In my AnneTheRD nutrition counseling work, I spend a lot of time helping clients change their mindsets about food. When they first start working with me, many of my clients describe foods as “good” or “bad” – often offhand, like they don’t even realize they are doing it because it has become so engrained in how they think.
Many of my clients come to me thinking that if they aren’t eating perfectly, it’s a failure. Food has become completely black and white for them, and they feel guilty if they eat something that they deem less than perfect, or that fits into that “bad” category in their minds.
I always cringe a little inside when I hear people proclaim how they are being “bad” by eating something delicious or how they “shouldn’t” eat something even though they want it, because it just reinforces that mentality in those around us (as well as in themselves). The mentality that we should feel bad if we are having something delicious. The mentality that pleasure from food is not okay. The mentality that most diets and calorie counting will lead you towards.
Obviously, as a dietitian, I love nutritious food, and I think people should eat it most of the time. But most of the time does not mean always. I love lightened up recipes and making healthy versions of old favorites (in fact, I have a nice lightened up comfort food recipe coming at ya tomorrow), but I also think sometimes you just need to have the real thing. Or indulge in something special. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s good for you. Denying yourself never ends well in the long term.
I started thinking about this more last week, when, in the Winter Shape Up Facebook group, one of the members shared that she had had pizza the night before for dinner, and how guilty she felt about it. Guilt is the enemy of good health, my friends. Feeling guilty is what will lead you to that “Screw it, since I’ve ruined everything already by having x thing, I’m going to eat this entire cake now.” It’s what leads you to think that if one meal or bite isn’t perfect, that you’re a complete failure.
Guys: I consider myself a healthy eater, and I love wine, beer, burgers, fries, chicken fingers, pizza (especially with pepperoni), bacon, ice cream, pastries, cookies, pie… the goes on. And when I occasionally have these things, I don’t view it as a failure at all.
A good example: earlier this week, these arrived at our house.
Clearly, Girl Scout Cookies are far from healthy and far from the whole, real food that I preach as well. But you know what? As I’ve always said, a big part of eating healthy meaning not ALWAYS eating healthy. There’s no reason to feel guilty about treating yourself every once in awhile, when you are actually paying attention to the experience and have decided it’s worth it. The only failure, in my eyes, is if you have a treat and don’t enjoy it. What a waste, right?
Sure, I don’t eat pizza, burgers, fries, cookies, and ice cream every single day, and I don’t indulge in them all at once, either. I wouldn’t feel so great if I did. But if it’s a day where I’m truly craving one of these things, then I will have it. If I can add some salad in there to get a little volume from veggies at the same time, great. If not, it’s not the end of the world.
When I was a senior in high school, I lived with my grandparents for the year, since my parents (and brother) had to move away for my dad’s job and I didn’t want to leave my school. One of my favorite memories from living with my grandparents was that almost every afternoon, they would have tea and cookies. There was nothing guilty or secret or “oh, we shouldn’t be doing this” about it – they just sat down, enjoyed each other’s company and some tea and cookies, and moved on with their days.
Next time you want a treat, think of my grandparents. Slow down. Actually pay attention to what you’re having. Savor it. And then – move on. <3
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