Swap Junk Food for This...

Junk foods get a bad rap.

As they are usually low in nutritional value, they’ve earned a cruddy reputation.

And because they are often put in the “bad foods” bucket, we tend to feel like we’re being bad when we eat them.

However, when you think about it, junk foods do have value in that they can provide a tremendous amount of pleasure—an essential component of the eating experience.

Since they do have intrinsic value, thinking of them as worthless garbage is actually unwarranted.

For this reason, in Intuitive Eating, junk foods are referred to as “play foods.”

Like unrestricted playtime, we can experience a lot of fun, joy and pleasure when eating play foods like candy, cupcakes, donuts, fries or chips. Sometimes foods like these are exactly what we need to feel nourished and satisfied.

Unconditional Permission to Eat
When you’re new to Intuitive Eating, it can feel scary to eat the play foods you’ve long considered illegal or off-limits.

Perhaps you’re worried you might lose control and overeat them. If this has been your experience, it's totally understandable. Food restrictions and rules often lead to overeating and binge eating.

However, when you truly give yourself unconditional permission to eat what feels right when it feels right, and honor the messages your body is sending you, you will develop a more relaxed relationship with all foods—versus a rigid, reactive or reckless one.

When this happens, play foods will simply be just one component of an overall balanced diet.

I Was So Bad Yesterday, I Ate Too Much...

How often have you thought or said something like the following?

"I was so bad yesterday, I ate way too much…"

"I was a good girl today, I didn’t eat any..."

"This food is one of my guilty pleasures."

"Oh my gosh, this is sinfully delicious..."

"This has only X calories, so I can eat it guilt-free."

If you can relate to any of these, you’re not alone.

I’ve heard thousands of different versions of these statements from my clients. And, for many years, I said or thought them myself.

Removing Morality
A primary focus of my coaching practice is to help my clients cultivate a positive relationship with food and their body. This requires making peace with food.

One of the ways this happens is by removing all morality and judgment from eating (which is often learned from diet culture).

This means not labeling foods as good or bad—and not labeling yourself as good or bad based on what you ate or want to eat.

Labeling foods bad—and yourself as bad based on your food choices—leads to a lot of unnecessary suffering, including all-consuming feelings of guilt, shame, disappointment and despair.

Your so-called food transgressions may make you feel like you have to repent and punish yourself with food restrictions (e.g., cutting calories, eliminating sugar), excessive exercise or abusive self-talk.

Categorizing foods as bad can also increase the reward value of those foods and trigger intense cravings, overeating and binge eating.

Emotionally Equal
Of course, nutritionally, all foods are different. Emotionally, however, all foods must be treated equally in order to have a peaceful relationship with food.  

For example, carrots and carrot cake may not be nutritionally equal but they need to be emotionally equal. Neither one is good or bad.

Unless you stole a food or harmed someone to get it, there is absolutely no reason to feel bad, guilty or ashamed about your food choices. 

Liberation is Possible
I’ve seen with my clients and with myself that when you free yourself from food moralism, your eating will be a lot more pleasurable and satisfying.

Thoughts about food will take up less real estate in your brain.

You will trust food and your body more. Feelings of liberation, empowerment and ease will bubble up.

You will discover that there is nothing more delicious than a peaceful relationship with food.

Do You Experience A Lot of Food Guilt?

Does your eating often make you feel guilty?

Whenever you experience guilt from eating, it’s often a sign you have a “food rule” you need to let go of.

A food rule is a thought or belief regarding what is or isn’t allowed when it comes to your eating. Here are some common ones:

  • No eating after 7 p.m.
  • I can only eat a specific number of carbs, calories or points a day.
  • No snacking between meals.
  • High-carb foods are off limits (e.g., greens are good; bread and pasta are bad).
  • Every meal must contain a certain number of protein grams.
  • I’m allowed one cheat day a week.
  • Foods made with white flour, added sugars, etc. are forbidden.
  • Gluten is a no-no (even though I don’t have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance).
  • No sweets.
  • No seconds.

Although often well-intentioned, there are many problems with food rules. For example, they…

  • Disregard your body’s wisdom and needs, including its internal cues of hunger and fullness.
  • Dictate your food choices regardless of how your body feels.
  • Dismiss your food preferences and desires.
  • Generate feelings of deprivation, which often results in intense cravings, overeating and binge eating.
  • Provoke a make-up mentality (e.g., I must compensate for eating dessert by skipping breakfast or exercising longer tomorrow).
  • Cultivate a mistrustful relationship with yourself, your body and food.
  • Inject misplaced morality into your relationship with food (e.g., I'm good if I eat this, bad if I eat that).
  • Create an eating environment that breeds feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety, fear, frustration, disappointment, anger, confusion and helplessness.
  • Lead to social anxiety and isolation.
  • Consume headspace, time and energy that could be devoted to more fulfilling, meaningful, productive and pleasurable thoughts and actions.
  • Decrease self-esteem and self-confidence.
  • Cause A LOT of unnecessary suffering.

Challenge Your Rules
As you can see, it’s well worth challenging your food rules and examining how they are impacting you.

With a curious, nonjudgmental mind, ask yourself: Where did this rule come from? Is it true? Is it really serving me? Is it based on my own direct experience or an external “authority?” Is it truly honoring, respecting and being kind to my body? Is it reasonable, sustainable, pleasurable and satisfying? Is it flexible enough for my life?

Some of your rules may be top of mind and others may be buried deeper, like lingering rules from past diets or your childhood home you aren’t aware you’re still adhering to.

If you’re unsure if you have food rules, pay attention to emotions like guilt or shame or “should” or “shouldn’t” thoughts that arise from eating. They will point you toward your rules.

If you have trouble identifying or releasing your food rules, yet know you would benefit from doing so, I encourage you to seek support.

Keep in mind, there is no need for food rules—or cause for guilt—when you let your body’s natural wisdom guide you.