How to Get Out of the Shame Cycle and Enjoy Your Food

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The holidays make mindful eating very difficult for me. Somewhere between Halloween and New Years, my Sugar Dragon gets Grinch-level horrible. I get tired and stressed about all the shopping I need to do, usually get a deep zit or two that comes to stay on my cheek for the next month, and start to despise my scale. The promise of January and a brand new start does not help, because I know that in January the hot chocolate, the cookies, the candy, the delicious holiday food won’t be around. So, like any good mammal saving up for the cold winter, I say “SCREW IT” and eat all the things, no matter the consequences.

This year has the extra challenge of breastfeeding and often feeling “too tired” to make myself some veggies. If I don’t have something prepped or available, I’ll go the “easy” route. It’s really easy to forget I have a freezer full of better options than a piece of toast. Having those Ghiradelli chocolates around is bad news, because every time I’m feeling a bit tired, frustrated, anxious, etc. I will grab a tasty square of caramel-filled yumminess and all is right in the world. For about five minutes.

Are you with me on this? Are you having a hard time with your food choices right now, particularly after a holiday weekend and feeling extra strapped for time?

The good news is, I have some Food Freedom tools in place that are helping me get through the season.

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Self-Empathy

Trust me, after a few decades of being an emotional and stress eater and feeling super horrible about food choices, I get the shame. The worst part about food shame is that it just leads to more emotional eating.

These days, I feel much less shame around my food choices. Something I’ve learned as a parent is that everything is a phase. This period of time from Halloween to New Years, particularly during breastfeeding, is a totally normal phase. Do you know what’s not productive? Beating myself up about every single chocolate square or meal that doesn’t have the perfect amount of veggies. My food choices do not define me and they do not define you. It is possible to move along with your life after a big meal, a trip through the drive-thru, or a few more pieces of candy that you intended to eat without feeling horrible about yourself. It is possible to enjoy your choices and not feel regret!

Brene Brown talks about empathy being the antidote to shame, and this is the same with food. If we give ourselves a little empathy this season and stop flogging ourselves up for our decisions or feelings, maybe we can escape the shame cycle. Would you tell your close friend they are a horrible person for eating something? NO. So stop doing that to yourself. However, I also know that snapping your fingers and tell yourself to suck it up and move on isn’t going to work either. It takes time, effort, and practice. Start practicing.

Planning Ahead

I have a plan each and every week. I make my menu on Sundays, fill it with great options, and go grocery shopping. Okay, my husband goes shopping, but you can also get cheap delivery or pick-up options from many grocery stores if your partner isn’t or can’t be helpful. My meals aren’t always Whole30 compliant, Paleo, gluten-free, or sugar-free by any means, but they are easy, contain an abundance of good food, and are delicious.

A few nights ago, our in-laws were still in town and I realized I had no time to make what I’d planned. I did the next best thing: I ordered GrubHub. I picked a place with great options and ordered something with extra veggies. Was it what I’d planned? No. Was it good enough? Heck yeah. Do I feel guilty about it? Nope! I can make that Kalua Pork and Asian Slaw another night this week. It wasn’t a special occasion, I didn’t use time as an excuse to go off the rails, and quite honestly, what I ordered sounded the best to me.

Want to know a secret? I knew this was going to happen at least once this week. I even planned for it.

Having a plan when things don’t go as expected that day is essential. I have a newborn who is incredibly unpredictable in the evenings and a toddler who makes the hours from 4-6pm seem like a lifetime. On weeks like this one, I sometimes don’t have any guaranteed back-up from my husband until 7pm or later. My plan keeps me from frantically trying to figure out something at the last second or settling on a bowl of ice cream for dinner. (I’ve done it. Not ideal.)

Don’t Restrict

I don’t restrict. Ever. Restriction leads to a range of emotions and hunger that can make my “SCREW IT” monster come out and lead to overconsumption. That overconsumption then leads to shame. That shame leads to more overconsumption. And all of this leads to my jeans not feeling, me feeling horrible physically and about myself, and a nice, deep zit that won’t go away. And, I don’t get to enjoy the holidays- which is probably the biggest bummer. Welcome to the shame cycle!

I also no longer plan on restricting. The very idea that I’ll be cutting back in January doesn’t make me feel better about what I’m doing right now. In fact, it has the opposite effect: I get caught up in the shame cycle again.

You are probably asking your computer, “but, you do Whole30s, how is that not restrictive?!”

There is a big difference for me when I do a Whole30. I treat this program religiously as a reset, not a diet. It is thirty days of a promise to myself to treat myself as well as possible, get myself out of the sugar consumption shame cycle, and move on with my life. It allows me to make better decisions afterwards, rather than getting me revved up for all that chocolate cake I “can’t” have. Additionally, the fact that there are no calorie restrictions and no crazy rules allows me to eat until I am full. The appropriate food choices allow me to stay full. It has never felt restrictive, particularly because the reward at the end is so great. (Reach out to me if this plan sounds awesome to you!)

But I have to tell you one more thing. I’m mindful about when I do a Whole30. I know that doing one right now wouldn’t be setting myself up for success. Doing one now would set me up for feeling restricted. Even a mini-reset at this moment would give me all the crappy symptoms of coming off of sugar without the benefit. I know that there will be a better moment to do a round, so I will do the best I can right now and move on when it’s not ideal.

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Go Forth With Mindfulness

This holiday season, I encourage you to approach your food choices with self-empathy and mindfulness. If you are new to this Food Freedom thing, maybe now is a good time to set up some good habits and reach out to a Whole30 coach (or a coach-to-be like me). Stop watching TV or hanging out on Instagram during meals, put down your fork between bites, really taste your food, stop eating when you’re full or don’t really find that store bought cupcake to be all that tasty. If you have a craving, drink a big glass of water or take a walk first before heading to the chocolates.

If none of this works, don’t make a plan to restrict and say “SCREW IT” in this moment. Make a plan. Be gentle on yourself and practice empathy. Talk to yourself like you would a loved one. Stop weighing yourself. Know that perfection is impossible and cannot be the goal.

And when you really want something (for me it’s a huge, delicious dinner out complete with appetizers, wine, main course, and dessert), enjoy the hell out of it!!

I know that none of this is easy. It’s a long, difficult process, but you are capable of this. You are far more than food.

Your partner in health,

Lindsay

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