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.

My Good & Bad Foods List

Years ago when I started seeing my acupuncturist, she asked me to keep a food journal. Quite proud of my healthy diet, I was eager to do so. There was one thing, however, that I wasn't too keen to reveal--my Diet Pepsi habit.

I was ashamed to admit I consumed something on my "bad" foods list. I worried doing so would taint my good girl, healthy eater image and that she would think less of me.

Can you relate?

Food Morality
In the food and diet worlds, there's a lot of good girl/bad girl and good boy/bad boy mentality.

That is, if I eat just the right amount of healthy "good" foods, I'm a good person. However, if I indulge in a lot of unhealthy "bad" foods, I'm a bad person. I must repent and punish myself with excessive exercise, calorie cutting, guilty admissions or abusive self-talk.

The thing is, food isn't morally good or bad.

And what you eat does not make you a good or bad person.

Sure, some foods promote good health while others demote it. Some foods create desirable effects (e.g., long-term energy) while others cause undesirable effects (e.g., gas). And the dose can make all the difference.

But food is morally neutral.

You won't go to hell for wolfing down chili fries, bacon cheeseburgers or triple-fudge brownies. Nor will you earn a halo for nibbling on only kale, berries, quinoa and nuts.
 
The Power of Food Labeling
When we label foods good or bad, we often imply that the eater of such foods is either a good or bad person. Even our desires for "forbidden" foods can make us feel like a bad person (e.g., I constantly crave sugar therefore I'm a weak-willed, bad person).

We've been conditioned to believe that when we eat "good" foods, we're more in control, perfect, disciplined, superior, intelligent, and worthy of love and admiration. We're a better person. When "bad" foods are consumed, we often feel just the opposite about ourselves and other "offenders."

This good/bad food mentality creates a lot of unnecessary misery, guilt, shame, fear, stress and judgment, ultimately impacting our overall health and well-being.  

These limiting beliefs also stop us from being curious and trusting our own innate body wisdom to guide us.

Food for Thought
Take a moment to list the foods on your "good" and "bad" list.

What makes these foods "good" or "bad?"

What information or experiences led you to label each item as such?

Do you eat foods today that you once considered "bad?"

How do you feel about and treat yourself when you eat your "good" and "bad" foods?

How do you feel about and treat others when they eat the foods on your list?

Release Your Moralizing Food Beliefs
Of course, it can be helpful, healthy and loving to categorize foods according to how they affect our body. It is not helpful, healthy or loving to label ourselves or others as "good" or "bad" based on what we consume.

Relinquishing moralizing food beliefs takes time, but trust me, doing so is extremely freeing.

(In case you're wondering, I did fess up to the Diet Pepsi. With my acupuncturist's encouragement, I ditched the soda for many reasons. Sure, part of me wanted to be a good girl, but I had a much larger desire to nourish my body better.)