Most of us have been told during our lives that certain foods are “good” and “bad” and that we should only eat restrictive diets containing “good” foods—vegetables and lean protein—and we are naughty and will get fat or sick if we eat “bad” foods, which of course is everything high energy that is loaded with fat and sugar, since we get instant gratification from it (sneaky brain), hence our cravings for comfort foods.
Recently, I had a health coaching client express surprise that my brother and I ate Cheezels as we danced around to Beyoncé and cleaned the house, because they are a “bad food”. Well, it is true that these right yellow, cheese flavoured rings are highly processed, contain barely any nutritional value, and contribute way too much artificial flavours and saturated fats to our diet to be consumed on the regular. Which is why I don’t.
Restrictive diet alert: ‘Yes’ foods and ‘No’ foods
Geneen Roth writes, ‘Dividing what you eat into “yes” and “no” lists is a perfect way to trigger a binge. University of Toronto researcher Janet Polivy, Ph.D., has found that people who diet or are deprived of their favorite foods eventually respond by consuming excessive amounts of those foods’. Der.
Ever since party food came into my regular view as a birthday host at a laser tag centre at 15, I have allowed myself to indulge in the sweets and savoury junk food treats that my parents never had in the house. Of course I overdid it at the start, and the repercussions were huge. It’s not very professional to be sticking your fingers down your throat on your break from being so scared the party food the parents left you would make you fat.
Shameful shopping at 7-Eleven
Overdoing it on a restrictive diet that contains little-to-no pleasurable foods such as fats and carbohydrates, or occasional foods such as birthday cake or celebratory bubbles can make you feel deprived and resentful, as well as creating a deficit in energy and feel-good chemicals that come from removing large portions of—or entire—food groups, so some of us end up going to town on the cheap chocolate or whole pizza because if we can’t have any we’ll have it all… and then the guilt kicks in.
The funny thing I have found about guilt is that it’s a hungry emotion. Guilt for me is chocolate and white wine and cheap processed foods that scream “I’m not worthy” or “I’m a fuck up” because I wasn’t “disciplined enough” or lacked the willpower or some other BS ego-spiel. So if I felt guilty for eating a handful of Cheezels, you can bet the whole box would be gone before you could blink as well as whatever else fell into the basket during my shameful servo run. But I don’t.
Guilt, fear, and shame do not belong at the dinner table
As Lisa Turner writes, ‘Even a shocking number of “normal” eaters are bound up by guilt, fear and shame; we know too much about food — the sugar, trans fats and pesticides. It’s hard to be fully receptive to pleasure when a big hunk of your brain is screeching “Dear God, have you gone mad? What are you thinking, eating that?!” Or the low, menacing whisper that says “You are so bad. I am ashamed of you for eating that.” If you choose to eat a food you love—food that brings you pleasure—eat it slowly and mindfully, bring an element of beauty and grace to the experience. Tell the voices that they’re not invited to the party.’
I’m not saying Cheezels should be served in your best china with linen napkins, that would be weird. Just saying “I know these are a rare treat so I am going to enjoy the fuck out of them”, because they remind me of the buzz of hosting up to 60 screaming kids for 12 hours, and their excitement of a laser tag party, and the friends I made working there makes it a nice experience. I don’t need it to be clouded with guilt for a sometimes treat.
Stop rebelling and start enjoying
Once you start to change your relationship to food and remove the restrictive diet boundaries, you take the power away from the rebellion of eating a “bad” food, and it just becomes another food that, if you choose to sit and savour every mouthful and observe the flavours and textures, and how it feels in your body, you may not even be into after all. That’s me and chocolate, lollies, and most junk food now. I’ve learned what my body actually really likes, as opposed to what my brain thinks will be good to eat.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, food guilt is so common! Leave a comment below 🙂
Image of Cheezel rings from stuff.co.nz – don’t pretend you’ve never done this.