5 Steps to Creating a Guilt-Free Relationship with Food

Guilt may be the most dreaded five letter word! It is an emotion most of us despise feeling.  It weighs us down and makes us feel bad about what we have done or not done, said or not said, eaten or not eaten, etc.  One of the physical descriptions of guilt is that gnawing feeling in our stomach that something isn’t quite right.  Just writing about it makes me feel uncomfortable!

I can’t describe exactly how it’s happened, but we have become conditioned to associate guilt with the negative feelings I described above.  But what if I were to tell you that guilt is actually a positive emotion we all should embrace?  I know what you’re thinking… How could an emotion filled with so many negative thoughts and feelings be good?

Well it’s pretty simple.  Guilt is really just our own internal accountability structure.  It is there to remind us that we have just done something different than what we thought we should do or planned to do.  Since we are talking about it in the context of food, I will use a food example: Let’s say you want to decrease the number of treats you have in a week.  By keeping a food journal, you discover that you average two treats per day (that’s 14 treats per week). To cut down your sugar intake you decide to go from two treats per day to one treat per week.  You start the week strong and have four successful days. You feel great!  Then some friends unexpected come in from out of town and you wind up going out to eat three days in a row and have two to three treats each day.  Each of these days your conscience says to you, “Wait a minute. You just ate/drank more than one treat.  Hello, do you realize you just broke your game plan?”  It is at this moment we have control over which direction we go…

At first, the majority of us are likely to flounder because we have never had anyone explain it to us or provide us with the tools to navigate through these situations.  Here are a few key steps to living a guilt-free life when it comes to food!

Step 1: Acknowledge our actions

When our conscience says, “Wait a minute! You just ate your third dessert of the week and you said you were only going to have one per week.”  Ideally, what should happen is that we acknowledge our behaviour: “You are right, I did just eat my third dessert this week.”  This is the introduction to guilt.  Our conscience is simply telling us we did something different than what we said we were going to do.

Step 2: Own our actions

This is a crucial step in the process of living a guilt-free life, but it’s tough. It’s tough because there are a lot of emotions attached to our actions.  If we have done something we are not happy about, we may feel embarrassed, sad, angry or frustrated, and just like guilt, none of these emotions are ones we care to embrace. So what is the easiest thing to do? Postpone dealing with it till later.  You may think, “I don’t have time to deal with this right now.” So you throw it in your closet to deal with later.

Every time we do something that isn’t in line with what we planned to do, we are faced with the same decision.  The more we postpone owning our actions, the bigger the “to-do list” pile in our closet gets – and the guilt leaves us feeling more and more uncomfortable.  Why?  Because the guilt is there to remind us we have work to do, and that we can run, but we can’t hide from ourselves.

It takes practice, but the sooner we own our actions, the sooner we can move on and stop feeling guilty.  We simply need to acknowledge what we have done, and appreciate the impact it has on our goals.  It is common to get stuck at this stage.  Overtime, this leaves people feeling like they are a broken record.  Many of my clients have said things like, “Why do I keep failing at this?  There must be something wrong with me.” The good news is there is nothing wrong! Facing our actions can be very scary at first.  We don’t want to believe that we are the ones who choose to eat the dessert- no one else.  We basically threw ourselves under the bus!  Welcome to the human race!!

Step 3: Create an action plan

Once you have acknowledged your actions, the next step is to create an action plan.  In this instance it may go something like this: “Okay, so I didn’t do so well meeting my goal for desserts this week.  Next week, I will only be eating out on Saturday and plan on saving my dessert for then.”  Once you have created an action plan, you will feel a sense of relief and be proud of yourself.  This will increase your confidence, and ultimately your motivation moving forward.

Step 4: Learn from our behaviour

Learning from our behaviour means owning our actions and appreciating the impact our behaviour has on us and our goals.   Once we do this, it’s a lot easier to stop the cycle.  It may sound like this: “If I am faced with the opportunity to have more than one dessert during this week, I am going to remember how lousy I felt knowing that I let myself down last week.”

Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Repeating the same behaviour and expecting a different result.”  This is what we all do until we are finally ready to own our actions and learn from our behaviour.

Step 5: Perfection does not exist

This final piece of advice is crucial.  For some reason when it comes to the human race, we seem to think we aren’t allowed to make mistakes.  Many of my clients have said things like, “I understand the concept of eating balanced and it seems pretty easy.  So what is my problem?  Why can’t I seem to execute it?  I feel like a failure.”

Perfection does not exist! While eating balanced may feel straight forward, it’s the behaviour changes associated with eating balanced that we really need to assist our clients with.  Knowledge does not automatically equal success.  Mistakes/failures/”oopsies” – whatever you wish to call them, are a critical part of our life’s journey.  Instead of viewing them as a negative, try and figure out what you can learn from them.  You will find the more you do that, the easier it gets to look in the mirror, reflect on your actions and not make the same mistake(s).

Next time you feel that gnawing sensation in your stomach about what you just ate (or did), ask yourself why you are feeling this way and walk through the steps I have listed.  You deserve to live a guilt-free life!!

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Want more guilt-free goodness? Check out Revive’s 5 Best Holiday Foods and make sure you get a little bit of each this season! 🙂