7 Ways to Stop Food Guilt

Everybody eats.

Life is hard enough without judging every little thing you put in your mouth. It’s a double whammy when you judge other people for what they eat because then you feel guilty about that, too. Food guilt shows up as a way to police our own (and others’) eating behavior. We believe that if we make the price of breaking a food rule so painful, we’ll be less likely to eat the thing in the first place.

It should be no surprise that the threat of guilt usually doesn’t prevent us from going out of bounds with food. Inevitably, we end up carrying extra guilt just for doing the thing that everyone else does: eating. Perhaps seeing food guilt for what it really is, a strategy to keep our behavior in check, would make the situation a lot more clear. This simple shift in perspective turns our attention inward, rather than it being directed at food as a proxy for our feared sense of lack of control. It isn’t really the food we’re avoiding, it’s the horrible feelings of guilt that come with it.

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“Your Body Can’t Tell Time!” and Other Non-Diet Nonsense

Human nutrition is fascinating and complex making it hard to distill into easily assimilated absolutes. Although well-intended, non-diet messaging is often reduced to cute, disarming phrases that amount to little more than platitudes aimed at calming fear and cognitive unease. Moreover, rather than offering a path to the truth, these phrases appeal to a dieter’s binary, or black-and-white, thinking and do little to challenge their real concerns and misperceptions of reality.

For example, imagine you’re going through a tough time and someone tells you, “Such is life,” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Is that actually helpful? Or is it just putting a little temporary salve on the wound? Without a truly wise and empathetic follow-up, such trite expressions fall flat and can even make us feel worse.

The same goes with phrases like “Your body can’t tell time.” The anxious eater desperately wants to put it in a box by asking, “So, can our body tell time or not? It’s one or the other.” Actually, it’s far more nuanced than that.

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Be with yourself in stillness

You don’t have to meditate, but it helps.

The journey to stillness is different for all of us. I’m willing to bet that you can recall at least one time when your mind was quiet, even for a few moments, and you felt some peace and ease.

It’s true, stillness does happen spontaneously sometimes. What a relief to be unburdened from all the mind’s chatter, even if only momentarily. Maybe the stillness comes while you are being creative or making something. Maybe it’s while you are out in nature, entranced by the wonder of it all. It can happen while swimming, or dancing, or running, or listening to particular music. It can happen when connecting with someone dear to us.

These tastes of stillness let us know that a state of profound quietude is possible. It just takes some training of both mind and body to figure out how to get there on purpose. And once you are there, all there is to do is give yourself your undivided attention, with curiosity and interest, in a kind and affectionate way.

Both mindfulness and self-compassion training, as well as other forms of contemplative practice, provide a roadmap to stillness as outlined by what has worked for others in the past. It all starts with a willingness and the intention to be fully with yourself to see what’s there and what unfolds without escaping and without judging.

It’s all about learning to stay.

Because you, just like every other living being, are worthy of love and attention, especially your own.

Why Willpower Won’t Get You What You Want

Willpower Doesn’t Work

It’s hard to always do the right thing. Even when we know the thing is a bad idea, sometimes the pull to do it anyway, to be bad, is just too strong. Sometimes, it seems, willpower doesn’t work.

Think of a time when you planned on doing something you knew would be good for you, like get to bed on time. Yet there you are watching just one more episode of Queer Eye, well past midnight.

It’s easy to be hard on ourselves in those moments. It’s as if the proverbial angel and devil have appeared on our shoulders — and the devil has won.

Maybe we fall into the thought trap, “I must not be trying hard enough,” or “I must not want it badly enough.” We even worry that others see our struggles as a sign of weak character and bad judgment.

So, what’s going on here? Why do we so often do things against our own best interest? And why do we see it as a moral failure?

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Intuitive Eating: What It Is and What It Isn’t

A quick google search produces hundreds of results related to “intuitive eating,” the 10 principles, some how-tos, and success stories. As important as these points are in understanding the mechanics of this food philosophy, they don’t always give a felt sense of what it’s like to eat in a natural way.

In the simplest terms, intuitive eating means using your body’s feedback to guide your eating decisions. It’s something that happens, not something you control. It’s instinctual, ancient, and primal, yet highly sophisticated in its balance of hormone-driven cues and pleasure-driven rewards. It is basic human physiology in collaboration with both the rational and emotional minds.

