My friend is at home with her two sons. She wakes up to find them eating ice cream from the freezer. She takes the ice cream away and makes them a nutritious breakfast. The next morning she hears them getting into the freezer again and repeats the same steps. The third morning she’s in the shower enjoying the hot water, the silence, the time for herself, the steam and the delicious feeling of getting clean and ready for the day. She hears the freezer crack open. She sighs. The kids have ice cream for breakfast that day.
She told me this story and the recovered nutritionist/health obsessor in me started oozing with piety. I wanted to make her feel bad for letting her kids eat ice cream for breakfast. Why? Because society has taught me that ice cream is BAD and you are only allowed to taste it if you have been GOOD. Sounds a little elementary when I say it that way but it’s true. Food guilt, that's what we are taught from early on. There are good foods and bad foods; that is all. But the truth is food is not bad and feeling shame for eating food is not our truth. When we were little and ate too many sweets we might have had a tummy ache but we did not feel shame or guilt about it. We just had a tummy ache.
Food guilt begins very young. Actually, let’s call it what it is. We don’t just feel a little guilty about eating ice cream for breakfast, we feel serious SHAME. We perceive it to be a weakness, a flaw in our self worth. We see it as being out of control. And yet, it’s just ice cream. Ice cream tastes good. I saw my son take down a whole container of donuts the other night. I didn’t say a word. By allowing him to eat donuts, I am creating a kid who listens to his body and fulfills his needs. In that moment it was his need for calories but other times it will be his need for comfort, for warmth, for movement, for rest and for love. Food is more than just sustenance. It is life. How can I shame him for that?
The holidays are upon us. And this year things will look a little different. We will miss the big family gatherings, the holiday parades and group gift exchanges. But we will not miss out on all the delicious foods. And with those big meals there will come to sit at the table the uninvited guest known as food shame.
Shame is a learned behavior. The great news is that there are things we can do to recondition ourselves! Here are three things that I have learned and used in my own life to empower myself to be free of food guilt. I invite you to try these out for yourself and see how they work for you.
Question Your Thoughts
Say you eat four tacos when you had planned to only eat two. Notice what thoughts you have. “I can’t believe I did that! I feel so full and fat! I have no control.” (By the way, fat isn’t a feeling.) Maybe say these thoughts out loud to yourself to become even more aware of what you are thinking. This helps to stop the repetitive loop and continuation of this thought pattern. Then question your thoughts! Is this true? Is it true that you are fat because you ate four tacos? Is it true that in the long run this moment of eating four tacos will affect your overall health? Is it true that you are not in control? You don’t even have to answer. Just the act alone of questioning your thoughts helps you to take a wider view and perspective. Another question to ask is, how would I respond if my friend ate four tacos?
This tool is the best because who doesn’t want to truly taste and enjoy their food? Mindful eating is just a fancy way to say let’s use all our senses while we eat so that we can really be in the moment. So put away your phone and any distractions. Smell your food! Observe the colors and textures. And be present with all the delicious flavors. Slow down and enjoy! When we slow down and listen then we know what foods our body wants and how much. This does not mean our body only wants salads! We are humans who love to experience and taste many foods.
Be Kind To Yourself
You are doing great. Take moments throughout your day to encourage yourself. Speak kind words out loud such as: “I’m doing good. I care about myself. I love who I am. I am grateful.” Saying these affirmations is a beautiful act of self-compassion. We can recondition our programming so that we truly feel kindness and gratitude for ourselves. This will lessen attachments to shame and other negative feelings that do not serve us.
Above all else, know that we don’t take care of things we don’t love. And that goes for our own selves. Self love can be hard but the journey can start by letting go of shame and easing up on ourselves. Enjoy your food, your family and your day off of work. You deserve it.
Read my thoughts on yoga, teaching, parenting and everything in between. Shout out to Tiffany Stewart for help with the writing.