Let me know if this sounds familiar. You have just spent the weekend eating bad food, cheating on your diet and generally “being bold.” You awaken on Monday morning, full of regret and recrimination, ready for a week of deprivation, self-flagellation and generally “being good.” By the time Friday rolls around, you are half starved, emotionally exhausted and your will power reserves are utterly depleted, and so the cycle continues.
You are not alone in this. The problem is systemic. The food and diet industries have, for decades, been encouraging us to label foods as either good or bad. So much so that it has become engrained in our culture and seriously impacts the way we relate to the foods we eat. Tempting treats are labelled as “sinful” or “guilty pleasures.” Slimming clubs give their members an allowance of sins or points to be used during the week. Even healthy foods are often being tagged as “guilt free” or “be good.” This idea that food is something to feel guilty about is deeply disordered and can be highly damaging.
Food is a part of life. It fuels us and sustains us. Depending on your personal goals, some foods may serve you better than others. The ultra-marathon runner will have significantly different dietary requirements than the physique model, but both are equally valid. Personally, at the moment I am trying to cut a little body fat. I am currently sitting at around 20% and would like to get down to about 18%. Through working with nutrition advisors in my gym and by getting to know my own body and how it works, I have a fairly good idea about what I will need to do in order to achieve that. If I go off plan, I am ok with it. Eating for pleasure is important both for my sanity and for the role it plays in sustaining a social life. I do not feel guilty about it.
That wasn’t always the case. Like many others when I first started trying to lose weight, I joined a slimming club. The weekly weigh in was reminiscent of being to confession as a child. I didn’t enjoy standing on the scales in front of a stranger and being asked to account for the week gone by. I lost count of the number of times a disappointing result on the scales sent me straight to the local chipper! Little by little I began to realise that I was using the numbers on the scales to validate my efforts. It was then I decided to go in a different direction.
If you find yourself locked in the cycle I have described, I would like to remind you of a few things;
- You are only accountable to yourself – Despite how many likes the food photos you post get, nobody really cares what you eat.
- Decide what is important to you – Set your own goals, and put habits in place to help you to achieve them. Let these goals be what guides your eating behaviours, not a misplaced sense of shame or guilt.
- Do not try to make up for over eating by undereating – This is essentially binging and purging. It wreaks havoc on your physical and emotional wellbeing and apart from that, it doesn’t work.
- Most importantly, enjoy your food – Food is a wonderful source of pleasure, so cook, eat, enjoy. Try new things, play with your food and have fun with it.
I firmly believe that you cannot be a catalyst for positive change in your own life, with a head full of negative thoughts. The guilt, self-loathing and shame that you cling to are not serving you, so let them go. Use the energy instead to help you achieve your end game. Let YOURSELF eat cake (sometimes!)