Does this sound like a familiar situation?
There is a plate of freshly made chocolate chip cookies on the counter, a box of Tim Horton’s donuts in the staff room or a bag of your favourite potato chips in the cupboard. You know these foods aren’t good for you. You tell yourself “I WILL NOT EAT THEM.” You repeat it again and again, using every bit of your will power to not give in. But all you can think about is those mouth-watering cookies, sugary donuts or crunchy chips. You try to get them out of your mind. Finally, you tell yourself, I’ll just have one. Before you know it, the whole plate of cookies is gone, the donut box is empty or the chip bag is finished. You are left feeling guilty and ashamed.
We live in a society that views food as “good” versus “bad”. The bag of spinach or head of broccoli is “good” but those cookies, chips or candy are “bad.” We try our best to forbid ourselves from eating these “bad” foods. As a result, these foods become viewed as more special. We put them on a pedestal, making them even more appealing. However, the philosophy of “eat this but don’t eat that” doesn’t work because we don’t eat only for nutrition, but also for enjoyment. It’s unlikely and just plain unrealistic to think that we are going to be able to avoid these “bad” foods for the rest of our lives. When we can no longer avoid these foods, after a period of trying to restrict them, it often results in overeating. Doing this makes eating a stressor, rather than an enjoyment, and results in feelings of guilt and shame.
If you’re trying to lose weight or improve your diet, don’t try to completely eliminate these “bad” foods. Rather, give yourself unconditional permission to eat the foods you crave. If you know you have permission to eat previously forbidden foods and that food is going to be available, you may find that cravings begin to disappear. On the other hand, deprivation almost always leads to cravings and bingeing when you finally do give in. In other words, if you want to reduce cravings, you can’t just force yourself to not crave these foods. By learning to trust your body rather than fighting its every impulse, you begin to crave these foods less over time as they lose their power over you.
My challenge for you is to learn to listen and trust your body. When you feel hungry, eat what you feel like. Tune into your fullness and stop when you’re full. However, I also realize that this is more easily said than done. We often eat out of boredom, stress, routine etc. rather than actual hunger. To learn to listen to your body and get more enjoyment out of food, my encouragement is for you to eat “mindfully.” If you would like to try eating more mindfully, try these tips:
- Before you eat, tune into your body. How do you feel? How hungry are you? Are you eating out of true hunger or is there some other underlying emotion such as boredom or stress?
- Eliminate distraction while eating. Try turning off the TV while you eat supper or eat your lunch in the staff room rather than while completing work at your desk. By eliminating distraction, you pay more attention to the food.
- Eat your food slowly. Have you ever finished a meal and not remembered anything about what you just ate? You probably still wanted more food even if you were full. To avoid this, force yourself to slow down. Chew your food slowly, put down your fork in between bites and take your time.
- Pay attention to your food. Think about the flavour, texture and aroma of what you’re eating. Is the cookie you’re eating sweet? Is that potato chip crunchy? By paying attention to the food characteristics, you’re more likely to enjoy what you are eating.
In conclusion, all foods can be a part of a healthy diet. For most people, simply telling yourself that you’re no longer going to eat “bad” foods anymore won’t work for long-term weight loss or health goals. By taking these foods off a pedestal, we’re less likely to overeat them when we do give into our cravings. Allow yourself to eat what you are craving, and when you do eat these foods, enjoy and savour every bite.
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