A book worm and foodie, studying English Literature at the University of Glasgow, writing about food, books and travel while aspiring to be a writer.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Dispelling the myth of Food Guilt.


One of the most perplexing things I wonder about when considering my relationship with food, is the guilt I sometimes feel after, or even during, eating. The feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach that follows a particularly large or indulgent meal totally ruins the pleasure of actually eating it, and all too often turns the delicious taste left in my mouth sour. This self-pitying food guilt I occasionally inflict on myself is not only incredibly self-indulgent in a masochistic, narcissistic way (I mean, talk about first world problems) but also borderline ridiculous and the more I think of it, the stupider it seems. I know I am not alone in this: myself and most of my friends have, at one point or another, muttered 'oh god, I shouldn't have eaten that/so much' and then punished themselves later by having a stingy dinner, or starving themselves altogether, despite having made the decision to order/buy/cook whatever they have just eaten in the first place. While people experience subjective food guilt to varying degrees, depending on their self-esteem, body issues or in my case, occasional batshit crazy rationality, I think it is time to address this puzzling negativity that too many of us perpetuate in ourselves.

I like to think of myself as a pretty smart person. Most of the time I have a grip on myself, my life and my thoughts. I'm often proud of my mind and the things it can produce and, as I have addressed in my previous blogs, am a cook who takes immense satisfaction from making delicious food. So, you would think that when I make a decision of which the outcome is certain, for instance, pressing 'order' on the Dominos' website, I would be prepared for and accepting of its results. Why then, does food occasionally seem to create a disconnect between my body and mind? Fast food websites do not make ordering from them overly simple. Scrolling through menus, selecting toppings and filling in your card details should, in theory, give you plenty of time to mull over your decision. 'Do I really want this pizza/curry/Chinese?' If yes, click checkout. If no, close the tab. More often then not though, whenever my meal has arrived after an agonising half-hour of subtly looking out my curtains to see if I can spot the delivery driver, I eat it and experience instant regret. No matter how much I enjoyed eating whatever it happened to be in the moment, my mind then turns on my body and the two have a fall out. It is as if my brain can't comprehend the satisfaction my body feels from eating something it deems 'bad' for me, despite the fact that it was actively involved in the decision to eat the food, and so a cycle of guilt and punishment ensues.

This downward spiral into food guilt is completely self-perpetuating. My decision to eat something 'bad' makes me feel increasingly negative and cruel towards my body. In turn, the negative mindset I find myself in means I care less about regaining my self-respect. I make more decisions that I know will end up in additional food guilt and self-loathing, therefore elongating the period of bad feeling. This experience isn't limited to just ordering takeaway food either. I have known myself to spend over an hour making the most delicious macaroni cheese from scratch, only to eat it and then spend the evening agonising over its calorie content. How ridiculous is that? To invest time, effort, money and love making something, to have the pleasure of enjoying it taken from you, by yourself. Only when thinking about this in depth recently, through my more self-reflective writing and efforts to be more self-loving, have I realised that this food guilt I sometimes feel is a myth, created by a brain that has been damaged by society's expectations. Therefore, it is also a feeling I can choose to completely overcome.

While some food is unhealthy, eating it occasionally for pleasure can only be good for your happiness. Furthermore, eating pizza once a fortnight will probably not have a huge effect on your figure, so me studying my stomach in the mirror after a meal, scanning for instant change is nothing short of deranged. Society condemns certain body shapes and the things, or foods associated with them. However, were we to just ignore this and have healthy relationships with our minds and bodies, occasionally indulging ourselves for pleasure would not be negative. To the contrary, it can actually make you feel pretty good. I am capable of thinking and making decisions for myself and the idea that societal tropes of appearance and healthy living can override a decision I made, with a guilt I don't believe in, is preposterous. The further irony is that when I accept that I have enjoyed something that wasn't very healthy, or maybe had too much cheese on it, I move on from that experience totally unscathed. Continuing to like myself, I fall back into normal healthy eating patterns rather than feeling guilty for days and life goes on. Pizza is delicious. Macaroni cheese is one of my favourite meals. If I want to eat them, I will, and I'll be damned if afterwards I feel anything other than happiness that I could allow myself to enjoy something. Sure, I'm not saying that I will be eating indulgence food every day and loving it, health is important too, but I'm tired of my brain sabotaging my stomach against its own will.

Homemade macaroni cheese, what's not to love? 

Deciding to stop partaking in food guilt makes enjoying food and liking yourself a lot easier. I also find that, personally, I am less likely to overeat indulgence food when it doesn't make me feel bad. If there is less stigma attached to it in my mind I can take or leave it, choosing to enjoy it only when I know I will get the most satisfaction. Getting away from this strange paradox of punishment and reward also means I like and respect myself a lot more. If I order a pizza, that's fine, just like it's fine if I eat really healthily for a week. While food guilt is something that is probably only the tip of the iceberg for a lot of people who suffer from eating related anxiety, addressing its ridiculousness can be the first step in overcoming it and moving towards self-acceptance. Being in control of our bodies and minds in a positive way is an agency we deserve on a primitive level. Eat pizza if you want, eat salad if you want, just make sure that whatever you do makes you happy just for you and you alone.

Lindsay x




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