Now that Valentine’s Day is behind us and we may have consumed not one, but two boxes of decadent chocolate, or shared a large, heart-shaped pizza with that special someone, we may be feeling remorseful. But think about this: while we often shower those we care for with affection, we forget to properly care for the person we should love the most: ourselves.
When it comes to indulging in food, many of us often feel what we refer to as “food guilt,” a feeling of shame that we have done something wrong. Food guilt comes from a perception that certain foods are unhealthier than others – or a belief that they’re off limits. These foods are often high in sugar (chocolate, ice cream, chips, etc.); other times we have food guilt simply because we overeat.
So what can you do with these thoughts? How do you allow yourself to indulge while still respecting your health? Beating yourself up is not an effective way to change your habits. You must instead transform your relationship with food and your body by incorporating positivity.
You can have a healthful relationship with food if you choose to frame certain behaviors or reactions in a positive way. In fact, an infamous study of willpower involving chocolate and radishes found that those who perceived their behavioral control as lower (feeling guilty) were less successful at maintaining their weight. It is better to look at chocolate cake as a celebration versus eating it with a forkful of regret. Here are a few tips for reframing food guilt:
1. Make foods that you like fit in to your routine.
No matter how many healthy foods you eat, sometimes you just crave a burger. While eating nutrient-dense foods most of the time is important, it’s also a good idea to eat foods that you enjoy. If you like pizza, have it once a week. Look at these food experiences as something positive. If you are worried about eating certain foods, it’s a great idea to thoughtfully fit these specific foods into your routine to retrain the way you view treating yourself.
2. Don’t weigh yourself – at least not often.
The scale can only tell you so much. While you can tell from the scale what you weigh, you cannot tell how much of that weight is muscle mass, how much is water, and how much is fat. Instead focus on how you feel, your energy levels, and how your clothes fit. Those observations are usually more telling.
3. Try resetting after you’ve gone off course.
If you’ve had a big night out and a few too many glasses of wine, don’t give yourself an emotional hangover with a side of a greasy breakfast sandwich. Instead try getting back into your normal routine. If this means that you usually start your morning with a green smoothie, go back to these behaviors. You’ll feel more confident and be less likely to get further off track.
4. Plan ahead.
It is extremely difficult to stick to healthful behaviors when you fail to plan ahead. If you work long hours and you’re tired by the time you get home, you’ll likely make poor decisions and choose whatever is the easiest to make. If you plan ahead by meal prepping — or at the very least having more convenient yet nourishing options ready at your fingertips — it’ll be easier to make a healthier choice. If cooking isn’t your thing, there are plenty of meal prep companies available to do the job for you (Snap Kitchen, anyone?)
5. Celebrate the little victories.
Far too often we focus on all of the things that we’ve done wrong. But this is not productive. Be sure to celebrate even the smaller victories along the way. If you hit your goals of drinking eight glasses of water getting eight hours of sleep, acknowledge it and feel confident and proud. That pride will keep you going in the right direction.
6. Ask yourself ‘why’ – then find a solution.
If you find that you’re overeating or eating unhealthy foods, it’s important to ask yourself why. For instance, maybe you are overeating at dinner because you often skip lunch. Once you’ve figured out the “why” then find how you can address the problem, such as packing small snacks (not treats) that you can eat throughout the day so that you’re not ravenous when you get home.
7. Be aware of negative thoughts.
Remember that being kind to our bodies and minds and loving ourselves is the greatest gift that we can give. Having a black and white attitude towards food doesn’t work; it can actually be harmful. Each person is different, each person’s diet is different, and how foods impact each person’s body and mind is different. Believe in your body’s ability to eat and live intuitively. The most important thing is to find what works for you so that you can respect your health while still enjoying food the way that it’s meant to be enjoyed: guilt-free.