It’s always intrigued me how women define their ‘goodness’ by their eating habits.
I couldn’t count how many of patients report to me proudly, “I’ve been good!” when their dietary goals are going well. When things have gone to pieces, I hear a guilt-ridden, “I’ve been bad”.
Sorry sister, whether you drank green juices all day or dined at MacDonalds for breakfast, lunch and dinner, what you eat doesn’t make you good or bad. It might make you feel good or feel bad but food isn’t a moral compass.
Food doesn’t define your worth as a person. Things like, I dunno – stealing from a blind person or kicking a dog make you bad in my books.
Some of the kindest, bravest and most intelligent women I’ve ever met struggle with their food choices and weight. And it honestly breaks my heart to witness women feel that they aren’t ‘good enough’ just because of what they weigh.
Besides the fact that you – and no woman – simply don’t deserve that, here’s the rub: This mindset actually makes things worse.
Sound crazy? Hear me out.
I’m a dietitian and sometimes I overeat. Other days I undereat.
Mostly these days, I’m pretty tuned into eating in a way that feels good and healthful. But it’s not always been like that and some days I still slip up. But no matter which kind of day I’m having, I’m getting a whole lot better at loving myself regardless.
Importantly,kind exploration is sooooooo much more effective than beating yourself up about food.
Take this recent example from my personal life: When I got home from work last Thursday, I was dehydrated. I was tired. I had a headache. And I was very, very hungry by the time I reached my front door.
As the keys turned in the lock, it was almost as if a switch was turning on in my brain screaming, ‘FEED MEEEEEE!!’ The fastest, healthiest thing I could think of in my starvacious state was to eat a salad wrap, which I shovelled down without further aplomb.
In almost the same breath, I had inhaled an entire muesli bar. Then a banana that also failed to hit the spot. Before I could give my brain any chance to register that I was full, I’d eaten two mini mars bars and more scoops than I’d care to count from a tub of ice cream.
How did I feel after all that food? Terrible. Was this a healthy, supportive choice for my body and mental state?No.
However, I see two potential ways I could have reacted to this situation. In the past, I would have mentally berated myself for the rest of that night and probably tried to skip breakfast the next day to make up for my calorie splurge…thereby setting up another starve/blow out cycle.
I have often witnessed in my clients that this ‘restrictive eating reflex’ can actually also trigger a good deal of compensatory emotional eating.
These days, I believe in a kinder route. This other option involves observing my eating choices through a lens of non-judgement.
So, as I sat down after my blow-out, with a bellyache and groan of discomfort, here are a few things I reflected upon:
My time management at work hasn’t been great lately. As a consequence, I’ve been missing out on lunches or grazing on small snacks.
By the time I get home late, I’m over-hungry. When I feel sick (for example, with headache), I find it difficult to put a lot of effort into meal preparation.
When I’m tired and mentally overloaded, my usual carefactor about eating healthily just ain’t there.
By acknowledging these observations, I am better empowered to make changes. I can honestly assess what lead to my choices and take ownership of a solution.
For example, I realised that I can:
Put strategies in place to have back-up healthy meals on hand for busy nights,
Plan a longer break time for lunches,
Ask my wonderful partner to support me with meal prep on Thursday nights.
See the difference?
This self-kind enquiry puts me in a problem-solving frame of mind. The alternative ‘beat-me-up’ mindset undermines my self-confidence, my rational problem-solving abilities and drives me further into unhealthy thoughts about myself and food.
That way of thinking is not solution-oriented or empowering. It’s destructive, victimising and tends to exacerbate the problem.
The point of me sharing this is not to justify blowing out on junk food. Note here that I am not making excuses for myself but rather seeking honest answers about why it happened, so that I can make more positive choices next time.
Can you relate? I’d love to hear if you can – or otherwise!