Not too long ago, someone was venting to me about how it gets on their nerves when a relatively thin person goes on and on about how "fat" they are. When they asked me if I thought it was a tactic used to bait compliments, I simply said, "You know, some folks are survivors of eating disorders, so you've gotta be careful with your responses."
I'm introing this article this way because, like our relationship with people, oftentimes our relationship with food can be layered and quite complex. Our upbringing plays a role. The media plays a role. Our body image plays a role. Our mental and emotional health play a role. What our systems may be lacking at any given time plays a role. And unless we process all of this from a healthy and balanced perspective, it can be really easy to bring some level of guilt or regret into the dynamic whenever we sit down to have a meal.
Let's get free from the ties that bond today, OK? While a topic as complex as this can only be broached on a semi-surface level in one article, I really do hope that the following eight "hacks" can make your own experiences with foods less about shame and more about joy — because you deserve for them to be.
1. Accept That We All Have a Relationship with Food
Like I just said, we all have a relationship with food. And, like virtually all relationships, sometimes there are going to be good days. Other times, not so much. So, just how can you know if you and food are in a great spot? It's really about approaching food from a levelheaded and practical perspective. You don't rely on food to make you feel good (more on that in a sec). You don't find yourself being extreme (either eating tons of what isn't good for you or depriving yourself of certain things that make you happy). You also don't allow yourself to make food define your worth or value. You also are forgiving when it comes to you and food. What I mean by that is, if you go on a diet and break it, it doesn't totally devastate you or, if you're trying vegetarianism or veganismand you have meat sometimes, you don't feel riddled with shame. In short, you know that even when it comes to food, grace has to be extended.
Wanna know another sign of having a good relationship with food? You don't isolate your feelings. You don't lie to yourself and say that you're the only one who has good days and bad days. You also know that it's OK to share with those who care about you the thoughts that you may be having about food.
No relationship is easy all of the time. Yet what we need in our lives, we find a way to work through. We definitely need food and so, a good relationship provides space to figure out how to see food from a healthy perspective while also offering up self-compassion on the not-so-good-days — knowing that there will be some.
2. Ponder If You’re an Emotional Eater. Or Not.
There's someone I know who, over the years, has caused me to see emotional eating in a bit of a different light. It's because she is very open about the fact that the state of her marriage can cause her to put on or lose 25 pounds (literally), depending on how things are going. Matter of fact, whenever I see her on the heavier side, she will casually say, "Girl, you know I'm an emotional eater and he stresses me out."
What she should do about her marriage is another topic for another time. For now, let's hit on some pretty telling signs of an emotional eater. Someone who comforts themselves through food is typically an emotional eater. Someone who eats more when they are stressed out or anxious is typically an emotional eater. Someone who eats, even when they are full, because it helps them to deal or distracts them from dealing with a particular matter at hand is typically an emotional eater. Someone who almost sees food as a friend is typically an emotional eater. Someone who uses profoundly intense words to express their relationship with food (words like love, tempted, obsessed, guilt, drawn to it) is typically an emotional eater.
The problem with all of this is, once you start leaning over into this way of thinking and feeling, you tend to become more attached to food than you should be. Instead of it being a necessary substance for your survival, you rely on it as a coping mechanism. And when you become this food dependent, there's a chance that feelings of guilt or regret will occur.
The thing about this particular point is it's not really something that you can "get a hold on" all by yourself (which is why the person I was talking about remains on a constant "weight loop"). So, if you happen to see yourself here, schedule an appointment with a reputable therapist/counselor and also a nutritionist. They can help you to see food from a more productive perspective, so that you can enjoy it more than rely on it.
3. Let Up on Yourself, the Week Before Your Period
If you and food are pretty good other than a week or so before your period, girl, let that ish go. There is a legitimately scientific reason for why you may want stacks of pancakes every morning and a plate of fries every night. It's because your estrogen and progesterone levels are all over the place. Not only that but when you eat starches and sugars, it can give you a serotonin surge which can actually make you feel happy, at least for a little while, when you are PMS'ing. So, while this is no excuse to totally go ham, what I am saying is if you've got cravings around your period, there is no reason to feel guilty about that. If there's one thing that is pretty universal with women when it comes to food, this would be it.
