Eating shouldn’t suck.
That may sound obvious, but let’s face it: For so many women, the very notion of mealtime brings up a ton of baggage, whether it’s the drudgery of trying to stick to an unsatisfying meal plan or a bunch of guilt and shame after “cheating” or going “off plan.”
And that’s really too bad, because we all deserve to enjoy the way we eat.
Improving your nutrition shouldn’t require you to white-knuckle your way through every meal, eating foods that you don’t actually like, all while wishing for a slice of cheesecake.
(Nor should it include lying awake at night berating yourself because you did eat a slice of cheesecake.)
You can improve your nutrition while still enjoying foods of all kinds, including those that might typically be considered “indulgent” or “treat foods.”
That’s right. Pizza. Doughnuts. French fries. Ice cream. None of these are “bad” foods. It’s just a question of your own personal priorities and choices.
Here’s how to find the balance that works for you according to your own food preferences, priorities, and goals.
Before we go any further, let’s make one thing very clear: It’s up to you how you eat. Not up to me. Not up to some guy on the Internet. Not up to anybody else.
(This is something that surprises many of our GGS Coaching clients at the beginning of their journeys with us! Nonetheless, we value every woman’s autonomy to make the choices she wants for herself, and this includes food!)
Because of much of the ambient discourse around food, many people have the habit of qualifying themselves as “good” or “bad” based on their food or drink choices. Similarly, some foods seem to take on magical properties and are described as “detoxifying,” “super,” or “miracle” foods, while others are demonized for being “fake” or “junk.”
Here’s the thing: Food choices are nothing more or less than personal preference, and a person’s self-worth is not tied to these choices.
Food doesn’t hold the power to make us good or bad. It has no inherent moral value.
So when it comes to making food choices, rather than thinking about foods as “bad” or “good,” try to shift your thinking toward your goals and what you want for yourself.
For example, is your goal to build strength or muscle mass? Lose fat? Manage a health condition? Improve your energy and focus? Or simply enjoy your food and life?
Depending on what your priorities are, you may choose to be more or less restrictive with your food choices. For example, it may be helpful to think of nutritional flexibility on a continuum, with a more restricted diet on one end and the most flexibility on the other.
Suppose you’re trying to manage a health condition with a doctor-prescribed diet. In that case, it may be well worth it to you to restrict yourself to certain foods in order to achieve a desired health outcome. Or if you have fat loss goals, you may be focused on creating a caloric deficit, and therefore you may be conscious of how many calories you’re consuming.
On the other end of the spectrum, if your focus is on gaining mass — or simply on having fun and enjoying new food experiences — you may choose to be less restrictive.
After all, food can be part of a powerful experience. Sharing a meal or treat with others can be extremely gratifying and healthy, regardless of whether you’re eating a food that may not be labeled as “healthy.”
Bottom line: Foods are not “bad” or “good”, and it’s up to you to choose what’s best for you.
And you know what? What’s best for you can absolutely change depending on the situation — talk about freedom!
What can “indulging” look like in action? How about what our GGS Coaching client Janice shared:
“I ate ice cream and drank white wine for dinner tonight. I did it with 100% full conscious intention. However, I did not finish my ice cream and I stopped at one glass of wine. I put my ice cream in the freezer and left wine for tomorrow. I ‘felt’ like I had enough of both and I stopped. I felt zero guilt of not eating protein, fiber, or veggies for dinner. I feel 100% satisfied with my choices to start and stop my actions. And I am currently extremely happy and content. I know tomorrow I will wake up hungry for a nutritious breakfast.”
With that in mind, here are some strategies that you can use — and layer on top of each other — to help you decide when and if you want to “indulge” in certain foods.
Quick science lesson. Let’s review Newton’s third law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Choice → Consequence
OK, that’s enough physics for now. What we’re really talking about here are choices and consequences, with consequences ranging from positive to negative.
