Stop feeling guilty for what you’ve eaten

Food guilt, eating guilt, and diner’s remorse are all terms used to describe that unpleasant, sinking feeling associated with ‘falling off the wagon’ and eating in a way that is not in line with your planned dietary approach. This is, in my opinion, a big problem – and science backs that up, with guilt around eating being associated with an increased risk of disordered eating and higher bodyweight.

The thing is, though, you don’t ever need to feel guilty for eating.

Now, this is not me lying to you and saying that eating a big cake won’t stop you losing weight because it will, and I’m not the type of person to just fib in order to make you feel better. The simple fact is that if you want to burn stored body fat you need to consume fewer calories than you expend – and eating too much isn’t in line with that. It’s also not me suggesting that in order to practice body acceptance (which I write about here) that you need to throw your weight loss goals out of the window and be empowered by pizza or something.

No, what I’m saying is that you should NEVER feel guilty about eating because you as an adult have unconditional permission to eat whatever you want, whenever you want, in whatever quantity you want, and of course you can’t feel guilty for doing something you’re allowed to do, can you? Here’s what I mean…

Whenever we think about embarking on a weight loss journey the typical thought, almost instinctively to the point of never being questioned, is this: “I am going to start my diet today and it will continue until I have lost the weight that I want to lose” but this is, to be frank, a pipe dream. Sure, some folks do it this way and have great success, but it’s absolutely the exception rather than the rule unless we’re talking about people that don’t have much to lose in the first place. Think of it like this – if you have 4 stone to lose in order to be at a size that you’d be happy with, that’s 56lbs.

IF you can lose 1lbs per week which is a good rate of loss that’s going to mean you’ll be dieting, without wavering, for just over a year. Now factor in the fact that you’ve probably got no hope in hell of dieting successfully in at least one or more of these times:

  • At Christmas/annual holiday times
  • When you’re away on holiday
  • On your anniversary
  • On birthdays
  • When the kids are off school
  • For at least one week of your menstrual cycle

And you can see how that 56lbs is probably going to take you, what, 18 months to lose?

Now tell me, do you think that realistically you could actually manage to stay motivated enough to stick to a calorie deficit for 18 months, factoring in the 6 months of that in which we’ve just agreed you’re probably going to struggle and not make any progress?

No, me either, but that should not be defeating.

Now, most of you have likely heard the idea that weight loss isn’t linear before, but it’s rare to hear it explained in these terms. Most take it to mean that if you stick to a way of eating and maintain a calorie deficit then some weeks, you’ll see a certain amount of weight loss and some weeks you won’t, but by far and away a better way to look at it is this:

Weight loss can take a really long time, and if you try to do it all in one go, you’re going to have a bad time. Instead of treating weight loss as a specific task that you need to start and finish, treat it as part of an overall healthy lifestyle that you can manage on your own terms. Just because you’d like to lose weight, that doesn’t mean that you HAVE to try to do that every single day or week, and in fact having the mindset that you do will almost inevitably lead to the onset of eating guilt.

If you tell yourself that in order to lose fat you need to be ‘on your diet’ every day then you will eventually find yourself in a situation where you can’t, you’ll then ‘cheat’, you’ll feel bad about it, and that will eat into your self-esteem, mood, and faith in the process altogether. You’ll convince yourself you can’t do it because you’ve just demonstrated to yourself that situations out of your control will arise where dieting becomes impossible for you, and you’ll just sack off the whole venture.

Instead, one of the most beneficial things you can do is adopt this mindset: I want to lose weight but it’s ME that wants to do it, and so I can do it on my terms. If I want to *not* diet today then I’m allowed to do that because, again, I’m dieting on my terms. If I want to *not* diet for the whole two weeks when I’m on holiday, then I’m allowed to do that because it’s all on MY terms.

There will be times during the process of weight loss that you are going to find it hard to stick to your diet. I’ve listed some of them above, but it could be as simple as “I’m absolutely starving today” or “I really, really fancy a proper lasagne without any lower kcal swaps”. When those times arise it’s not the case that you can either stick to your diet or fail to stick to your diet if you adopt the ‘weight loss on my terms’ principle the options are actually these:

  1. You can continue with your current approach and ignore temptation. If you choose to do this because you want to make progress that isn’t a restriction, it’s taking control and empowerment. You’re choosing to rise above temporary temptation and delaying gratification for later.
  2. You can choose to enjoy the things that you want to enjoy without worrying about it (within moderation – DO NOT BINGE) and pick your diet up again tomorrow/next week. You need to understand that this will halt weight loss for the time being but that’s your choice to make and you’re the only one affected. If you value the experience more than you value taking a very small step on what is realistically a really long journey anyway, then just go for it. There’s literally no reason not to.
  3. You can try to shoot for the middle and be really strict with portion control, or enact some other method of making what you want fit (such as intermittent fasting up to a meal, or similar strategies – read more about the IF option here). This is what a lot of people do when they use MyFitnessPal to track their food and it DOES work but it’s something you need to really get into the habit of and, to be honest, most people just don’t want to

For me, the best option in the majority of cases is either one or two-three has it’s place, especially if you eat out a lot or would describe yourself as a ‘foodie’, but most of the time you’re better off sticking to the plan most of the time, unless you decide temporarily not to.

The key to ending food guilt is really understanding that that IS a decision you’re allowed to make. I would advise that in almost every situation you remain ‘sensible’ when you go off track – eat until satisfaction rather than just for the sake of it, maybe eat light during the day when on holiday then don’t worry about portions later, there are a lot of strategies that you can use (and any good nutrition coach will help you work them out!) but that’s again, a choice you’re allowed to make provided you accept the consequence that it’ll make the process a little longer.

One of my favourite ways to explain this is “if you don’t have the body composition that you want to in two years from now it will not be because of what you do today, it’ll be a result of the culmination of every choice you make over the next 730 days”. When you think about body composition and dieting over these more meaningful timeframes the small decisions we make day to day and the tiny delays we accept along the way really do get put into perspective.

Spending a week eating at maintenance or even a little above isn’t the equivalent of falling off the wagon, it’s the equivalent of stopping at a service station for a 20 minute break when taking a 10 hour car journey. It’s your choice to make so long as you accept the delay, and it’s not only pleasant, it can be the thing that makes the journey bearable.

In fact, you could even argue it’s necessary.

"All in or all out" Rachael is a vibrant, no-bullshit-talking Scottish nutrition geek and coach helping women to lose weight without giving up their confidence OR their favourite foods.

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