4. Give Yourself “Cheat Days”
Whenever folks talk about developing better eating habits and then they say something like "I'm never gonna eat such-and-such again," unless it's something that is super bad for them (soda immediately comes to mind), I'm kinda like, "why?" Life is too short to not have a scoop of your favorite ice cream, a slice of your favorite pizza or whatever else brings you joy from time to time. That said, there's no reason to totally deprive yourself. The answer is to give yourself a cheat day — you know, a day in the week when you actually give yourself permission to indulge in some of your faves without feeling any guilt about it. If you come at certain foods from this perspective, there will be no reason for shame or regret because you will still feel like you are in control of things. You set (for instance) Saturday aside, by design, so that you can sit back and eat what you want without having to second guess it later.
5. Don’t Always “Reward Yourself” with Food
I honestly can't remember how many times I've written an article for this platform and not referenced enjoying some ice cream in it (like this one, for example). That's how much I like the stuff. That's why, I would absolutely be a total hypocrite if I said that it's 100 percent wrong to reward yourself with food sometimes. However, in the context of this particular piece, I think the wiser focus would be to "treat yourself" from time to time with food rather than all out reward yourself.
If every time you set a goal and reach it or make a commitment (even to yourself) and keep it and you eat as a way to pat yourself on the back, it can cause you to create some pretty unhealthy eating habits. Because after all, how many of us are out here rewarding ourselves with a salad, right? Plus, approaching things this way can program your mind to think that food is the pinnacle prize for "good behavior".
While something sweet or delectable can be cool sometimes, strive to be more intentional about rewarding yourself in other ways. Go on a trip. Purchase those pumps you've been eyeing. Have an at-home pampering day. Spend a night in a swanky hotel room. Do absolutely nothing one weekend. Again, food is great. Delicious too. Still, when it comes to rewarding yourself, put forth the effort to think outside of the box. There are a ton of other ways to celebrate yourself. Ways that won't possibly make you feel bad after you do them.
6. Cook More Often
Maybe you feel guilty because you are constantly spending money by going out to eat or sitting through drive-thrus. The best way to remedy this is to cook at home more often. As someone who cooks, at least five days a week, I'm here to tell you that once you get into the swing of it, it's hard to not get totally hooked. After all, cooking is proven to be healthier, far more cost-effective, it saves time, can help you to lose weight (because you can control the portions) and, if you do it with loved ones, it's a fun way to spend quality time too.
There have been times when I've ordered a salmon Caesar salad to be delivered to my house and guess what? Afterwards (sometimes even during), I felt guilty for doing so. Why? Because the delivery fees were high as hell (plus, I like to tip well) and, sometimes, it wasn't prepared to my liking either. So, in the back of my mind, all I could think is, "I should've just made this myself." Not to say that eating out is bad or wrong. I'm just saying that if you tend to experience what I just said, there's a high probability that cooking at home can instantly remedy that. Try it. It just might surprise you.
7. Remember That Being Healthy Is the Top Priority
Please hear me, loud and clear on this point. There are some thin people with clogged arteries. There are some not-so-thin people who are in great physical condition. That's why I'm not big on talking about size so much as the word "healthy". You know, on the topic of guilt, I once read that two of the problems that arise from it is it can cause you to constantly punish yourself and prevent you from fully embracing and enjoying your life. You don't need to give food that much power. So, if the reason why you struggle with guilt and regret is because you think you should look like someone on an IG profile or magazine blog, please let yourself off of the hook. For one thing, filters, Photoshop and cosmetic surgery run in abundance in these streets and besides — we all need to eat in order to be healthy more than anything else.
If you need some help understanding what that requires, this is another dynamic where a nutritionist can be of great service. If you'd like to know how to begin your search, a Black, female, registered dietician nutritionist by the name of Marisa Moore published an article on her site entitled "Black Nutritionists You Need to Know" earlier this year. I'm thinking it can at least point you into the right direction.
8. Keep Everything in Balance
An author by the name of Joshua Osenga once said, "Balance is a feeling derived from being whole and complete; it's a sense of harmony." I totally agree and you know what? When it comes to achieving balance as it relates to your relationship with food, it's also really important to ponder if things are a little out of balance when it comes to other areas of your life. Because oftentimes, what we do physically is an extension of things that are going on (or not transpiring) mentally, emotionally, relationally, financially or even spiritually. This means if those areas are straight, we oftentimes see food from a more holistic perspective.
So, before you beat yourself up for the way you've been eating lately, do some journaling about how you've been feeling or what you've been experiencing overall. If things seem chaotic, confusing or overwhelming, tend to those areas specifically. I'd be really surprised if that doesn't alter your eating patterns, so that balance can be restored.
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