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Food and Guilt

March 17, 2019 0 Comments

Here’s a scenario. You’ve done well eating all day and when you finally get a moment to sit down all you can think about are the cookies you have sitting on the counter. The justification begins. “Well, I’ve been doing well all day so eating just two cookies wouldn’t be a bad thing. I think I’ve earned them.” So you eat them and with that comes the tremendous shame and guilt you put on yourself. “Why did I do that? I’m such a fool! I just ruined my entire day!” You suffer from what is better known as emotional eating. That pang of guilt after eating something unhealthy was something that many battle with and say that it’s their “root” of all evil.

Where/When Did This All Start?

Think back to when you were really young and you were praised for eating. Eating to get big and strong was a good thing. But at the same time, if you ate a cookie before dinner, we were told no and made to feel guilty. Then, as you got older there came a lot of pressure. You shouldn’t eat too much, otherwise you would put on weight. That was the message that was coming from friends, family and many other negative influences. The mindset shifted from being “good” because you had finished all the food that had been given to you, to being “bad” because you had eaten everything. Being “good” now meant restricting what we were eating and not enjoying food as much as we once did. That has lead to a lot of confusion well into adulthood and a lot of guilt has come with it. We know so much more about our nutrition now which is definitely a good thing, but along with that does come more guilt if we let it. Eating is no longer just a pleasurable act; it is loaded with guilt, fear and shame. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

Good vs. Bad

Understanding that putting labels on food as either “good” or “bad” is where it all begins. There are no such things and is indicative of having an unhealthy relationship with food. By labeling foods as such gives food the power when in reality you possess the power. If you eat the cookies and feel guilty about it, guess what? Nothing is going to take it back and worrying obsessively about it is not going to change that you ate it. It is just going to escalate the problem. The guilt felt usually makes you feel so much worse than if you just say to yourself, “Been there, done it, move on.” It’s an all or nothing mentality and that attitude isn’t going to get you anywhere. By eating the cookies does not mean you have ruined everything and it doesn’t automatically erase how well you have been eating before. Weight gain comes from consistently eating more than you are burning – not doing it once a while. So skip the guilt! There are no “good” or “bad” foods, there are just consistent habits.

Moderation is King

We put so much pressure on ourselves to have a “perfect” diet, comparing ourselves to how “good” people are eating and how “bad” we have been ourselves. All that this pressure and guilt actually does is take the pleasure out of eating, because it certainly doesn’t change what you have eaten. There is no such thing as a “perfect” diet so stop right there. The only diet you ever need to be concerned with is the one that works for YOU, not your neighbor or next celebrity endorsement. Once you can begin to grasp that concept there is nothing to ever feel guilty about. EVER! It goes without saying, moderation of all things will forever be the best advice you could ever receive. You can learn from your eating habits and learn to make better ones without beating yourself up about it constantly.

Steps for Success

  • Identify Triggers. Triggers can sneak up on you without you knowing. Whether it be a certain food item or a certain someone that pressures you to indulge. Do you eat when you are stressed? Do you eat when you are depressed? Do you sneak food to eat alone in secret? Identifying what causes the trigger is the first step to solving the problem. Remind yourself so you can be on the lookout when it happens. Go easy on yourself, and remember overcoming emotional eating is all about progress, not perfection.
  • Make Time for Yourself. Find a place to channel your feelings and learn how to cope, whether it be a workou or a hobby.When you feel an urge coming on, channel the energy into your outlet. Instead of focusing on the food, remove yourself from the situation. Take a walk. Call a friend.
  • Out of Sight, Out of Mind. The easiest one of all. Don’t bring it into your house! If the food item isn’t present, there’s a really good chance there’s nothing to feel guilty about. But if you find yourself getting into your car to go out and grab something or leave your desk to hit the cafeteria remind yourself if the time was worth the value. Time can never be replaced but value in yourself can only improve.

Putting an end to emotional eating will take time and patience, so go easy on yourself. Apply these tips when you feel like you need a boost to overcome any urges to much, simply because of emotional circumstances.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

About the Author:

Jeff Harrison is a fitness coach based in Pottstown, PA. He received a BS in Exercise and Sport Science from Penn State University and is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), NSCA Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) and ACE Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist (ACE-AHFS). Jeff's articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals as well as consumer oriented websites and magazines.

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