I think everyone can agree that things are very different this year. We only plan smaller holiday gatherings with our immediate families. There are restrictions in shops and restaurants. And limited supplies of food and household items in some places.
One thing that looks the same (at least for my health coaching clients) is this internal dilemma as to whether or not to stick to their healthy eating habits or to say: “Fuck it!” and immerse yourself in a plate filled with real bread, a sauce thickened with cornstarch and several slices of pecan cake.
On the one hand, there is the philosophy that holidays are a special occasion and should be treated as such. And that includes all of the traditional high-carb treats. On the other hand, there are people who are 100 percent committed to their original lifestyle and who prepare their feast accordingly.
Let me make it very clear that there is no right or wrong answer here.
Just don’t call it a “bad eating day”.
Honestly, I don’t care if you treat yourself to multiple servings of green bean casserole or marshmallow-crusted sweet potatoes. What I’m interested in is the level of guilt you carry around with you afterwards.
What does guilt have to do with food? Guilt is the feeling that you did something wrong. At a young age, most of us are taught the difference between right and wrong. In general, you might feel guilty about something stolen, someone harmed, or caught in a lie. On the other hand, you may have been rewarded or praised for doing something right (i.e. getting good grades, helping a neighbor complete tasks without being asked).
Examples of food debt:
- I shouldn’t have another piece
- Dessert / bread / wine is unhealthy
- Once I start, I can’t stop
- I totally screwed it up
- I don’t want to see the scales tomorrow
Diet culture tells us to feel bad about overeating or indulging in * forbidden * foods. It is said that a higher number on the scale equates to lower self-worth. Don’t get me wrong, certain foods have consequences. Depending on your organic individuality, foods with higher amounts of sugar, industrial oils, and artificial ingredients can make you feel foggy, tired, bloated, and on the fast track to chronic illness. But moralizing food for its good and bad properties always fails.
The metabolism is influenced by the state of mind
In addition to the heavy emotional baggage that you have to carry, perceiving certain foods as negative actually has a negative effect on metabolic activity. It all starts in your hypothalamus, which processes senses, emotions, and biological functions like hunger. If you feel guilty about what you are eating, The hypothalamus transmits signals that slow your digestion and cause your body to store more calories as fat instead of burning them for energy. In theory, saying, “That makes me fat” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
On the other hand, when you enjoy food while you are eating it, the hypothalamus releases pleasure signals that stimulate digestion so that you break down the food thoroughly and burn the calories with ease.
So it’s not just about what you eat, it’s what you eat too.
Not only that, negative thoughts can lead to other compensatory behaviors. In this study, the researchers analyzed data from 3,177 people and examined the differences between those who suffered from food debt and those who did not. Across the board, they found that the food guilty group had higher scores on binge eating, low self-esteem, isolation, and avoidance coping.
You can’t just let go of the food guilt, can you?
If you’re wired to view food as good or bad it will take some decoding, but it is entirely possible. It’s totally worth it too, so you don’t knuckle it through the holidays. Or worse, beating yourself up with it for days. And when you let go of good guilt, there’s a good chance you’ll be eating more intuitively. How to get started:
Step 1: challenge your eating rules.
We all have it. It’s that little voice inside that says, “You shouldn’t have this” or “Stop grazing” or “This will get to your thighs.” This is all based on your stories or beliefs that you have created through your adult experiences. When you’ve confirmed one of your rules, face it. You always have the choice whether it is valid or just reflects old, outdated programs and no longer serves you.
Step 2: Be curious against judgmental.
How often do you judge yourself? And not just when it comes to what you eat? You may be so used to being in judgment mode that you don’t even notice when you’re doing it to yourself or to someone else. Instead, try to be curious. Ask yourself why you think a particular food is bad or where those judgments come from. You may find that the beliefs you hold are not even your own. Also, learn to approach these situations from a growth philosophy rather than a fixed mindset. You can find out more here.
Step 3: have a plan.
Nine times out of ten, you choose foods you may not choose otherwise when you go to a feast hungry. This is why it is so important to have a plan in advance. My strategies for avoiding impulse disturbance are: prioritize protein and fat, make breakfast your highest calorie meal of the day, and always answer hunger with a meal. You can still get pampered, but you will feel better about your decision when your body and brain are fed up.
Step 4: know your triggers.
If you know you can’t miss a bowl of candy when you’re hungry, don’t display a bowl of candy (or show yourself hungry). As you cope with the stress of eating or drinking, you can find healthier ways to decompress. In situations like this, it is crucial to be clear about what is triggering you. And it can save you hours – or even days of grief afterwards.
Step 5: practice self-compassion.
Being kind to yourself is a skill not everyone has. That is why it is so important to practice it regularly. Self-compassion requires empathy and the ability to be fully present with yourself and the feelings you are experiencing – without running away, hiding, or diving upside down in a bag of M & M’s. You never have to be punished for your actions. So resist the urge to “feed harder” by eating bland chicken breasts for three days or by committing to a steady stream of chronic cardios for the next week. They deserve better.
How to have a guilt free party
It doesn’t matter if you are paleo, keto, vegan or whatever. Letting go of food guilt is the healthiest step you can take. Use these steps to get to the bottom of your food fixation and prepare to enjoy your feast without guilt.
- Challenge your eating rules
- Be curious about judgmental
- To have a plan
- Know your triggers
- Practice self-compassion
Do you have food debt? Which strategies work for you?
About the author
Erin Power is the coaching and curriculum director of the Primal Health Coach Institute. She also helps her clients reestablish loving and trusting relationships with their bodies – while restoring their metabolic health so they can lose fat and gain energy – through her own private health coaching practice, eat.simple.
If you are passionate about health and wellness and you want to help people like Erin for their clients every day, you should consider becoming a self-certified health coach. In this special information event hosted by PHCI Co-Founder Mark Sisson, you will learn the three simple steps to building a successful health coaching business in a maximum of 6 months.
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