No more guilty pleasures – part two

I have lost count of the number of times I have you heard someone say, “I really shouldn’t have eaten that”, or, “Now I’ll have to go work off this chocolate cake at the gym”. These statements of judgment and self-criticism undermine any enjoyment and satisfaction one may have experienced whilst eating delicious food. Instead of feeling satisfied from savouring a rich array of flavours and textures in a particular portion of food, one is left with the unsavoury feeling of guilt.

What happens when our food intake is driven and shaped in this way? If we live by a set of onerous diet rules, where there are ‘bad’ foods, we will always be driven by a sense of deprivation, and a temptation to break the rules and indulge in what is forbidden. Instead of savouring these so-called ‘forbidden’ foods, you are left with a sense of regret and guilt.  Our bodies are not robots; we can’t follow legalistic diet rules and expect to feel nourished, satisfied and healthy. Furthermore, the deprivation that comes from diet rules is not only physical but emotional. Eating is meant to be a pleasurable experience engaging in all our five senses. To truly be satisfied by food, we need to be present to the experience of eating without judgement. Imagine going to a party filled with a sense of worry and dread about what food might be served. Whilst at the party you are not present to the engage in company rather your priority is focusing on your diet rules. Your thoughts keep drifting to punitive reminders that you can’t afford to have those chips or that cake. This brief scenario helps portray how depriving diet rules can be. They not only impact your relationship with food and your body but they also impact your emotional wellbeing and your social interactions.

Being reliant on diet rules, always results in judgment and criticism hanging over your head as you eat. This judgement is most likely unrelenting and harsh, with thoughts that you will never have eaten perfectly enough. Legalistic and moralistic diet rules become a barrier to being in tune with your body and present to the experience of eating and will leave you with a guilty feeling. This combination of deprivation and guilt are catalyst for overeating and emotional eating.

I guess this leads to the question: how can we eat without guilt?

I find that there is always some resistance to eating without rules. Firstly, it is for many people an unfamiliar way of approaching food. But secondly, many people worry that they will lose control of their eating habits without the rules to keep them in check. Let me reassure you that letting go of food rules and condemnation, will help you to find peace with food and your body. This peace enables people to become really in tune with what their body needs and helps people balance their food cravings. It helps you to eat all foods in moderation, and therefore maintain a healthy weight. If you are willing to take the plunge and let go of your burdensome restrictive diet rules and willing to open the door to a new relationship with food and your body, then here are a few steps you can take:

  1. Eat mindfully. Stop multitasking whilst eating. No more checking facebook or emails or watching tv, just sit and eat. Be present to the enjoyable experience of eating and notice all the different aspects of the food and eating experience.
  2. Let go of all judgements and guilt. I am sure that initially those negative, judgemental thoughts will be automatically playing over and over in your mind. Acknowledge them and then redirect your attention to neutral and compassionate thoughts about the food you are eating.
  3. Eat at a moderate pace. Don’t shovel down your food. Take a moment to pause whilst eating and be in the moment. This will also help you know when you are full.
  4. Listen to your body. Notice what hunger, fullness and thirst feels like without judgment. Respond to your hunger, don’t ignore it and don’t let yourself get extremely hungry. Being extremely hungry can be a trigger for emotional eating.
  5. Enjoy a wide variety of food. And the emphasis is on enjoy! Don’t deprive yourself. Be open to new foods and meals.
  6. If you are craving a particular food, eat it. Eat it mindfully. Notice: how it’s presented; focus on the different tastes and textures; notice the sounds in your mouth; savour the experience. Describe the food/meal only using mindful language, non-judgemental, neutral and compassionate terms. An example of a neutral thought could be as simple as “I am eating a slice of chocolate cake; it has a rich chocolate colour and is moist in my mouth.”
  7. Eat your sometimes food and don’t compensate. Don’t exercise to burn off the calories you have just eaten. Exercise is about moving your body and looking after yourself.
  8. Remember eating is about nourishing your body physically and enjoying the food you eat.

If you want to develop a healthy relationship with food and your body, I would highly recommend seeing a dietitian. A dietitian can help you: develop mindful eating skills; guide you in letting go of dieting rules and help you develop a balanced approach to food and health.