Summer can spark both some of our favorite things — like ice-cream on your way home from the beach — and some of our hardest experiences — like navigating self-esteem, body image, and our relationship with food.
Today, we are grateful to hear from Maria Sosa, who shares her important perspective on how we can reduce the fear, guilt, and shame we feel about food through 4 important tips.
How often have we referred to our food as “junk”? Sometimes, the label we use for food that has been deemed “unhealthy” can include everything from cookies, chips, cupcakes, pizza, to even yummy French fries. For some of us, after consuming these types of foods, we may also say to ourselves, “Ugh, I feel like junk.” If we believe the proverbial saying, “You are what you eat,” well then, this means we may be feeling that we are “junk,” too.
Just like that, our minds have gone through the following processes:
I ate: junk
I feel like: junk
I am: junk
After eating some of our favorite “junk food” it is so common to feel a sense of guilt that may start lurking as we begin to think about how “bad” we have been for our food choices. If you may be feeling this way, you are definitely not alone. Unfortunately, our diet-centered culture has delineated which foods are “good” and “bad,” creating a moral value system which can often solicit shame and guilt when we have not followed “the rules” or stepped out of line. The labels and moral judgments can quickly lead us to internalize the negative value we have assigned to our food, and we may be left feeling pretty low.
This idea that somehow our worth is determined by our food choices can have a negative impact on our mental health and leaves many of us feeling pretty bad. Especially in the Summer, when we may be feeling a bit more body conscious, our food choices may even impact our self-esteem and our daily mood.
On the days that we follow the rules and eat “clean” and “healthy” we may be feeling more happy and worthy. However, on the days that we make a “mistake” and eat “junk,” we may be prone to labeling ourselves as “bad” and may even feel that we deserve to restrict some of our food choices as a result. Sometimes, labeling our food may in time create food fear, anxiety, or an unhealthy relationship with our food and bodies.
Fortunately, there are many ways we can help ourselves to change and feel supported. Below are some helpful tips to help you feel relief around some of your food choices and habits.
1. Change the language. “Junk” is a word which defines those things that are considered useless or of little value. While some foods may have more nutritional value (nutrients, vitamins, etc.) they do not carry a moral value. Food is neither “good” nor “bad,” it is food. Instead of labeling our food “junk” we can call it by its name, no label needed. When using this principle, we find that the unhelpful cascade of negative thought patters no longer sounds reasonable:
I ate: cookies
I feel like: cookies
I am: cookies
We couldn’t possibly internalize the fact that we are cookies, it sounds silly and nonsensical, it even brings a smile to the face to think of ourselves as cookies. On the other hand, it was very easy to see ourselves as “junk” and carry all the weight of the word. Bringing a smile to our face may help release some of our programmed labeling.
2. Unlearn the belief that worth is derived by what we eat. Our food choices do not define us, they are the way in which we nourish ourselves. They do not provide any information of our worth. We are not better people because we have stayed away from sugar, fats, or processed foods. Similarly, it is not helpful to guilt or shame for eating what our culture deems “junk” food. Our disapproval or judgment of self and others is more harmful than helpful. Instead, we can offer self-compassion, kindness and curiosity as we understand ourselves and our emotional and nutritional needs.
3. Explore Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating is a non-diet approach to nutrition which incorporates the psychological component to eating which is missing from the mechanical model we have been taught all our lives. It emphasizes the mind-body connection and explores our intuitive knowledge regarding our food choices. The aim is to tune inwards, understand our individual hunger/satiety cues, rather than external rules or the “should” mentality found in most nutritional concepts.
4. Seek Therapy. If any of these points hit a bit close to home, you’re not alone. According to a survey by SELF Magazine, in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 65% of American women between the ages of 25-45 reported engaging in disordered eating behaviors. Furthermore, 10% reported symptoms consistent with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. The statistics may not even fully grasp the magnitude of those affected as many do not come forward and seek treatment due to shame, embarrassment, and stigma. It is important to note that men are often the least acknowledged population as it is has been wrongly assumed that eating disorders affect only women. Disordered eating and eating disorders are mental health concerns.
As much as we think we can handle this on our own, it’s ok to ask for help. There is no shame in seeking therapy and getting the tools needed to heal our relationship with our food and bodies.
We hope these tips have been helpful for you in learning how to better understand your relationship with food. To see Maria talk through these tips above, check out our Instagram stories (and highlights on this and other topics) @findmywellbeing.
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Maria Sosa is a Registered Marriage and Family Therapy Intern and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach in sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She is also the founder of Holistically Grace, an online health and wellness blog. Maria is a mental health warrior and likes to advocate for holistic healthcare, treating the whole person: mind, body, and spirit. You can follow Maria on social @holisticallygrace.