I have a pretty healthy diet. I tend towards whole, unprocessed foods. I avoid additives and artificial sweeteners and chemicals, 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. They aren’t a regular part of my diet, but I try to eat something from that list at least once a week.
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 processed foods, they may contain sugar and wheat and butter, 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 normal 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 occasion. Surprisingly, you’ll find when you get used to thinking of these foods differently, you’ll 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 one serving of, then stop. If it helps, buy only a single serving. This way you’ll reduce the fear of binging, while still getting to enjoy a food you love.
d) Something that we eat because it makes us happy, not to stop ourselves from feeling sad. If we try to use food to control 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.