I’m a big advocate of not categorizing food as “good” or “bad” and also just striving for moderation. I encourage people to not buy into the big, fat lie that being healthy means nothing unless you are also thin and only eat “clean” foods. I know that I personally have to steer clear of fully embracing any new healthy trend that eliminates complete food groups or makes me feel like I am depriving my body of anything. Since I spent so much of my life denying myself calories or delicious food or purging myself of anything that I felt was a “bad” food, my body and mind revolt against any kind of dieting mindset – no matter how healthy.
For example, I have been trying to eat more clean lately, which basically means filling up on whole, real food and avoiding processed garbage that is devoid of nutritional benefits. On the surface, this is a good, healthy decision except I found that I started feeling guilty about grabbing a handful of cereal, albeit healthy cereal, if I didn’t have time to make steel cut oats. Or I felt like the day after I had a glass of wine, I needed to “detox” my body by drinking more water. I have to be on guard against these feelings of guilt because they can backfire on me or send me back down a dark path where controlling my weight becomes my way of grasping the control I so desperately seek. Toddler having more crazy tantrums than usual and leaving you flustered? Well, stop drinking wine (even though it might be good for your frayed nerves), cut out chocolate, eat more veggies (even though the urologist told you your daily, liberal spinach habit contributed to your recent bout of kidney stones), swear off all sweets! You are in control. Look how healthy you’re being. Pat yourself on the back.
Oh, that cookie looks so good. Just look at the chocolate chunks in that sucker. Mmmmmm…. But I can’t eat that cookie. It’s huge. I bet it’s at least 500 calories. Maybe more. I don’t want to even think about how many fat grams are probably crammed into that circle of deliciousness. It looks so chewy and gooey and good. I wish I had a super fast mutant metabolism. Then I could eat it and not have to worry about it showing up later in the form of cellulite on my thighs or as a soft pooch on my belly. At least I can suck in my stomach. Why can’t we suck in our butt or thighs? That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? Your jeans get a little tight on your bum, and you just suck those cheeks in.
Gosh, that cookie is calling my name, and I have been good today. All I had for lunch was a big salad. I did use some dressing though, but it was the light stuff. I’ve been exercising every day, too. Don’t I deserve a little treat? I mean, it’s just a cookie. I could skip a meal tomorrow to compensate for the extra calories. Or I could workout twice in one day.
Maybe I should try on my jeans first. If they feel big, then I should definitely just eat the cookie. Or, I could weigh myself. Or better yet, why don’t I just have one bite? I don’t have to eat the whole thing. One tiny morsel won’t hurt me. That’s the perfect solution. Here, I’ll break off this tiny piece and put it in my mouth….
Oh, my goodness. That is so good. It tastes even better than it looks. Maybe I’ll have just one more bite. Besides, the chocolate taste like dark chocolate, and dark chocolate is good for you. I mean, I’ll be fighting cancer if I eat some more of this cookie. Just one more tiny bite… Oh, so yummy. Well, gee. Now I’ve already messed up. What’s the point of leaving half a cookie? I might as well go ahead and eat the rest of it. Yummy! That was so good.
Wait a minute. What did I just do? I can’t believe I just ate that entire cookie! It’s the size of a freakin’ plate. I swear, I’ll never do that again. I need to go to the gym…right now. I’ve got to burn off some extra calories. I’m so weak. Geez…the stupid cookie wasn’t even that good. It tasted kind of artificial, really. It was too chewy, too gooey.
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned – with a cookie.
No more cookies for me…ever. Except maybe at Christmas. And I can have some cookie cake on my birthday. But that’s it. I’m detoxing my body of all processed food starting tomorrow. What’s wrong with me? I feel fat already. I bet I’ve already gained a pound, and my jeans will definitely be tighter. I’m going to go try them on now…
A little funny? Yes. And a bit sad, too? Definitely. And for the record: I have come a long way and my little tête-à-tête on this particular ended with me laughing at my ridiculousness and buying – and enjoying! – the damn cookie.
Perhaps you’re wondering who really might spend as much time as the monologue above suggests thinking about a stupid cookie besides that furry blue monster that entertains preschoolers. I’d bet more people than you’d think.
And even if most of us don’t agonize that much over one cookie, I’ve heard plenty of people talk about their constant struggles with food choices.
Now let’s think about all that cookie and body angst this way: Just consider for a moment what would happen if we took all the time we spend obsessing about what we eat or how we look and used it instead to pray or to think of ways we could simply be kinder or live more fulfilling lives. We may not end up looking like super models, but we’d surely be more at peace.
When I was first married, the vestiges of my eating disorder sometimes surfaced, and I’d start to think of food in terms of my morality. I am a good person if I say no to the cookie and eat only wholesome food. I am a weak, bad person if I, however, do eat the cookies. Whenever I would categorize food as “good” or “bad,” my husband would remind me: There is no good or bad food. It’s just food – fuel for your body. Some of it’s better for your body, of course. Whole grains, lean protein, and fruits and veggies are the premium fuel. But consuming the other stuff – cookies, salty chips, butter and fried food – in moderation won’t sabotage our health – and it certainly doesn’t make us less of a worthwhile person if we like to enjoy a bowl of ice cream from time to time.
There are plenty of people who choose to eat clean or whatever new fad is all the rage and do it with a healthy balance and also discover that they feel better. But there are some of us who have to be careful to embrace too rigid of diet plans. Saying no to an occasional cookie is a good exercise in self-control, but if you swear off everything and have had past struggles with your body image or eating intuitively, it could all backfire.
I have learned that if and when I start obsessing about ice cream or a piece of chocolate, it is best to simply just allow myself a small indulgence and I really savor its taste. On Sunday night my husband and I ordered our favorite Indian takeout. I ate more than I usually do, but I simply tried to enjoy the melange of flavors without eating up a side helping of guilt.
If I start to feel guilty about noshing on something that’s less than nutritious, then I remind myself that the virtues of prudence and temperance are helpful in achieving balance when it comes to healthy eating and living. When we apply the order of reason, enjoying an occasional ice cream sundae or full-bodied glass of wine won’t kill us, and indulging in them every once in awhile does not make us bad or weak. So many healthy eating trends or diets take an all or nothing approach. I’d argue that the dieting and health industry is designed to help people lose weight AND gain it back when they can no longer adhere to swearing off birthday cake on their birthday for the rest of their lives. This way people start to see themselves as the failure while the diets or clean eating or the banning of carbs or the detoxing with juice for three days are the solutions. The weight loss industry doesn’t really want us to succeed. They want us to keep coming back, feeling like big failures.
Don’t believe the lies. Believe in yourself. Believe you have the power to have a cookie for dessert every once in awhile and when you decide to say no to the cookie, it’s because you made the choice, not because eating it would have been a sign of just how pathetic you are.
The next time you really find yourself wanting a cookie or chips or chocolate or whatever you find yourself craving, first ask yourself if that’s what you are really hungry for. Maybe a walk or calling a good friend would satisfy you more. But sometimes having a taste of something delicious is really what you desire and want, so go for it. Give in to a craving. Eat it slowly, and savor the taste, the texture, everything you love about it. And when you’re finished, do not feel guilty. I repeat: DO NOT FEEL GUILTY. Do not think you have to exercise more or eat less tomorrow to atone for your “sin.” Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures, so enjoy it!