Does the following scenario sound familiar...?
You're watching TV in the evening after a long, stressful day. You're feeling a bit down or out of sorts, and start thinking about what you can do to get some relief from those feelings. Your mind wanders to the packet of Tim Tams in the cupboard (that you were saving for a 'special occasion').
You think to yourself... no, I won't have one. That would be naughty. But then again, I have been pretty good this week, so I deserve a treat. Especially since I'm feeling low. It'll cheer me up.
So you go and get the packet and sit back down in front of the TV. You eat one Tim Tam but you were so engrossed in the TV that you barely tasted it. Not feeling satisfied, you have another two. Immediately the feelings of guilt kick in.
Oh no! I've blown my diet now! Why do I always do this?! I'm such a failure! I don't think I'm ever going to lose the weight. My willpower just isn't strong enough. Maybe I'm destined to be fat for ever. Sigh.
Guess what happens next?
Yup. If you're going to 'fail' your diet, you might as well do it properly!
Whole packet... gone.
And of course, since you are now in the mindset of 'stuff it - I'll eat the whole packet', the feelings of guilt become so strong that you scoff the rest of the packet down as fast as you can to get it over and done with.
Did you actually stop and appreciate the taste of the Tim Tams? No, probably not. You ate them as fast as you could so that once you've finished you can try to shut out the feelings of guilt and move on. You were also distracted by the TV and eating mindlessly.
I have lived through this scenario more times than I can count. And I'm guessing it sounds familiar to you to. We've all been there.
Did you know that the feelings of guilt associated with having a 'naughty treat' or 'falling off the wagon' are actually doing you more harm than the food itself?
Here are the two main reasons why:
1 - Feelings of guilt actually make your body think it is under threat. This triggers the stress response, which shuts down your digestive system. So you won't actually digest the food anywhere near as well as if you were relaxed. This means that more of the food is likely to get stored as fat instead.
There have been studies which prove the more relaxed and content we are when we eat, the less weight we put on, compared to eating the exact same amount of food while in distress.
2 - Guilt causes you to hate yourself and degrades your self esteem. You felt like a failure, right? Feelings of failure lead to a downward spiral of self sabotage, resulting in poorer food and lifestyle choices in the future. Feeling bad about yourself increases the desire to turn to comfort foods and leads you deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, potentially resulting in an eating disorder.
We make choices that lead to the results that we think we deserve.
Guilt only reinforces that you are either 'on' or 'off' your diet, and once you've fallen 'off' it becomes really easy to continue making bad choices. The alternative is having one indulgent treat and then carrying on with your healthy lifestyle.
Now consider this scenario...
You're watching TV at the end of a long stressful day. You really feel like a treat. You've eaten really well today and done some exercise so there should be an allowance there for you to have a couple of Tim Tams without blowing out your calorie count for the day.
You go to the kitchen, get two Tim Tams out of the packet - leave the rest of the packet in the cupboard and take your two Tim Tams to the lounge room.
You look at the Tim Tams in your hand and feel grateful that you are about to indulge in a delicious treat and this might even be the highlight of your day! You marvel at how good they look, and how good they smell. Ignoring the TV for a moment, you focus on the task at hand. Eating those chocolatey delights!
You eat them. Slowly. Savouring the taste and really indulging yourself. You think to yourself how awesome you are, because you have broken that binge-guilt trap and have control over your choices. You are choosing to have only two Tim Tams, not because you are on a diet and scared of putting on weight, but because you love and appreciate your body and want to treat it with respect.
You don't feel guilty at all, because you know that those two Tim Tams aren't going to set you back to square one. We all need to indulge from time to time.
And because you enjoyed the experience so much, after two Tim Tams you now feel satisfied! You don't need to eat the whole packet, because the experience of eating two in a mindful way, was far more satisfying than scoffing the whole packet with feelings of guilt and shame.
The moral of the story:
Next time you are craving an indulgent treat, think about it carefully and make a conscious choice. Is this going to nourish me, either physically OR mentally/emotionally?
Once you have made the choice to go ahead and eat it - OWN IT!
You have obviously decided to eat it for a reason, and whatever your reason is, it's perfectly okay. So own the decision and don't look back. Give yourself permission to indulge yourself and REALLY enjoy it.
And okay yes, so you might not have made the best food choice. But treat it as a learning experience. A chance to explore the thoughts and feelings that are coming up and contributing to the cravings.
Treat it with curiosity. Not with punishment.