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#FitClubFriday: A Donut Is Just a Donut (Letting Go of Food Guilt)

Friday Fit Club isn’t about achieving the perfect thigh gap or losing that holiday weight.  At 35, I’m trying to do something I’ve never done before, live a healthy lifestyle.  I’m eating more vegetables and trying to exercise regularly because I don’t want to be 71 listening to my doctor explain that I need to stop eating Big Macs, while he doubles the dose of my cholesterol medication.

But keeping a healthy perspective on food in a world where Instagram exists is surprisingly difficult.

Instagram bombards us with images of decadent foods right next to “inspirational” photos of bikini-clad models and ads for detoxifying teas and trendy juice diets.  But the most dangerous thing on Instagram isn’t the photos, it’s the words.

A slice of MeatLovers pizza #dietstartstomorrow.  A woman holding a cupcake, the caption stating that she ran five miles today so it’s totally fine.  A blogger’s Instastory Q&A talking about her obsession with “junk food” twelve hours after posting a photo of her sparkling fridge half-filled with nothing but Sakara meals and bottled water (because she’s not a “real” girl if she doesn’t eat Oreos).

Every day, women play the same destructive game.  We justify and explain our food choices.  We defend every calorie we do or don’t consume.  We perpetuate the dangerous notion that the food we eat says something deeper about who we are.  And we document all of it for the world to see.

So how do we stop obsessing about food and feeling like we have to justify our choices?

First, we have to be mindful of our motivations.  If you’re about to eat something, and you want to Instagram it, ask yourself why.  Is it because it looks delicious?  Because you want to share a snapshot of your day?  Or is it because you want to say something about who you are as a person?

Don’t use hashtags or captions to shame, justify or explain yourself.  Don’t post images to imply that a healthy food choice makes you virtuous, or that a decadent one makes you gluttonous.

Second, we need to start healing our relationship with food and stop feeling guilty about our food choices.  This article from WellSeek explains the danger in creating a diet that bans certain foods or allows them only as a reward for extended periods of deprivation.  Instead, focus on creating a balanced diet that prioritizes healthy eating but includes all foods.

I follow an 80/20 rule, to make room in my diet for the foods I love while primarily eating healthy ones.  The benefit of this framework is that it’s eliminated mindless eating.  I’m more aware of what I’ve eaten recently and can make choices accordingly, without feeling guilty for “breaking” my diet.

Lastly, we must learn to be kinder to ourselves and remember that our words are powerful.  If you feel terrible because you grabbed a chocolate glazed with sprinkles from the office kitchen, that guilt is going to shape your whole day.  You haven’t destroyed your healthy gains nor committed a venal sin (spoiler alert), you’ve eaten a donut.  A delicious donut that probably tasted great and made you pretty happy (donuts tend to do that).

So focus on the enjoyment of eating the donut.  Don’t tell your co-worker that it’s okay that you ate it because you went to the gym this morning.  Don’t complain that you wish people would stop bringing in donuts because it’s killing your willpower.  And don’t tell yourself that it’ll be okay because you can have a salad for lunch.  Instead, go about your day making good food choices like nothing remarkable happened, because nothing remarkable did happen.

It’s easy to forget that most of the images you see on Instagram are carefully curated, edited, and filtered to portray life in a certain way.  But don’t get caught up in the game.  You can unfollow the person whose endless diet of kale salads and clean smoothies makes you feel guilty for eating a couple of chips.  You can post a photo of your decadent dessert without hash-tagging promises of future workouts.  And you can remember that a donut is just flour, yeast, sugar and eggs, not a commentary on anything deeper.

Oh, who am I kidding, a donut is a cosmic ray of sunshine that proves God loves us.

{image found here}

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    24 comments

  1. ERin says:

    Thank you Abra! This is a wonderful post.

    I struggled with food issues for a long time. It started in college when I studied abroad and gained some weight, but persisted for many years. I got therapy, which was wonderful to deal with more acute food issues. But it took me several more years to finally realize that it’s about health and nutrition, not about weight, and that you can’t run off a donut. That’s not how it works,* and that’s a super unhealthy attitude. Obsessing about food is bad for your mental health.

    Now, I can truly say I’m at peace with food:) My philosophy is, if most of what I eat is cooked by me, and it includes some vegetables, then I’m doing pretty good. I don’t worry about what I cook so long as vegetables are involved. Nothing is off limits. An no more guilt! It’s wonderful.

