On Food: Letting Go Of Shouldn’t

This weekend was full of great times with friends, but it was also full of decadent foods. Will and I went out to dinner with friends on Friday night at Bondir, a lovely restaurant in Concord, MA. It was an amazing 4-course meal, including dessert. Granted, each of the plates/courses was quite small, but it was 4 courses nonetheless. The entire meal was absolutely delicious, full of rich flavors and interesting pairings, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t leave a morsel of food on any of my plates. It was a wonderful dinner, but with great conversation flowing and a few cocktails, I probably consumed more than I should have at one meal.

The following morning, I went out with some girlfriends to the Langham Hotel’s Chocolate Bar for a birthday brunch. Yes, you read that right — a Chocolate Bar. There was basically a whole room full of all of the chocolate and desserts that you can imagine. From truffles and cookies, to mousse and pastries, to crepes and a chocolate fountain — it was like a chocolate lover’s dream. And even for someone with an impressive sweet tooth like myself,  it was almost a little bit too much.

I ended up filling my plate with lots of yumminess (although the pictures I took didn’t come out great, so you’ll just have to trust me on this one), and took a few bites of each selection. Since there was so much to choose from, I really just had a little bit more of the things I loved, and passing on those that I didn’t love as much. Even with this strategy, I ended up eating more chocolate and sweets than one should eat before noon on a Saturday. Trust me, I paid for it in the “sugar shakes”, and it’s not something that I’d do regularly every weekend. But for a treat once per year or so? Chocolate me up.

As a “healthy blogger”, is this something I should have done? Should I have followed up a 4 course meal with a chocolate bar the next morning? Probably not. But would I do it again? Probably, with the right circumstances. As I mentioned above, this is not a typical weekend of eating for me; I would not do this on a regular basis, because honestly it didn’t leave me feeling great. But the experiences with friends made it worth it, and the way that life works means that I can’t always control timing when it comes to dinners out, birthday brunches, etc. Sometimes, schedules only match up so that we end up over-doing it for a few days.

What if after dinner on Friday night, I had called my friend and told her that I would no longer be going to her birthday brunch because I had had a big dinner the night before and I “shouldn’t” go to the chocolate buffet? No, we don’t always have to eat cake when it’s offered to us, but missing out on experiences with friends just because you “shouldn’t” do this or that seems pretty sad to me.

On the flip side, there are those times when we’re offered a treat that we know won’t make us feel great, or maybe we’re doing really well with healthier eating and don’t want to be de-railed by a mediocre cupcake. These are the times when “shouldn’t” tends to escape our mouths, but might that be doing us a disservice?  IMG_0018

If you’re constantly telling yourself that you shouldn’t have something, you’re putting an awful lot of negative connotations around certain foods. That tells your brain that the next time you do have a delicious cupcake or slice of birthday cake, that you’re breaking the rules and doing something bad. We’re conditioned to think that when one breaks the rules, punishments are necessary.

Congratulations, you’ve just entered yourself into a damaging negative feedback-loop with food, all because you told yourself you “shouldn’t eat that”.

So how can we go about changing this mindset? How can we avoid the negativity, the punishments, the self-berating for eating something that you “shouldn’t”? The answer, simplistically, is that it’s all about perspective.

If you are offered a treat that you don’t think will be amazing and worth every bite (because those are the ones that are worth splurging on, in my opinion), instead of the “S” word, try using a phrase that puts you in control, instead of letting some set of arbitrary rules control you.

“I choose not to”

Yes, giving yourself the control over what you do and do not eat will help you to believe that you are not allowing/disallowing foods because of rules, rather you are doing what is best for you. You are choosing to eat what makes you feel good, you are choosing to treat yourself to those things that you feel are truly worthy of your splurge. But more importantly, you’re choosing not to shame yourself out of eating certain foods, and you’re choosing not to shame yourself when you do indulge.

So let go of “shouldn’t”. Take it out of your food vocabulary, and take back control of what you choose to eat (or not). Your choices are up to you, what you put into your body and how you treat yourself are under your control and your control only. The only thing you shouldn’t do is shame yourself for the choices you make.

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11 thoughts on “On Food: Letting Go Of Shouldn’t

  1. This is such a great post and a great reminder! I remember when my boyfriend was first figuring out some food/stomach issues and realizing he probably needed to stop eating pasta and bread and being fully Italian with Sunday dinners and his mom’s homemade pasta, this was really hard for him. We talked about focusing on what he COULD eat rather than what he SHOULDN’T eat and that really helped him! Focusing on the things you still can eat when you’re trying to cut certain things out makes it seem like you can still eat so much… it helps remove the negativity you’re talking about in this post. and, ps- that brunch at the Langham is so intense, but so awesome, although I, too, left there feeling not so good!

    • I think it can be really hard for people who HAVE to cut things out, and it’s always helpful to focus more on what you can have rather than what you can’t! I think our brains respond a little better to positive reinforcement rather than negative — I know mine does at least!

  2. Comimg from a place in my late teens and early 20’s where I binged and deprived in a vicious circle, I know escaping shouldn’t is sooooo liberating. Life is meant to enjoy experiences, and yes, at times those experiences mean decadent foods that aren’t the best for our health. I look back all those years passed, and think how food controlled my life in such a negtive way.
    Now when I indulge in a piece of cake or burger, I think so what? I eat salads, lean chicken and fish most of the time, so I focus on the “I should” moments and enjoy them the few times they cone up.

  3. What an excellent post! I relate to this, mostly because you’ve voiced the exact frustration I’ve been feeling for a long time but couldn’t figure out how to communicate. The love/hate relationship I see the females in my life exhibit has bothered me for so long, and now i realize the thing that’s bothered me is this, exactly this. Thanks!

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