I have a pretty “healthy” diet. I cook a lot at home, try to remember to eat my vegetables, make sure I’m getting enough protein, and I never EVER cheat.
Why not? Simply put, I don’t believe in “cheating”. Don’t get me wrong: I eat cookies, and baked goods, and candy, and pizza, and lots of other things of that nature. I don’t eat them ALL every day, but I try to eat SOMETHING along those lines most days.
But Kelly, you cry, that IS cheating! Those are “junk” foods, “bad” foods, foods to be eaten on “cheat” days!
Not so, my friends, not to me. They may be foods that have gotten a bad rap, but I refuse to label them in a negative way.
The word “cheating” has no positive connotation attached to it. It carries the shame of sneaking, lying, wrongdoing, and no matter how good your “cheat” food tastes, your brain is still going to process it as wrong.
So what do we do? We avoid the foods we love. We go as long as we can without “cheating”. We tell ourselves we’ll NEVER eat that food again. Then we’re out somewhere with friends, or travelling, or hungry in the supermarket, and we give in. Only we don’t stop at a standard serving: our brain has registered the message that we’ll NEVER eat that food again (after just this once), so we’d better eat ALL of it RIGHT NOW!
Cue shame, guilt, self-loathing.
So let’s change the wording. Let’s not “cheat” on “junk food”. Let’s acknowledge that, yes, some food is better for our physical health than others. Cool. But let’s also acknowledge that the state of deprivation we live in when we deny ourselves our favorite things is bad for our mental health. Therefore, I propose that we divide food into two categories: physical health food, and mental health food. We all know what physical health food is. Let’s set some parameters for mental health food:
Mental health food is:
a) A food that we love, but may not be traditionally “good” for us. I loved hot dogs as a kid, so this week I decided to eat a “street meat” veggie dog. (It wasn’t very good, but still . . . )
b) Something we eat on a reasonably regular basis. Surprisingly, you’ll find when you get used to thinking of these foods differently, you may want them less often. The seduction of doing something “bad” is gone, along with the fear of never getting to eat it again.
c) Something we eat to satiety. We eat enough that we feel satisfied, but not so much that we feel punished by it. If you’re working to stop bingeing, you may want to buy single-serve packs for a while, until you feel safer around the food.
d) Something that we eat because it makes us happy, not to stop ourselves from feeling sad. If we try to use food as our exclusive means of dealing with our emotions, we’re only setting ourselves up for a bigger battle.
e) Something that you are NOT ALLOWED TO FEEL GUILTY ABOUT! This is a food that is good for your mental health. You are teaching yourself that your “wants” matter, and that you deserve to have them met. You are teaching yourself that you aren’t bad for liking the things you like. You are teaching yourself that you are worthy of eating food you like.
It’s time to stop cheating, and start living. It’s okay. You’re worth it.
*NB – this post has been edited from its original version