    *This Vox article is super interesting on this “running off a donut” mentality.
    https://www.vox.com/2016/4/28/11518804/weight-loss-exercise-myth-burn-calories

    January 19, 2018/Reply
  2. Ruchita says:

    Thank you. This is a great post. I turned 40 last year and have never been able to implement a regular exercise routine. That’s one thing I’m trying to change. I have a major sweet tooth and McDonald’s fries taste darn good sometimes, but I’m trying to make healthier choices. I pack my work bag with a ton of fruits but if there are donuts in the break room I’ll grab one. I’ve found I have to make baby steps to make changes in routine. If I go all or nothing, I just end up back where I started.

    January 19, 2018/Reply
    • rachel says:

      I agree 100% about baby steps! My husband and I eat out way to often. My baby step solution? Just eat at home! Even if it’s meatloaf and frozen tater tots, it’s at home and bound to be better for me than the Zaxby’s drive thru.

      January 19, 2018/Reply
  3. Samantha says:

    Thank you. This post is very timely for where I’m at in my life & healthy lifestyle changes. I needed to read this.

    January 19, 2018/Reply
  4. AP says:

    Great post! For me Melissa Hartwig’s “Food Freedom Forever” book was a game-changer in helping me get to a healthier relationship with food. It’s the often overlooked book among her other Whole 30 books, but I think it’s the most important one, People often view Whole 30 in a category of “diets”, but it really isn’t. In my experience it’s main benefit was in helping me re-define my relationship with food, reduce cravings, and make food choices after the 30 day program with no guilt or shame. It helped me be in control of the food rather than the other way around. I can whip up and greatly enjoy a decadent chocolate souffle one night with no guilt and regret and move on to kale for lunch the next day. Food Freedom Forever book is all about stopping to think of food in terms of good or bad. Rather, it teaches you to help decide what is “worth it” for you in a specific moment in a specific context. And for those concerned about eating meat, there are other non-Whole 30 reset options in the book.

    January 19, 2018/Reply
    • Laura says:

      While I haven’t read any of Melissa Hartwig’s books, I am on Day 22 of my first Whole30 and I couldn’t agree more about it re-defining my relationship with food. It’s been eye opening to discover how many times this month I wanted to eat something because I was stressed or sad or angry. I am so proud that I made it through those days without going off the Whole30 guidelines. I feel like after this month is over, I’ll be better equipped to eat desserts and drink alcohol for enjoyment instead of comfort.

      January 22, 2018/Reply
  5. Bethany says:

    Thanks for posting this! For whatever reason I’ve always had a fairly healthy attitude about food and I always feel so uncomfortable when people justify their food choices to me. Like dude, you do you! Even if you’re eating junk food all day long, sure, it’s unhealthy, but it’s none of my damn business and it doesn’t make you a bad person.

    January 19, 2018/Reply
  6. Barbara says:

    Best.post.ever! Thank you! I’ve finally started to lose weight by practicing the 80/20 rule and by understanding that food is just food and not a reason to gloat or grimace or – my go-to for most of my life – obsess about.

    January 19, 2018/Reply
  7. Monica T says:

    This is such an important message. My mom is 70 and still if we order or don’t order dessert in a restaurant it’s either “we’re trying to be good!” or “the diet starts tomorrow!” and it makes me cringe. She doesn’t have the ability to just enjoy food, it’s all a battle of good and evil. I have addressed my eating disorder through lots of therapy and practicing daily mindfulness, I have a four-year-old and when I hear my mom call herself fat in front of her, or pull the good food-bad food routine it makes me worried. For now I am the biggest influence in how my daughter see’s herself and others, but someday she’ll be surrounded by other girls and women who are a product of their parents and I’m scared for her. I hope we can start the downfall of this kind of negative self talk in our and our children’s generation.

    January 19, 2018/Reply
    • Allison says:

      Monica,
      I can relate to this so much. My mom is 68, and everything she eats it’s either a portion for a mouse or she has to justify it. It’s so hard for me, I’m built nothing like my mother, she didn’t break 100 lbs until she was pregnant with her first child at 31, and she 5’6″. I’m a healthy weight but more average vs. her beanpole physique. It always makes me feel so bad about myself when she’s constantly picking on herself for eating the same lunch I’m eating, and I’ve never looked as small as her. If she would just get out of my head! Good for you for being a good influence on your little girl, not only will she benefit from it but I bet you’ll have a tighter bond later in life too.
      -Allison

      January 19, 2018/Reply
  8. Ellen says:

    I am going to need to cross stitch that last line on a pillow. Brilliant.