Yes, it’s the name of an awesome book and proven system to help people get off the diet train, but intuitive eating is something deeper, something truly valuable. Once you get it back, you don’t ever want to give it up again. You will protect it at all costs.

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Three Reasons Women Who are Done with Dieting Struggle with Mindful Eating

It’s easy to get frustrated with all the conflicting weight loss advice. And even more confusing to sort through the information on how to stop dieting. Methods like intuitive and mindful eating sound great initially, but for some, it’s just as hard to continue those habits as it is to stay on a diet. Even research tells us that one of the biggest reasons diets don’t always work is that they are all but impossible to stick with (file that under obvious, right?).

Most diets are not meant to be permanent lifestyle changes. You do it for ten days, maybe 30, and eventually go back to normal eating. For most people, if the food restrictions go on for too long, any weight lost comes with a heavy price. With each new food restriction comes a barrier to freedom and missed opportunities to connect with others. Once these secondary consequences start to affect your well-being, the diet is now a big problem. Click here for a post on how to start the process.

By the same token, if new habits from mindful eating do not weave themselves into your lifestyle, you may come up empty on that count, too. When it feels like a chore or another thing you have to do, it’s really hard to stick with it. But just like with food, it’s the general approach to mindful eating that makes all the difference.

Why the struggle?

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Meal Plan, Schmeal Plan…

It can be scary to relearn how to eat intuitively and shockingly easy to forget, even after just a few months of a restrictive diet. These regimes usurp the powers of choice and self trust when making food decisions. The diet tells you when to eat, making your hunger cues irrelevant. It tells you how much to eat, making your fullness cues moot. It tells you what to eat, and more sinisterly, what not to eat, snuffing out the final candle on your inner intuitive eater.

But how are you supposed to just drop all the rules and restrictions and start listening to your body again? Advice to just eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full is confusing because you may not remember the last time you paid attention to that. Plus, it’s unlikely that your body is sending you reliable cues at all. Not to mention the uncomfortable feelings that surface around hunger and fullness. Add in food fears and distrust and it’s no wonder people struggle making the leap from rigid diets to attuned eating.

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Whole Body Love

Many of us, men and women, are resistant to the idea of loving our bodies. It seems so foreign. Sometimes even wrong. Learning to love your body can be a tangled endeavor, fraught with destructive emotions and uncertainty. Part of the difficulty is due to our natural bias toward the negative; therefore, we tend to get hung up on the parts of our bodies we don’t like, rather than celebrate those we do. We really get stuck when we compare ourselves to others and assign a value judgment to our appearance, which creates a better than/ less than dichotomy.

When we focus on things we don’t like, we often feel compelled to fix or change those things in order to feel better about ourselves. Unsurprisingly, the diet and self-improvement industries are founded on this kind of self-deprecation. But what if we let those uncomfortable parts just be for awhile and learn to take a more realistic view of the body?

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What Should I Actually Eat?!

It is so easy to get overwhelmed by food decisions. Whether it’s an absurd number of options at home and the workplace or our options seem limited, we tend to rationalize the heck out of deciding what to actually eat.

The problem is that the rational mind alone doesn’t do a great job of feeding the body.  It is awash with rules and shoulds and limits that often interfere with the part of us that truly does know what to eat: the body itself. The ultimate goal of eating intuitively or mindfully is to be present in the body in order to use its feedback when making food decisions, tempered by the logic of the rational mind when necessary.

Essentially, food decision-making comes down to balancing wants and shoulds, with the primary mediator being the body. For example, maybe your mouth genuinely wants ice cream all the time, but you know you really ought not repeatedly indulge that desire because that won’t promote good health in the long run (and you might get a tummy ache). The truth is that if you are really listening to your body, it won’t want ice cream all the time.

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Out of the Oven and Into the World

Every two weeks I get a box of “ugly” produce delivered to my door from a company that distributes fruits and vegetables deemed unsuitable for market. Last week, the box was full of my least favorites as I had missed the customization window for that shipment. Beets, grapefruit, rutabaga, curly kale, frisée, radishes. Reading that list now, it doesn’t sound so terrible, but at the moment, I wasn’t looking forward to eating those things.

My love of cooking isn’t about creating intricate dishes with a dozen ingredients and using fancy techniques. My skill is to take what is available and turn it into something beautiful, delicious, nourishing, and satisfying. In fact, the feeling that usually follows the thought, “What am I going to do with all this produce?” is the excitement of rising to the challenge.

