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Food Guilt – Why You Shouldn’t Worry


The week after Thanksgiving is an interesting time to be a nutritionist. Many of my clients sulk into my office with similar stories of how bad they were on Thanksgiving. I ask them what “bad” means and they slowly start listing the gory details of everything they ate, as if at any moment I am going to fall out of my chair clutching my ears begging them to stop. The fact of the matter is that one day of overindulgence isn’t going to sabotage their health goals. Instead, it is the food guilt that can prove to be the most damaging.

The first thing that happens when you start beating yourself up over what you ate is you begin to release the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. These are part of your “fight-or-flight” response and were designed to release sugar into your blood stream to be used as energy. However, if you are not using that energy because you are consumed with shame over what you ate, that excess blood sugar will ensure that almost everything you put in your mouth is stored as fat. Moreover, those hormones are actually preparing your body for fight or flight so they are going to cause you to crave more energy in the form of sugar and starches. So now instead of just coming to terms with a few extra calories, your food guilt has turned you into a carb-craving, fat-storing machine!

The next thing that happens is that your guilt can lead you to emotional eating. Not only do you have the cravings, but now you are feeling bad and we all know that no one has ever found emotional comfort in a carton of broccoli. Now feeling guilty about one big meal has turned into a week-long eating extravaganza.

The fact of the matter is there is little difference between eating well 80% and 100% of the time. If you find that you have overindulged, accept it and move on. Yes, it may not have been the ideal step towards your weight loss or training goals but it happened and feeling guilty will not take it back. The only way that single indulgence will have a detrimental impact is if you use it as an excuse to throw up your hands and give up.

Remember, food is a building block for our bodies and meant to nurture every part of our lives. If you chose to nurture yourself by sharing an extra piece of apple pie with your family on Thanksgiving – taste it, savor it and enjoy it! There will be plenty of oatmeal waiting for you in the morning.

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