    And, could not agree with you more. I made a resolution to run more and to bake more, you can do both in moderation.

    January 19, 2018/Reply
  9. Kay says:

    I grew up an athlete, from grade school through college and then after college I got into crossfit As dumb as it sounds, it wasn’t until my metabolism slowed down that I realized I couldn’t “run off” poor eating habits. I had no clue where to start looking or what I should be eating so I started seeing a nutritionist. My two take aways were what to eat (like the amount of protein and veggies) and then mindful eating. I love mindful eating. If I want to eat ice cream, totally fine. I make time to sit down and eat the ice cream. Enjoying the ice cream until I am satisfied. So much of my previous lifestyle was eating ice cream or junk food while watching TV or multi tasking. When I started taking time to enjoy my food, I realized two scoops of ice cream bring me as much satisfaction as a pint during my favorite TV show. Now I focus on enjoyment of food rather than limiting “bad” foods.

    January 19, 2018/Reply
  10. Ginny says:

    Great post. I struggled with my weight all my life. I was always about 20-30 pounds overweight. I have lost it about 3 times only to gain it back quite quickly. Then a year and a half ago I coupled a healthier diet with a more intense exercise regimen. That helped me lose about 20lbs in 6 months, and then over the next year another 10lbs. Very slow weight loss, but the key is that I kept the weight off rather than u-turning as I used to do. What has helped me to maintain or continue moderate weight loss is forgiving myself when I have a treat or an unexpected blip in my healthy eating. At least once a week I have some kind of doughnut or cinnamon bun or treat, and I eat whatever my mother gives me when I go home for Sunday dinner. But I also sometimes will just say fuck it and I’ll have the Big Mac, even though it wasn’t planned. As long as most of the time you eat healthy, and you have the confidence in yourself that you will get right back on track, the blips don’t really matter. The exercise also helps to moderate the impact of those treats.

    January 19, 2018/Reply
  11. rachel says:

    Omg! There are not enough words for how much I love this post.

    I was lucky and had a mom that didn’t obsess over her weight or what she ate. This helped me develop a much healthier idea of what role food plays and a better body image than I think most women have; however, I won’t lie, it’s still hard to remember that a donut is just a donut. Add to that the weight gain of being in my early 30s, and yeah, most the time, I fight the “I need to lose weight” battle.

    I’ve worked out consistently for over 5 years now. I do it because I love it and it makes me happy. But I also eat like pure crap. As I stare 35 down, I decided that 2018 was going to be the year that I made a change. But my change isn’t Instagram worthy. I’m just trying to be healthish – I’m trying to be intentional in what I eat, make healthier choices, cut down on treats and eat at home more often. But I’m also not denying myself the things I love. (Life isn’t worth living without Mexican and carbs). When someone brings donuts in to work, I just ask myself “do you want a donut today or are you eating it because it’s there?” If I want it, I’m going to eat it.

    It’s not a huge change. It’s not going to make me go from a size 10 to a size 2. But, it’s taken the pressure off and letting me really make changes in my life instead of trying to live up to some crazy Instagram expectation.

    January 19, 2018/Reply
  12. Elizabeth says:

    “Instead, go about your day making good food choices like nothing remarkable happened, because nothing remarkable did happen.”

    I love this piece of advice! We put so much emphasis onto singular choices, when the subsequent guilt we put on ourselves ends up doing more damage than the donut itself.

    January 19, 2018/Reply
  13. Jules says:

    Preach it, sister!
    Totally awesome post. I think that, in the age of social media, food choices have become an even bigger part of a person’s outward expression of identity. And sometimes, a hashtag that was meant to be tongue and cheek, can come across as shaming, virtuous, etc.

    What I think makes “food” an even more difficult subject is that everyone HAS to eat. People can choose to smoke/not smoke, workout/not workout, etc, but you can’t escape food. And food it a choice we have to CONSTANTLY make, and we are biologically predisposed to want chocolate more than lettuce. And we also want to look and feel good, but we also want that delicious hamburger.

