Have you ever eaten something just because you spent a lot on it? Or because someone specific made it? Maybe you finished the last few bites of your restaurant meal because it wasn’t enough to take home but you didn’t want to “waste it?” Or maybe your mother-in-law dropped off a freshly baked cheesecake that you had to eat (just to be polite)?
Many of us have often felt guilty after we have eaten something we deemed “bad” or “unhealthy” or after we have eaten too much of something. This is a very normal response to over indulging but also a response that can become worrisome if the guilt becomes so overwhelming you start to develop disordered eating habits. Some of us experience guilt in a different form, a guilt that stems from where or whom the food came from.
This weekend we celebrated my daughter’s birthday and it was absolute déjà vu of my son’s birthday. My mother made a very labor intensive chocolate cake for my daughter’s birthday which is The CHOCOLATE CAKE I have blogged about previously! So for the third time this year, I was now faced with insane temptation in my house. And like every time she makes this cake, the cake sits on the counter with a great amount of guilt attached to it. Guilt of wanting to eat this homemade chocolate cake that my mom has already repeatedly yet off-handedly stated it takes “two days” to make. Guilt when I eat a way-too-big piece of the cake because I cannot eat cake in moderation whatsoever. Guilt when I then don’t have anymore of the cake on subsequent days because I’m now not eating the cake that took “two days to make.” Logically I know that I can have one small piece, or even a few small pieces of cake over a few days, be satisfied and let my kids enjoy the rest. But emotionally, I struggle both with not eating the cake and eating the cake.
So herein lies my version of food guilt:
I define food guilt as “guilt stemming from the foods that we eat because of where they came from, who made them or the cost of the food. “
Let’s look at another example, also about cake: My In-laws love to get very decadent cakes for my children’s birthday parties. They buy cakes that are worthy of being on the Food Network! My son’s party had a Batman theme while the most recent party had a gemstone theme. The cakes my in-laws buy are Pintrest worthy works of art… and come with a hefty price tag. So now, not only is there left over chocolate cake, there is also left over decadent cake… the kind with delicious frosting and fondant. As you can probably tell by now, I really struggle with eating sweets in moderation and sometimes it is just easier to have portion control when I don’t keep certain things in the house. So while I should be able to just let my kids enjoy a piece of cake over the next few days, share with my neighbors, or even throw out the left overs, I struggle with this! How do you give away or throw out cake that cost so much?! A grocery store cake would be one thing but a multiple hundred dollar cake?! I just can’t! I feel compelled to eat it. I have food guilt!
The same is true for non-cake foods of course! For example, if you hosted Thanksgiving and now have left over stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy or other high fat and high carbohydrate foods left over, there is a pressure or guilt associated with them! How can you possibly not finish Grandma Becky’s home fried onion rings? Or the sausage stuffing it took your mother all day to make? Or the fancy dessert it took you hours to make? So we end up eating more of these less-than-healthy food choices (larger portions or just more servings even over a few days) that we really want. Our food guilt prevents us from making smarter food choices. We don’t want to waste food, money or effort!
A few years ago I had read a book by Bethanny Frankel wherein she talks about this from a different view point. My interpretation of this particular section of her book was that she views food as almost already wasted and would rather her readers throw out their leftover bites than waste the food on their hips. This was a very interesting way of viewing the aforementioned… the food would be better wasted in the garbage than wasted on your hips. For a long time, this view point seemed almost revolutionary. It was like I had permission to throw away food and not keep every bite. But this doesn’t fully erase my food guilt and almost seemed to increase it at times! Yes, I could throw out the left over mashed potatoes but Aunt Mary made them, she only makes them a few times a year, and they are delicious!
There is also a very real concern about throwing out food from a financial standpoint. You don’t want to waste money by not finishing food you are buying at a restaurant. Even when we make food at home, there is a cost involved- a cost of the groceries, a cost of our time in prepping and cooking. Throwing food out especially when it is still edible, is a hardship for people or a substantial financial waste. You would not throw money into the garbage!
So aside from not wanting to throw away money, where does all this food guilt stem from? There are many factors that impact our struggles with food and food guilt. Your relatives/spouse/friends can really pile on the guilt by telling you how much time, effort, etc went into making a certain meal or dish! Additionally, we associate certain events with food and even specific dishes. My birthday cake is an absolute staple of my birthdays going back to childhood. That is 29+ years of history with this one cake! 29+ years of memories entangled with this one cake! Many of us also intertwine feelings with food. Saying “no” to Aunt Mary’s mashed potatoes is not a rejection of Aunt Mary!! But Aunt Mary may view it as such and even start to pressure you into eating. There are many thoughts, memories, and feelings associated with eating, so many that most of us don’t even realize it!
So why is this such a big issue? Why can’t I quit whining and just indulge in the birthday cake, the Thanksgiving leftovers, the multiple other cakes that have shown up in my kitchen when my mother tried a new recipe? Because I really struggle with moderation and if I am not vigilant in following a healthy eating plan, I very quickly start over-indulging at almost every meal. And since I am the type of person who gains weight just from looking at fattening food, I need to be fairly strict in my eating choices or I gain weight again very quickly.
So what is the resolution? How can we let go of the food guilt? I think the answer is going to be a little different for all of us! There are many strategies that can help and different strategies will be effective for each of us at different times. Sometimes trying to create new, healthier traditions can help reduce the guilt of not eating multiple servings of all of those holiday meals. Sometimes indulging in a serving of something that is really delicious and then giving away the left overs is the best course. Sometimes keeping track your thoughts and feelings in addition to your food choices can help shed light on eating/emotion patterns. And sometimes setting boundaries and just asking your mother/mother-in-law/other loved one to not surprise you with decedent desserts every other week is a necessity. Finally, letting go of food guilt can also come as we develop a healthier relationship with food.
Don’t forget to also give yourself a break. If you are at all like me, you are still a work in progress!
If you would like additional guidance or coaching on alleviating or combating food guilt, feel free to reach out to me at Optimally Balanced!