If you haven’t spent much time identifying how different foods make you feel, this is a good opportunity to get curious. Food affects us in a number of ways physically, mentally, and emotionally. As you approach “indulgent” foods, think about what might happen as a result of eating that food as well as what might happen if you choose not to eat that food.
Let’s walk through an example of a choice and its consequences.
Choice: Going out for pizza and beers with friends on a Friday night.
Consequences can be both positive and negative. They can be physical, affecting your body and your physical abilities; psychological, affecting your ability to think and reason; and emotional, affecting your mood or outlook. They may relate to your social life or connection with others. Consequences can be short term or long-lasting.
The real power here is in making the decision. Whatever you choose, you’re the one in charge. And that’s an empowering feeling.
There’s also a lot of value in taking just a brief moment to pause, consider the consequences, and make the decision. Pausing allows us to be mindful and increase our awareness of our options and priorities.
Pausing also allows you to learn more about what eating indulgent foods in moderation looks like for you. This way, you can experiment and evaluate when situations are worth indulging in. Pausing helps you get to know yourself and learn about your behavioral patterns so you can fully enjoy the way you eat with less stress and worry.
After paying attention to your choices and the consequences that follow, you’ll start to gain more knowledge about the effects of certain foods.
Remember, just because a food has negative consequences doesn’t mean it’s a “bad” food, just as a food with positive consequences doesn’t mean it’s a “good” food. Similarly, experiencing negative consequences doesn’t mean you’re bad. Consequences are just what happens as an outcome of the choice — sort of like a science experiment.
Expanding your understanding of the consequences and outcomes can help you decide which foods work for you to have frequently versus those you choose to have only every once in a while.
Foods that don’t have serious negative consequences might be foods you choose to have frequently, whereas foods that have more impactful negative consequences might be saved for special occasions.
For example, having a square or two of high-quality chocolate a few times per week might be something that satisfies your sweet tooth and reduces cravings, whereas having a brownie a few times per week might cause additional sugar cravings and may provide more energy (calories) per serving than you want.
As we said earlier, you’re in the driver’s seat. But the truth is, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.
If you’ve ever opened a pint of ice cream or family-sized bag of chips, blinked, and discovered it was gone, the you know what I’m talking about. Our behavior around certain foods — which we might think of as “indulgences” or “treats” — can feel hard to control. We tell ourselves we’ll just have a couple bites, and then we find the eating unstoppable.
I’m talking about things like:
What’s going on in this situation? Well for starters, it’s not that there’s something wrong with you. The food was designed this way.
In most cases, the foods we think of as indulgences, treats, or junk food are high in energy (calories) and typically high in carbohydrates or fat. Their flavors are usually sweet or salty, and the foods themselves are often very processed. This combination usually lights up our taste buds and the pleasure and reward systems in our brains, making us want these foods more than others.
Biologically, this makes sense. Humans naturally seek energy-dense foods and experience a hit of dopamine (a feel-good hormone) when we eat indulgent foods. (That’s why you can feel perfectly full, but then walk by a bakery and start salivating for a slice of fresh bread or an oven-warm cookie.)
In other words, these foods override our natural satiety system, making them really easy to overeat.
If you find yourself feeling powerless to resist certain foods, the choice, of course, is yours. You may choose not to keep certain foods in the house, or to avoid driving by that bakery or pizzeria at night. Or you may make a conscious choice to enjoy the food, understanding and accepting the outcome. It all depends on your personal priorities and the choices you want to make for yourself.
As you continue to practice observing your own choices and consequences, you might start to notice some patterns. Great — this is more useful data to add to your own science experiment.
Understanding the way different foods influence how you feel and operate in your life is useful, as it can help you make more informed decisions. If you find yourself eating more than you want to, or eating foods you don’t really want to eat, it’s worth examining why and what’s going on in those scenarios.
