Wellness Wednesday: Food and Shame

Food and Shame…don’t they often go together?

I wanted to bring food and shame up today because this time of year we’re deluged with articles such as “Eat Smart During the Holidays”, “Healthy Eating During the Holidays”, “Eating as a Role Model During the Holidays”, and “5 Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain”.

While the intention of these articles is to help a person, often it does quite the opposite causing confusion, overwhelm, and even guilt.

I don’t know about you, but in years past, I’d swear that because I was on some diet or another, that I would stick with the eating plan throughout the holidays. I’d skip the Christmas candy, I’d plan on not eating the lasagna my mom made every year, and I definitely wouldn’t eat the 24 hour salad that my grandma was famous for.

And every single year, I’d be standing around the food making deals with myself. I’ll only take a spoonful of this and a half a spoonful of that. I’ll workout more tomorrow. I’ll skip breakfast for the rest of the week so that my calories in would be less than my calories out for the week.

Then I would come down on myself hard: Well, I’ve already blown it so why bother worrying about what I’m eating now? I’d have another cookie and then 5. The chocolate covered cherries disappeared by the box. Why am I such a loser? Why can’t I just control myself?

Guilt that I didn’t stick to the plan. Shame that I couldn’t control myself. I’d lost my battle with food again.

But here’s the thing. Food and shame have no business being in the same sentence or the same thought.

Did you hear me? I’ll say it again.

Food is as necessary as air and water, yet we wrap it up in shame, embarrassment, and guilt until it completely lacks pleasure and becomes a source of constant stress.

From the beginning of time, food has held much more importance to humans than simply fuel, although it is that. Food can be used as a tool to manipulate our bodies-to build muscle and provide energy for the actions we need to do. But it is so much more. Food is how we bond and how we commune with each other. Food is often what brings families together. It plays a major role in our celebrations and traditions.

Food (in general) is not the villain when it comes to health. How we view food is where the problem lies. Food isn’t the enemy. Our emotions associated with food-the guilt, the shame, the embarrassment, and the stress we place upon ourselves with those emotions-that’s what we need to work on.

What’s the solution?

First, we need to disassociate ‘diets’ with health. No way of eating that involves restriction will ever be successful for the long haul. And yes, there will be those few people who will say that it’s worked for them. Good for you. For the majority, it just won’t work.

Second, let’s let go of the notion that there are ‘good’ foods and ‘bad’ foods. I know that people will argue this by saying that over-processed food-like substances are ‘bad’ foods, and I understand that. But what I’m talking about here is vilifying food. Allergies aside, cookies, for example, won’t hurt you. Eating them all day every day won’t do you any good either. Raw vegetables are known to be very healthy for you. But only eating raw vegetables every single day can cause very serious malnutrition issues in someone who doesn’t digest raw vegetables well.

Third, we all need to learn to be more gentle with ourselves. If we’re trying to follow a certain way of eating, and eat the ‘wrong’ thing, we didn’t ‘blow’ anything. There’s no place for dogma with food. Again, health reasons aside, there are no hard and fast rules for right and wrong with food. Give yourself a break. If you have a hard time with this, here’s an idea. The next time you’re giving yourself a good mental beating for eating too much or eating the wrong food, ask yourself if you’d say the same thing to your best friend if she was in your position.

Lastly, take pleasure in your food. Savor it. Spend time smelling, chewing, tasting, and feeling the texture of the food in your mouth. Think about the work that went in to preparing the food. Take the opportunity to be thankful for the food you have.

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