    What helped me is ADDING food instead of subtracting it. For example, I used to ONLY drink sodas, no water. So, instead of cutting it out, I just started ALSO drinking water. And then eventually it was easy to cut out soda entirely. I also ADDED salads to my lunch, instead of ONLY eating a salad. If I ate a huge brownie or whatever, I made sure to ALSO eat a bunch of spinach, even if I was full. That helped emotionally and mentally make the change to a healthier lifestyle, because I knew I wasn’t ‘depriving’ myself, and I could have “whatever I wanted.”

    Luckily, knowing that I could have “whatever I wanted” as long as I ALSO ate healthy foods made me “crave” junky food less. Must be reverse psychology or something. And once my palate got used to veggies/etc, I found it MUCH easier to transition more and more into eating healthy. Also, at 33, my body just simply REJECTS certain things from my youth, so in a way, it makes it easier to avoid those, lol.

    Hope you all have a delicious weekend 🙂

    January 19, 2018/Reply
    • Anna says:

      This is actually brilliant. And something I should probably try out. I’m doing Weight Watchers right now, which has been super helpful for being aware of how much I’m eating. I’ve already lost some weight, so I’ll probably keep on until I hit my goal. I just don’t want to live the rest of my life tracking every bite I take, so I think that your way might be a better option for me in the long run.

      January 19, 2018/Reply
  14. Carol says:

    thank you for this thoughtful and well written post about not feeling guilty for being human. Oh and reminding us that it is OK to enjoy the occasional donut!

    January 19, 2018/Reply
  15. Kathleen H Lisson says:

    and…
    if you are fatter than the instagram ladies, eat a healthy diet and exercise, you are just as healthy as they are. Thin does not equal healthy and fat does not equal unhealthy.

    January 20, 2018/Reply
  16. Kellie Marie Beargie says:

    This is brilliant. I literally just ate a very delicious, very beautifully decorated sugar cookie for breakfast and I enjoyed it. You know what happened? Nothing. I’m going to eat some vegetables later because I want to, not because I feel I have to. I’m going to go for a walk later because I feel like it, not out of some tortured form of penance. It has taken a lot of work to get here and I’ll never be 100% perfect at it, but that’s ok too.

    January 20, 2018/Reply
  17. Mercedes says:

    One of my fav quotes (which I stole from a fitness blogger I follow) is “Progress Not Perfection”. I think so often I fall into the trap that “Well, I had one donut, so I might as well have a dozen and then a Twix bar. And a pint of ice cream.” Then I eat a dozen donuts and hate myself. Point is to realize there is no “perfect” diet. I try and eat healthy most of the time and not beat myself up about having a treat.

    January 20, 2018/Reply
  18. Samantha Hicks says:

    THANK YOU. I see so many people on insta going crazy over extremes. I’m in a few Facebook weight loss support groups where people post about how they can’t decide if carrots are healthy because of the sugar or what an app told them when tracking their macros. I think we are sometimes paralyzed by our addiction to data and decisions and extremes and it really shows in the healthy living world.

    I try to live a mindful, healthy life for my daughter more than anything else and it’s hard sometimes. The last 10 days have been terrible, I’ve been on the down extreme and that’s fine, it happens I still made it to the gym or worked out at home plenty. So, to see your attitude on a healthy lifestyle be some reasonable is incredibly refreshing.

    Also, almost no one posts on #fitclubfriday it makes me a little bummed sometimes, but I’m there for you!!!

    Also, if anyone were to look at my blog please understand it is in it’s infancy I’m still working on the design…

    January 22, 2018/Reply
  19. Michelle says:

    Love this post Belle! I’ve had an awful time trying to keep a food diary to show a nutritionist because every time I used an app that showed calories I altered my diet (to less food) so it was not an honest representation of my normal routine. I found the app called See How You Eat where you just take pictures and can add notes describing what the food is. I’ve found I no longer have that guilty feeling when I track what I eat and am no longer feeling hungry between meals because I am terrified to eat a snack in case it ruins my diet. I’m already seeing a difference from the beginning of my tracking where the collage of food I ate went from really empty to a full of pictures.

    January 22, 2018/Reply
  20. Danielle says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. I 100% agree with your outlook on food, dieting and living a healthy lifestyle. It’s so refreshing to hear this from a blogger!

    January 24, 2018/Reply

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