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3 Ways to Eliminate Food Guilt and Overindulging

My husband and I went to get Thai massages for his birthday last month.  After our massage, they brought out tea and spring rolls.  There is no better surprise on Earth than food when you’re not expecting it.  I was stoked. Veggie spring rolls happen to be one of my very favorite Asian foods, so I greedily dunked it into the sweet chili sauce and took a huge bite.

As I was chewing, I felt that familiar meat texture in my mouth that not even Beyond Burger can perfectly emulate.  I did some meticulous detective work and could  see traces of a brownish substance but didn’t want to admit that it could possibly be meat.  I hadn’t even accidentally eaten a bite of meat in about 4 months.

Bad quality picture, good quality massage

“Is there meat in the spring roll?” My husband asked me.  “Oh, I don’t know.” I said, chomping down on another bite. “It doesn’t taste very meaty, there are like a lot of veggies in there. I’m not quite sure what that brown stuff is but I am really hungry.”  I inhaled both spring rolls during my short monologue of denial.

He opened up the spring roll and dutifully started taking out the meat.  He took one bite and then set it down.  I looked at his spring roll with my eyes narrowing…”I think your spring roll has a lot more meat than mine did. Mine was definitely mostly vegetable.” I took a bite of his spring roll and my eyes widened. “Oh wow! Yours tastes sooo meaty.  Your spring rolls have way more meat than mine did.  I’m not even positive that mine had meat in them actually.” Then I spit out my bite of his spring roll into a napkin to fully emphasize my distaste.  Because I really, really hate meat.

Why would I devour the spring rolls as if it were my last meal?  I was feeling some major guilt.  I wanted to have the spring roll, but I also didn’t want to feel judged by my hubby or myself, so instead of just taking one bite, I quickly devoured the whole thing. And then lied about the fact that it may or may not have had meat.  Why just cheat a little bit when you can cheat a LOT?  It’s the same thing – just ask Tiger Woods.

Why do I do this to myself? I think this is one of the main reasons it is so difficult for food lovers to have a plant based diet.  We advocate plant based eating, and know whole, unprocessed foods is the healthiest option, but we also live in a world with donuts at work, candy bowls at the doctor’s office, and spinach artichoke dip appetizers at happy hour.  (I could literally take a bath in spinach artichoke dip.)  I sometimes wish I lived in a bubble without tempting treats lurking in every corner, but for me, saying “No” to every treat I come across works about as well as Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No Drug Campaign.  Food and drugs…sometimes even the best of us just can’t say No.  And then I eat ALL THE FOOD to excess because I already killed my diet for the day, why not completely slaughter it?  Darn, I’ll just start the diet again tomorrow. Sound familiar to anyone?

Also, do you ever start a diet and eliminate a food (like sugar) and in the days leading up to your diet inhale every single sweet treat you can find because it is still allowed?  Because same. When I decided to stop eating gluten for a while, I ate my bodyweight in pasta and bread pretty much every day until my self elected gluten free start date.  I didn’t want to feel like I was missing out later, so I decided to gorge myself.  The lead up to a diet usually makes me eat so poorly that it probably isn’t even worth going on the diet in the first place.

This is why diets have traditionally been so challenging for me and many other foodies out there.  Who wants to constantly feel disappointed in themselves?  Who wants to be out and feel like you are not allowed to eat something that you really, really want to eat?  It sucks.

Through lots of trial and error, I have finally found a way to eliminate food guilt, and avoid overindulging in unhealthy foods without sucking the joy out of life.

  1. Don’t think about food in terms of what you CAN and CAN’T eat.  When I think that I can’t do something, my inner three year old wants it even more.  Now, I try to think of foods in terms of what is good fuel for my body and what is not.  With the exception of food allergies, can I still eat the food that isn’t the best fuel for my body?  Yes, I will survive. But when I think in terms of fuel for my body, I am at least making a conscious choice about what I am putting in my mouth instead of mindlessly eating candy or chips. Every time you eat or drink you are either feeding disease or fighting it, but if you are eating mostly fuel food, a treat now and then isn’t going to hurt you.
  2. Only indulge in high enjoyment “unhealthy” foods – If I am going to eat something that is not helping me fuel my body, and might make me feel bloated and bleh, I sure as hell am not going to waste it on potato chips or something that I don’t even like that much anyway.  I am going to eat something absolutely amazing and decadent. Maybe a small slice of a homemade chocolate cake or a cheesy pasta dish once in a while.  I always want to choose something that my taste buds absolutely LOVE. I used to always eat mints/candy after going to a restaurant because I reasoned that was just a small treat.  Now I realize I would rather split a dessert that I love occasionally after a meal instead of have a low enjoyment mint after every meal.
  3. Eat slowly and wait.  If you are consuming something that you know isn’t healthy for your body, take the time to really enjoy it.  Don’t mindlessly take bite after bite and wait until your stomach wants to explode.  After you have a couple of bites, wait a few minutes to see if you are full yet. This is something that is difficult for me because I tend to love things in excess.  A couple of bites of chocolate cake probably won’t make my stomach hurt, but by the time I am done chomping on my second slice and reaching for my third, I am not feeling great.
  4. Enjoy it!  If you are eating a treat and feeling guilty about it, what is the point of even eating it? You want to truly enjoy each bite and feel good that you are “treating” your taste buds with something you love.

These methods have completely transformed my relationship with food.  When I know I am eating a high quality food that I absolutely love, I don’t feel guilty and I no longer gorge myself on that food. When I am out to eat with friends, instead of eating way more than my fair share of a spinach artichoke dip, or saying no all together, I can have a couple of satisfying bites and don’t feel like I need to eat the entire thing because I am not going to deprive myself tomorrow or “not be allowed” to eat spinach artichoke dip ever again.

You can still eat out and enjoy food with friends, but the majority of your diet can be healthy, nutritious, AND tasty!  What are your favorite fuel foods, and favorite treat foods?

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