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Seven Ways Yoga Helps Us Trust the Body and Eat with Ease

A rash of new research has yet to explain why and how yoga and other mind-body therapies appear to be effective in treating and preventing eating and body image concerns. Much of the evidence remains anecdotal and the actual benefits are unclear. The research indeed suggests that yoga practice is helpful, but the studies have conflicting results and the effects are not as great as expected.

What’s increasingly clear is that yoga enhances embodiment and mindfulness, two qualities that we do know are helpful in preventing and treating these issues. To state it broadly, both embodiment and mindfulness require present-focused awareness and deliberate attention to sensations, thoughts, and feelings in order to establish a mind-body connection. When we are not fully inhabiting our bodies, it can be tricky to identify and manage emotions, impulses, and thoughts leaving us at their mercy. Continue Reading →

The Yoga of Balance

When I first started practicing yoga, I noticed two things. First, I loved balancing poses. And the second? They require a particular kind of grounding.

To start with, any time we have a lot of internal stuff going on, like distracting thoughts (whether they be warm and fuzzy thoughts, like a new crush, or the debilitating thoughts that come with loss), self-criticism, or comparing mind, balancing can seem a lot harder. Just as centering is needed to focus on a task or calm a racing mind, grounding techniques are requisite for balancing. After all, you must get grounded before you can fly. Continue Reading →

Foundational Eating Part 3: Variety and Moderation

Part three in my series for getting back to basics for building a solid eating recovery.

At a party recently, I got cornered by a guest who wanted to educate me on the truth about nutrition, evidently having gleaned said truth from the latest food-scare propaganda flick. This happens sometimes when people find out I’m a dietitian. “Which do you think is better for you,” he asked, no doubt sensing my skepticism, “Soy milk or cow’s milk?”

I knew this was a trap. “Well,” I started, “both have their potential benefits, so it depends on an individual’s situation and preferences.”  Dissatisfied, the guy countered with something to the effect of, “Yeah, but cancer!”  I paused, choosing my words carefully. I looked at him for a moment and said, “I think that as long as a person eats a variety of nutritious foods and eats them in moderation, there’s little danger of getting too much or too little of anything.” I offered him a bite of my cheese. Continue Reading →

Foundational Eating Part 2: Balance

Part two in my series on getting back to basics for building a solid eating recovery.

When I first met Daisy, she was pretty fed up with trying to eat intuitively. “I eat when I’m hungry, I stop when I’m full, but I’m still plagued with these cravings everyday,” she lamented. Daisy had been dieting routinely for the past 15 years. Her weight had cycled up and down. She was still within her healthy weight range, but felt that it wasn’t her natural weight, the weight she expected if she were eating more intuitively.

There are no promises of weight loss with intuitive eating. In fact, using intuitive eating with the express intention for weight loss (even if it is only a secret hope) will probably get in the way of connecting with your intuition altogether. It’s like meditating. Once you use the practice to achieve something or to get somewhere, you have completely missed the point. What’s more, without laying a good foundation for your new eating approach, it will be too easy to slip back into old patterns and behaviors. Continue Reading →

Foundational Eating Part 1: Adequacy

Part one in my series on getting back to basics for building a solid eating recovery.

Emotional eating. It’s so taboo. It conjures visions of pathetic women in their jammies eating ice cream straight from the tub while watching The Notebook, Kleenex box at hand, right after a bad break-up. No one wants to be that girl. So shameful.

And yet so human. From the soothing received at the breast or bottle to the urge to celebrate with a special dinner, we are all emotional eaters to some degree. As much as we may want to extricate our emotions from this most fundamental act, to do so denies our very humanity. Without this connection, we, as a species, would have been far less motivated to eat and proliferate.

While it can seem fairly straightforward to know what emotional eating is (using food or restricting food in order to suppress or numb emotions), it is more tricky to understand what it isn’t. In my practice, I often see clients who believe they are emotional eaters, but appear to have something else going on. Take Emily a 20-something grad student, for example. “I just can’t stop eating emotionally!” she complained on her first visit, “When I’m stressed, I eat. When I’m bored, I eat. When I eat certain foods, I feel so guilty I have to do something to fix it or I’ll go crazy!”

Easy diagnosis, right? Not so fast. Continue Reading →