Food Guilt: Learning To Let Go

Food Guilt: Learning to Let Go


Every single one of us has been there, at least once. At a party, at home, feeling good or feeling bad, we’ve eaten until we felt uncomfortable. Bloated, gassy, and nauseated, we promise ourselves we’ll never do that again. Sometimes, if the foods we ate were “bad” for us, we will rush to the gym, anxious to work out and “undo the damage” that we’ve done to ourselves and our health.

Nia Shanks has posted about this phenomenon over at Lift Like a Girl. She’s talked about the response she gives clients who ask for an extra tough workout because they became too friendly with a plate of cupcakes or a tub of ice cream.

Nia’s advice to her clients, which I thoroughly agree with at VixieFit, is “forget it, and move on.”

Here’s the thing: absolutely nothing good comes from assigning emotional values to food. If there’s anything I emphasize with my clients, it’s that exercise and nutrition work best when we look at them holistically. It’s not about whether or not you ate a cupcake on Saturday, or found yourself picking at your kids’ Easter candy. It’s about making good choices about food more often than not, choosing to be physically active more often than not, and changing how we relate to food and exercise.

When we decide that we need to work out extra-hard because we ate more than we should have, we’re turning exercise into a punishment. If we do this enough, we’ll start to view exercise as something negative, when it should just be part of how we look at life.

And for those of us raising kids, tracking our own emotional relationships with food, and working to balance those as much as possible, is incredibly important.

Eating disorders are being diagnosed in younger and younger children, and in more and more boys. While eating disorders are obviously about quite a lot more than just eating or not eating, the idea of foods that are “good” and “bad” are where those sorts of emotional connections can start. When we either determine that we need to work out at a higher difficulty level in order to enjoy a treat on an upcoming weekend, or decide that we haven’t worked out enough to “earn” food, we set up a system where food is a reward and exercise is a punishment. When we do well, therefore, we get to eat more, and when we don’t, we don’t get to eat at all.

This is not sustainable.

And this is also one of the reasons that I love working with women who are strength training and want to focus more on performance goals. You can’t avoid food and lift heavy. You just can’t.  When we start thinking about our bodies in terms of what they can do, instead of just how small we can make them, we open up a door into looking at food as fuel. When we look at food as fuel, we can make neutral choices about whether or not we’re full, whether or not this food will give us long-term energy or short-term energy, and quite frankly, whether or not we’re willing to indulge our food feels today.

Some days are bad days, and on some bad days, nothing feels better than sitting down with a bowl of ice cream, or a bag of crunchy potato chips, or whatever food it is that soothes that hurt in your heart. When we are conscious and aware about that choice to ease our aches with food, first of all, the aches can be less overwhelming. We can choose not to eat an entire tub of ice cream, or stop at a bowl of chips. We can be aware of how our bodies feel as we eat, and stop before we get too full.

But to do that, we can’t punish ourselves for getting it wrong now and then. It’s going to happen. Pick yourself up, dust off your hands, and head into the next day. You’ll get a lot farther forgiving yourself than you ever will making yourself feel like crap.

How do you rediscover your equilibrium after you’ve overindulged? I’d love to hear from you!

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