How To Forgive Yourself

This post is for those of you who have ever had a bad relationship with food, or feel guilt after eating certain foods, or feel bad after seemingly having had too much food. It may not hit home for those of you who generally don’t fight with food in your head, so please don’t feel like I’m psychologically challenged if you read this without having had an ED. Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I no longer consider myself “sick” in that department, but some of the demons stay with you forever, and this post is going to try to help with that.

We all fall off the healthy eating bandwagon every once in a while, and therefore we all know the feeling of guilt after we have seemingly failed or let ourselves down. For those of you who have ever had any form of eating disorder, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. I struggle with guilt in general, and when it concerns my eating, it is one of the worst feelings in the world. I am not good at forgiving myself when I leave my healthy eating path. Are you?

There are a million simple sentences you could tell yourself if you feel you have failed your diet (and I mean “diet” concerning what you’re eating, not some sort of weight-reduction hype), but I find that none of them tend to truly work when I’ve had a day that I consider a failure. Words just don’t tend to do it, and anyone who has ever “overdone” it while eating, be it because of the amount or because you just had something you shouldn’t have (be it refined sugar, alcohol, or something you’re allergic to and just couldn’t resist), knows that your body really pays for “what you’ve done”.

How can you forgive yourself without bashing yourself? I still struggle with it, but I have developed a better attitude towards myself in general, which helps me deal with “bad eating days” a lot better than I used to. For me, it’s usually not the things I eat, but the amount that gives me guilt; those are the left-overs from my eating disorder, I guess, because rationally, I probably don’t eat way too much on those days, just a little more than would be good for me. My irrational mind likes blowing things out of proportion, though, in all things, not just food.

What to do after a day like that, then? And I consciously say “day” and not “meal”, as I know that if you start out your day fighting yourself because of food, it usually turns into a day-long disaster. The “today-will-be-the-last-time”-mentality is just too strong, especially if you feel guilt for eating sweet treats or burgers or something like that; it’s likely you’ll be allowing yourself to eat the “bad stuff” for the rest of the day with the promise to yourself that, starting tomorrow, it’ll all be over.

This post therefore addresses a problem that can result from two different issues: 1) Eating too much of whatever, even “healthy food”, which results in physical discomfort and can trigger guilt because of that discomfort, or, 2) Eating something you’ve sworn off, like milk chocolate, crisps, or whatever it is you’ve dubbed unhealthy. Both these issues result in self-loathing, for most people at least, and that self-loathing either turns into eating even more to compensate, or crying. Or both. I won’t pretend I have all the answers, but I’ll let you know what helps me after a day of feeling that I ate too much.

First of all, when I wake up the next day, I always force myself to have breakfast. It’s a common mistake to feel like you need to fast for a day after eating too much the night or day before, and you might not even feel hungry if you had food very late, but if you skip breakfast, it’s very likely you’ll follow the exact same pattern you did the day before. Have a small piece of toast with some jelly on top, or some mashed avocado, along with half a sliced apple, and, even if you are still hating on yourself for eating too much, and getting “fat”, hang in there and have breakfast.

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Secondly, if you are struggling to have breakfast or any food at all after a day of bad eating because you fear you are going to gain weight or “turn ugly” or whatever your head might be telling you, take your time making your breakfast “pretty” and really appreciating your food. I feel like on days when overeating is an issue, food no longer has the value it should have. With emotional eating, food loses it’s nutritious aspect, and it’s all about losing control and allowing yourself something, not about how food is important for your health and good for you. Therefore, on a day after you feel you’ve failed, start by really appreciating the food on your plate. This also means taking the time to eat it consciously, and not gulping it down as you leave to go to work. Get up 15 minutes earlier after a bad day, turn on a candle, and try to enjoy whatever you decide to have to eat. You’ll see that it works wonders for the feelings you have towards the food on your plate…and, hopefully, your guilt will shift from being directed at food as the culprit.

Finding the real culprit is the most important step in learning how to forgive yourself after a day of “bingeing”. Generally, our bodies know quite well what it is we need; too often, we ignore what it has to say because we are dealing with anxiety, or have some ongoing conflict with someone, or feel like our bodies are our enemies. It’s not necessary to actually KNOW why we are feeling like we’re losing control, but it is necessary to realize that food will NOT fix this problem. Neither will denying ourselves food fix it. Food is simply not the issue at hand, and the more we are able to tell ourselves that, to remember that after days of eating “badly”, the more will we be able to fix our relationship with food, and, hopefully, ultimately never have that same fight with eating again.

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Take your focus off of food the day after you feel you’ve failed. Don’t spend the whole day obsessing about the previous day’s eating behavior…what’s done is done. Our bodies are able to bounce back from much worse, so one day of eating too much, or eating too much unhealthy stuff, is not going to ruin anything. It’s all in your head, trust me, and the best way to let go of the guilt you feel is by not thinking about it. Plan your day (but not around your meals!), have a date with a friend, do some yoga, paint your nails, take a bath, read that book you started 4 weeks ago and never picked up again, clean an entire room from top to bottom, write postcards, pluck your eyebrows, dress up for dinner in your own apartment…in other words, do anything that will keep your mind off of how bad you did yesterday. It won’t fix what happened, and it also probably wasn’t as bad as you are making it out to be today. People who have ever suffered from an ED have the tendency to view food in an “all or nothing” category, which means that they will consider eating 1 piece of chocolate more than they had planned as an “ultimate failure” on a bad day, while it’s actually not a problem in any way. Don’t think about it, move on, it’s not going to change if you think about it any longer.

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Finally, make sure you flush out anything bad in your system – both physically and “spiritually”. I usually make myself a large pot of green tea or peppermint tea the day following a seemingly “bad food day”, because it helps me detox (and I mean detox in the sense of removing any bad foody feeling from my body, not in the actual nutritious sense). It also helps me to do some sort of “sport”, preferably yoga, as it helps me be more aware of my body and where it’s at. I feel that if I ignore my body’s needs for a day and overeat, I usually have so much negativity towards my body the next day that I can’t even manage to look in the mirror. Stepping on the mat and stretching it out, flushing out all the hatred and guilt stuck in my chest, really helps free me from those feelings.

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If today is a day you are struggling to forgive yourself…realize it’s a road, a path, something that develops over time. It won’t get easy overnight, but you CAN take steps to being kinder towards yourself, even if you feel you’ve failed yourself. Try smiling at yourself in the mirror, even if you don’t feel like doing so AT ALL; perhaps you’ll look so dorky that it will actually make you laugh? Whatever you do, don’t be too hard on yourself – and, eventhough these are just “wise words” which probably won’t fix the emotions you’re having, they need to be said. Perhaps you’ll learn to hear them today? 🙂

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