out for a lovely dinner if you aren't going to enjoy it at all?
- Stop looking at calories and nutritional information, just stop it! I have the worst habit of looking up the nutritional information of foods or scouring a restaurant's nutritional data before eating and it truly ruins the meal. Never look at the calories because it will only ever make you feel guilty, instead pick based on how hungry you are and what you WANT.
- Don't food shame out loud or engage in food guilt conversations. Saying things like "I really shouldn't of had that second slice of pie" or "so many naughty foods at the party today" just reinforces these thoughts in your head. Stopping these conversations also helps stop you from having them in your head.
- Once you have eaten the meal, stop thinking about it. The food is in your body at that point and continually thinking about it won't change anything. So enjoy it and then move on, it's not normal to think about a meal for hours on end.
- Read the book Intuitive Eating - I highly recommend this for anyone that has a slightly difficult relationship with food. It is has changed the way I think about food and my body completely
This won't be an overnight journey, you will have relapses and these thoughts may stick with you in some form for the rest of your life, but the only way you are ever going to get them to go away is to actively work against them. That story I told earlier is what I was like about two years ago, today I did have crepes and a party but I maybe had two fleeting thoughts about what I ate and that was it. Instead I had an amazing day celebrating my mum and spending time with my family and most importantly, I enjoyed my food. We all deserve to eat guilt-free so if any of this resonates with you then you owe it to yourself to try - stop letting food steal your joy.