It’s definitely a process, but a worthwhile one. Like one of our GGS Coaching clients says:
“When I felt I ‘couldn’t have’ something, the resistance just pushed me further toward that food and I would overdo it and then berate myself for it. Now I pause to ask myself questions about whether I want to splurge on an item now or wait. I feel like I’m more in control. I still have some issues with some things but I’ve made huge progress overall.”
Here are a couple common situations, with possible solutions to experiment with.
Do you regularly go overboard with your nutrition choices simply because of “special” occasions?
Possible solution: You might remind yourself that many meals and food options will be available to you again. If you pass now, more will likely be available later when you want it.
Do you have difficulty controlling your portion size if you’ve got multiple servings available to you?
Possible solution: If situations like these ring a bell for you, you might consider purchasing single-serving portions instead of multi-serving packages, sharing large portions of foods with others, or freezing extra servings to eat at a later date. If you’re out to eat, add a serving to an appetizer plate so you can increase your awareness of how much you’re eating.
Identifying some of your patterns related to food can help you make changes in the future, especially as you decide whether or not to eat your favorite indulgent foods.
As you observe your eating patterns, consider this: Do you eat according to your hunger or your appetite?
If you’re not familiar with the distinction, hunger and appetite are not the same thing. True hunger is a signal from the body that you need nourishment from food. Appetite is a psychological want for food often stimulated by an environmental cue — like walking past a bakery or seeing a food commercial.
(By the way, these are both different from satiety, which refers to the level of satisfaction you get from what you eat).
Here are ways appetite shows up for many people:
Sometimes, you might find yourself eating when you’re not truly hungry. Or unable to stop eating even if you’re full. Or, like many people, perhaps you’ve lost the ability to know the difference between your hunger and your appetite.
These aren’t uncommon scenarios.
The truth is that most of us have lost touch with our natural hunger cues.
For one thing, most of us have access to a lot of food at all times. When we eat and what we eat are decided out of habit. We eat our meals at fixed times. We go out to lunch with coworkers and always choose the same meal. We systematically order the same snacks when we go to the movies.
We’re no longer clear on when we’re hungry or not, and we tend to view hunger as something that should be avoided at all costs. As a result, many of us eat to prevent hunger instead of eating in response to hunger.
When you feel compelled to eat, pay attention to what you’re feeling in your body:
By answering these questions, you can determine if you’re actually hungry or just experiencing appetite, and you can choose accordingly for your goals.
(By the way, this is a tricky skill to master, and this is why it’s one of the first ones we tackle in our GGS Coaching program — we give you specific practices to put in place to determine if you’re hungry or not. We always recommend that you approach this with gentle curiosity and compassion, not judgement.)
Often when it comes time to eat, we eat quickly and mindlessly — possibly in the car, at the computer, or while multitasking.
And if we do decide to enjoy a favorite treat, we wind up scarfing it down and it’s over before we know it. (Or we’re distracted by guilt or worried thoughts about what we’re eating, and we scarcely enjoy it.)
A good strategy here is to slow down and enjoy yourself. The more you slow down and savor, the more satisfied you’ll be.
Here are a few methods you can use to help yourself slow down and savor your food:
These are powerful practices, and you’ll be surprised at how they’ll change your patterns over time. Like one of our GGS Coaching clients has shared: “I have definitely noticed a difference in how much I eat and the speed at which I eat. I find myself fuller faster, and I don’t have trouble stopping without clearing my plate.”
Starting to use these tried-and-true strategies on your own can sometimes feel daunting — especially if you’ve spent a long time white-knuckling through restrictive plans only to drop them when they become unbearable and then go overboard.
The good news? You don’t have to do this alone.
Sign up for this FREE 5-Day course, and you'll learn 5 powerful nutrition “secrets” to transform your life and body so you can become your strongest, healthiest, most confident self — no dieting required.
Whether your goal is to…
…you’ll learn how to do it in this FREE 5-Day Course.
Get the best shape of your life — and keep your results forever.
This free course includes videos, downloadable tools & resources, and podcast version so you can learn on the go.