Food for Thought

19 06 2012

I was talking with a participant the other day and she was telling me about how she had “really messed up” over the past two weeks and had difficulty managing positive eating habits because of graduation parties, barbeques, and other summertime celebrations. This got us talking about how we form unhealthy relationships with food that typically set us up for failure.

This participant has been doing what a lot of people do when they want to lose weight: she was restricting herself from eating certain “bad foods” that she feels she “shouldn’t eat.” Unfortunately, after a month or two of this type of restriction, she was really starting to miss things like potato salad, hamburgers, and ice cream. Thus, when all of these fun parties and celebrations rolled around and “bad foods” were plentiful, guess what happened? Her willpower caved and she found herself bingeing on all those foods she had been trying to avoid – because who knows when she would allow herself to have them again?! As a result, rather than enjoying the chance to have picnic foods and sweet treats, this participant felt incredibly guilty about her eating habits and decided she had blown it. That led to two full weeks of bad eating habits.

Sound familiar? This is such a common trap for those of us attempting to lose weight. We tell ourselves there are foods that we “shouldn’t” eat – our “taboo foods” that will limit our ability to succeed. However, more often than not our willpower cannot sustain us from avoiding these foods long-term, and thus we become more likely to overeat them when they’re around. We feel guilty and ashamed that we cannot control our eating habits, and the negative relationship with food is recycled and reinforced.

It doesn’t have to be this way! A healthy lifestyle can include unhealthy foods – as long as they’re incorporated in moderation. Rather than feel there are foods that are off-limits, plan to include all foods that you enjoy, so that you can in fact enjoy them and not feel guilty about it. When you stop restricting your ability to eat unhealthy foods, they become less “taboo” and less appealing. You don’t have to worry about when you might have a brownie again, and thus you’re less likely to eat the entire plateful – because if you want to have another small brownie tomorrow, you can!

Keeping a food journal is an excellent way to help you plan ahead and figure out how you can include all foods in your healthy eating plan in moderation. If you want ice cream, have a small bowl of ice cream a few nights a week. Use a tool like My Fitness Pal to figure out how many calories are in a bowl and how you can adjust the rest of your day’s intake to include this sweet treat. Or, figure out how much exercise you might have to add to your weekly routine to burn off those added calories. There are lots of strategies you can use to help you include all the foods you enjoy in the right portion size.

What is your relationship with food like? Do you try and restrict yourself, only to find that your willpower fails you at the first sight of birthday cake or barbeque? I challenge you to take a more moderate approach. No foods are taboo – the only thing you should avoid is feeling guilty for having something enjoyable every now and then.

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One response

21 06 2012
Nadine B

I definitely follow this plan and it has helped immensely. I often get questions from people (when they find out I’m losing weight) about what I can’t eat. Did I cut out carbs, no sugar, no grains, etc. People find it hard to beleive that I can eat what I want as long as I moderate the rest of my eating habits. I still totally eat cupcake. I might have a salad with tuna and very little dressing for lunch that day. But by golly, I enjoyed that cupcake.

Another thing that I have been doing, is when I do have something that is not the best for me, such as a cupcake, I have the best I can find. Instead of having a mediocre cupcake from the grocery store, I have one from our local cupcake bakery. If I am going to sacrifice the calories, it makes it feel more worth it to really go all out. It seems to lessen the frequency of the cravings. Instead of giving in to something at the grocery store, I can say “no I am going to wait and go to ___ and get ___ and it is so worth waiting for.” Sometimes even that is enough that the craving goes away and I forget about it for a few days. Then it becomes a real reward and I don’t have the guilt that I sometimes get for giving in to cravings.

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