How to Let Go of Food Guilt and Stay in Balance
Article revised on 10 January 2018
Perhaps you went overboard with the rich food and delectable treats over the holidays, and now you’re mad at yourself. For that matter, every time you give in to temptation, you feel bad. Stop it! A little indulgence can be good for your mental balance.
A common occurrence
A 2014 survey carried out jointly by ÉquiLibre and Elle Québec magazine revealed that 53% of women feel guilty while eating. Nearly a third of all women believe that, in order to eat well, they have to deprive themselves of certain foods that they enjoy. A staggering 22% admitted that weight management dominates their life. The findings are surprising in an era where diverse body images are valued and information about food and the importance of eating well is everywhere in the media and on the Internet. Food guilt is especially pervasive among women, but men have it too.
Admittedly, the media, people in the beauty and fashion industry and society as a whole have made huge strides in increasing awareness about the physical and psychological harm associated with diets that are too strict. Nevertheless, the belief that you have to deprive yourself in order to eat well is solidly rooted in people’s minds. In fact, for some people, the slightest indulgence is followed by feelings of remorse. In the extreme, this troubled relationship with food can lead to eating disorders.
Serious consequences on mental health
First of all, whether or not it’s related to food, guilt is a feeling that weighs heavily on the minds of those who experience it. New York psychologist Dr. Guy Winch focused on the issue and discovered that persistent or excessive guilt feelings cause a number of problems that end up jeopardizing health:
- Anxiety and depression: Struggling against yourself not only undermines your morale; it also blocks the production of serotonin, a hormone that influences mood.
- A constant feeling of failure, which leads to low self-esteem and a negative self-image, which gives the impression that the person lacks willpower.
- The compensation reflex: When you constantly deprive yourself, you end up feeling tense and frustrated and no longer take any pleasure from eating. Then, to ease the tension, you end up eating more.
- Self-punishing behaviours, which get you into an unhealthy vicious circle. “I ate a cupcake at lunchtime, so I’ll have a small salad for dinner.” or “I had a burger yesterday, so I’ll have a strenuous workout today to burn it off.” Being hard on yourself like that does not allow you to build a healthy and pleasant relationship with food.
Fortunately, more and more food experts have given self-denial as a way of staying healthy a big thumbs-down. They all agree that pleasure is important to healthy eating and that it’s impossible to enjoy eating when food has become a source of stress. To develop a healthier relationship with food:
- Focus on variety and inclusion: Rather than seeing foods as either “good” or “bad,” aim for a variety of colours and flavours. No one stays healthy eating only broccoli. A small square of chocolate will not ruin you!
- Listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues: If you’re hungry, eat! Ignoring feelings of hunger will cause you to overeat at the first opportunity. Also, stop eating when you feel full. You do not need to clean your plate.
- Come up with nutritious and satisfying meal and snack options: Browse through cookbooks or online to find interesting recipes you want to make. Cook to discover new foods and flavours.
Lastly, give yourself permission to indulge a little, once in a while. Have some chips or a pastry, if that is what you like, and enjoy! If you know that it’s not the last time you’ll ever get to have what you like, you won’t be as tempted to eat too much… and you won’t feel guilty!
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