This post is the first in a series I’ll be doing on eating disorders and the like. They will be mostly anecdotal: a string of memoirs and tidbits of my daily thoughts for you to nibble on. Let me know what you think.
1: the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty; broadly: guilty conduct
2a: the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously
b: feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy: self-reproach
3: a feeling of culpability for offenses
Often we will hear about how a product or recipe is “guilt free,” see an article titled, “How to Indulge Without Guilt,” or listen to a friend talk about how guilty she feels for pigging out. Where did this phenomenon come from?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it came from the minds of disordered individuals.
Because in what world, other than a warped and damaged one, would eating be considered equivalent to a criminal offense? Yes, “…imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy” is written quite plainly in the definition of the word. However, it’s 2b, for crying out loud. Who can be bothered with 2b? Guilt is simply not an emotion that should ever be associated with the innocent and harmless act of eating. The fact of the matter is, eating—having dessert, or nibbling on a midnight snack, even binging—harms no one. The only harmful aspect of the act is how brutally we attack ourselves in the aftermath.
What’s The Point?
For years, my brain was awash with feelings of guilt. The little voice in my head was always telling me, “You’re weak, you’re nothing, you’re a complete asshole.” I would “slip up” and have some chocolate—which, more often than not, quickly evolved into a full-blown binge—and I would proceed to tear myself apart over it. “You’re worthless. How could you do this? You’re not even trying.” I was so convinced that food was a source of guilt that I did not even question the irrational, catastrophic thoughts that rushed into my mind; the simple act of eating somehow broke a dam in my mind to allow a waterfall of hate to wreak havoc on every ounce of my being. Tears fell. Days were ruined. Any attempt at sleep was laughable.
Because of food?
I thank my lucky stars that I no longer torture myself with such over-exaggerated feelings of disgust and remorse. I am so grateful that I have discovered the things that life has to offer that makes me completely forget about how I look in a bikini (or how I want to look in a bikini). Why are we in bikinis in the first place? To enjoy the sun’s warmth on our skin, to feel the salty water enveloping us from head to toe, to soak in the Earth’s gracious offering of the natural world. We have the privilege of enjoying these gifts with friends, family, and the occasional seagull. We lie on towels, eating chips and counting each other’s freckles, contemplating whether the walk to the bar is worth it for a margarita or two. Why do we ruin these moments with our insecurities?
Change Your Mind
While there is no quick fix or “one size fits all” cure or answer to any sort of eating disorder—clinically diagnosed or otherwise—there is one thing that I know holds true for everyone: you must change your mind. Go to therapy, find a support group, or even talk yourself out of it if you must, but you must find a way to change your mind. Though far easier said than done, it is of the utmost importance that you find a way to re-organize your way of thinking, allowing the joys in your life to take priority over food, exercise, and your negative self image. In the moments you feel joy, put a pin in your self-loathing. Bring that happiness to the forefront; let it wash over you like the first rain of Spring. Let yourself indulge in whatever it is that allows you to find relief. Take a break from the negative thinking that consumes you.
It may be slow. It may be difficult. But nothing good ever comes easy—this much I know. The trouble is, there are so many ways to kick your own ass, but very few ways to give yourself a hug. Do you know what I mean? You have to find a way to treat your heart better. Think about how you console your friends when they get their heart broken, or how you hold and rock your little brother when he gets upset (over what? What do kids possibly have to get upset about, am I right)? Do this for yourself somehow. If you need to, text or call a friend. Hell, call your mom. Write yourself a letter. Listen to your favorite song. Crawl into bed and cry, if that’s all you can do. But when your tear ducts start spitting, get up, get out, and change your mind.
I Don’t Feel Guilty Anymore
This year, at Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas parties, and outings with friends, I was able to enjoy every bite of stuffing, cookies, and pie; I savored every sip of wine, and laughed with every piece of my heart. Even now, in the wake of “bikini season,” I do not bash my brains in for having an extra scoop of ice cream, or going a little bananas (pun!) with my pancake toppings. Although I still have bad days, (or weeks), I have traveled far, far away from my guilt. I left it hidden in a dark closet, in a neatly wrapped box marked, “Open Only if You Have Murdered Someone or Have Done Something Equally Awful and Reprehensible,” because that’s cause for some guilt, my friends. Food is not.
Remember how I mentioned letting your happiness take priority? Like, about 30 seconds ago? That’s how I let go of my food guilt. I had a revelation, if you will; although, it was far less holy than I’m making it sound…it was much more like a poke in the ribs…but I digress. What I mean to say is that I finally accepted the fact that food has the ability to make me incredibly happy…and it can make you happy, too! Think about how often precious moments spent with family and friends involve a fat, juicy roast on a nicely dressed table; an overwhelmingly cheesy pizza on a stack of moving boxes, or a bright and beautiful cake on an intricate stand, being sliced up for all to share. Food is love. Food is joy. Food is not guilt.
You may not be able to scrub away the grime of your guilt all in one shot. Do not get discouraged with yourself for being stuck in an unhealthy thinking pattern. All I want for you to do today is take these thoughts around with you, tucked into your pocket so you can feel the warmth of possibility throughout your day. Take this hope for a better tomorrow, and let it bring you joy today.