When was the last time you felt guilty about your food choices and needed to confess and atone for what you've done?
If you're like many women, it probably happens way too often.
I've done it myself a million times in my adult life. Like you, I've felt the desire to explain, disclaim, and justify my food choices to myself and the people around me. It was a big part of my relationship with food.
When I was around my girlfriends, the discussion topic du jour would be how good or bad we've been around food. We each took turns acting as parishioner and priest: asking for forgiveness and granting it. Then we'd talk about how we'd make amends for Monday's macaroni and cheese with Tuesday's treadmill workout.
It was self-flagellation at it's finest.
Why do we do this to ourselves??
Women feel the need to confess and atone because we've been taught that eating certain foods or eating too much is sinful. You're a naughty girl if you eat from the list of forbidden foods. The belief that you should strive for dietary perfection is so ingrained that it feels natural to label the Oreos you just had AND yourself as BAD if you have one too many.
As a result, we wake up with worry, especially on Monday morning, thinking "What food sins did I commit yesterday that I need to atone for today?". This is among the worst ways to kick off a brand new day.
When it comes to food, women are not supposed to have what we want. And if we do have it, we should only enjoy it in limited, society-approved quantities.
We go back and forth between using food as reward or punishment...and there are some days when you can't even tell the difference between the two.
And the cycle goes on and on.
The constant trips to and from the confessional become exhausting, boring, and stop you from fully living your life. The belief that you have to do penance suggests that what you're doing is somehow WRONG.
How does it feel to know that engaging in the simple, natural act of eating is WRONG? Pretty shitty, right?
That's why this way of thinking and behaving is unsustainable. It's a recipe for a life of misery, confusion, and chronic dissatisfaction. I don't know about you, but I don't want spend my life caught up in this cycle of fear, constant scrutiny, and self-loathing.
Food-induced guilt can take over your life, but the good news is that it doesn't have to. So, what's a girl to do when you feel like you need to atone for your indulging in the forbidden fruit?
1. Understand that food is neither good nor bad; it has no inherent moral value. Ask yourself this: If you see a homeless woman who says she's hungry and all you have to offer is a glazed donut, do you refuse to give it to her because it's "bad" or realize that this sugary sweet donut is serving a beautiful purpose in the moment?
2. Change the conversation. When you find yourself around people who start confessing their chocolate chip cookie sins from the night before, listen (because people want to be heard), then respectfully decline to take another trip down this rabbit hole.
3. Write down at least 10 things that are good about you or that you love about yourself. This is a great practice for reminding yourself that what you eat is not a reflection of who you are as a person. Your self worth is not dictated by what's on your plate. Ever.
DISCLAIMER: The process of letting go of food guilt is not easy and won't be accomplished simply by reading this post. It can take months (even years) of intentional work to free yourself from the idea that the food you eat is a reflection of who you are as a human being.
I'll leave you with a few parting thoughts to further drive this point home:
In our culture, feeling guilty about food seems normal if you're trying to be healthy. In reality, food guilt is neither normal nor healthy.
There is no such thing as dietary perfection. This is why you haven't been able to achieve it.
The only thing sinful about eating is being made to believe eating is sinful.