When it comes to fuelling your body, how often have you said or heard someone say “I really ‘shouldn’t’ have eaten that” or “I have been so ‘bad’ this week”? As a health and fitness professional for more than 20 years, I’ve heard countless number of clients say this kind of thing, again and again.
Guilt does more harm than good
When it comes to food and nutrition, guilt is an all too common emotion, especially among women. But the fact is, guilt is simply not helpful if your goal is to develop healthy eating habits and/or achieve an “ideal” weight. It’s a negative emotion that can cause your body to produce more of the stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline—the same ones that trigger a “fight-or-flight” response to stress. Over time this can scatter your thinking, increase your level of stress and generally undermine your physical and mental wellbeing.
When you see one donut as the “ultimate failure,” it charges subsequent choices with negative emotions, making it more likely that a single indulgence will lead to a roller coaster of bad decision-making. This “closed loop thinking” greatly affects your ability to develop healthy eating patterns. It can also eat up a lot of precious mental energy.
Think of food as nourishment
Food is meant to fuel and nourish—your body, of course, but also your “soul.” If you focus on maintaining a healthy and varied diet most of the time and occasionally treat yourself to something less nutritious because you find it comforting, the last thing you should do is to beat yourself up about it.
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Feeling bad about yourself doesn’t motivate you to be more conscientious. It often weakens your resolve so you give up on yourself. For this reason, even if you’re trying to shed a few pounds, it’s much more productive to focus on maintaining a healthy diet MOST of the time rather than all of the time.
Strategies to beat back guilt and eat well
Here are some strategies to help you cast off feelings of food guilt and still be healthy (hint: they don’t involve seeing the odd indulgence as a moral failing):
– Stop labeling foods as good or bad
Try to keep things in perspective: the odd bag of chips doesn’t cancel out all of the nutritional food you ate the rest of the day or week. Start thinking about food as either nourishing for body and/or soul or not nourishing, and choose accordingly
– Resist giving “food guilt” a voice
The less you talk about how guilty you feel, the less oxygen you give to these self-sabotaging feelings
– Prepare and eat your meals as “mindfully” as possible
Instead of eating on the run or in front of a screen, slow down and enjoy every mouthful
– Listen to your body
As much as possible, eat when you’re hungry; starving yourself can lead to making “desperate” food choices.
– Choose healthy, nourishing foods 80% of the time
Having non-processed, no-added-sugar foods on hand to eat when you’re hungry can help—think fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole foods and proteins (e.g. lean meats, fish, eggs and beans). Many of my clients also find fermented foods such as miso, tempeh, kombucha and sauerkraut help to take the edge off and make them feel great (they’re tasty and are known to help with digestion and immune system function). And, don’t forget to include “liver loving” foods in your diet. They’re the foods that help with your liver’s all-important detoxification role. Broccoli, kale, asparagus, dandelion and cauliflower are just some of the options. Use them in everything from stir-fries to smoothies to help fill up and feel great.
– Move your body instead of judging it
Pilates & Movement can of course help with this, but so can a brisk walk or run. The key is to move your body daily—not only for your physical health but also for your mental wellbeing.
Last but not least, cut yourself some slack (and give your mind a break)—you’re not a bad person just because you don’t eat a perfectly healthy diet 100% of the time.
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