A STATE FAIR STATE OF MIND
By: Lauren Anderson
Let’s talk for a minute about FOOD GUILT.
I typed that out in all caps because FOOD GUILT is an all caps kinda thing. It can make or break any event, dinner, day, snack, child-parent interaction, grasp on reality…You name it!
For those of you lucky ones that don’t experience what I’m calling FOOD GUILT, let me break it down. I think of it as any interaction with food where I may think or feel any number of the following things:
- “I shouldn’t eat that”
- “I’m bad if I eat that”
- “That food is bad/naughty”
- “Eating that is naughty, but I’m doing it anyway”
- “I’m really hungry but I can’t/won’t eat that because it’s bad”
- “People are eating ___ but I want to eat____ and I feel embarrassed/shamed by my choice”
- “I eat too much food compared to______.”
Those are just my personal Magnificent Seven, but they are not all of the feelings wrapped up in FOOD GUILT. As you’re reading this, feel free to add in your own! It can manifest in any number of messed up and potentially harmful ways. The really sneaky type of FOOD GUILT often shows up for me the other way around:
- “That food is good. If I eat that food I will be good.”
- “This food is better than that food.”
- “I’ve made THE RIGHT choice.”
YIKES. Even just typing that out gives me the creeps, because it’s such omnipresent language in our everyday. I mean, think about it! How often have you said this or thought this? How often have you heard it said to others or by others? Lots and lots? (*raises hand, looks around room.)
It’s taken me a while to realize, but this is actually disordered thinking. When I think or talk like this, I am giving food WAY more power than it deserves. Cause really, food itself is not good or bad, it just IS. And what I should really be asking myself is if the food is SERVING ME and my needs.
So cut to the Minnesota State Fair.
A great Minnesotan Tradition. It’s one of the biggest in the country, and I personally LOVE it. I am born and raised in Minnesota, and the Fair is a point of pride and joy for me.
But in the past, it’s also been a point of pain and shame. Because of food specifically.
One of the best things to do at the Fair is to eat… and eat and eat. It’s fun, it’s celebratory, and usually really yummy. And what you’ll find there it is a lot of specifically celebratory food. Lots of fried stuff. Lots of stuff the average Minnesotan doesn’t eat every day.
It’s easy to go overboard, and sometimes that’s kinda the point! But in years past, even as I was celebrating and eating what I desired, I was experiencing a certain level of FOOD GUILT.
Like a tiny thief that hangs out in my brain, FOOD GUILT would steal half of every food experience I would have at the Fair. It would judge it. It would make me feel bad. It would take me out of the experience and keep me from being present in the moment.
It’s hard enough to mine joy out of this world, or stay present in the moment without having your own brain destroy even the simplest of pleasures.
But not this year.
After taking nutrition classes at Solcana, and being around weightlifters that actually eat to fuel their strong bodies and never apologize for it, my views on food have significantly changed!
I’ve been practicing thinking about food differently. Trying not to think of it as good or bad. It just is. And does it serve me? And not just nutritionally, but does it nourish what I’m trying to accomplish? Because when I’m dealing with food, it serves many functions. Sometimes it’s eaten for fuel, sometimes it’s for fun, comfort, or celebration.
If my goal is to take in less calories during the day, then making the choice to eat a deep fried Twinkie at the State Fair, will not serve what I want. But Twinkies themselves are not BAD. They just are.
If my goal is to celebrate a great Minnesotan tradition by eating something decadent and fried at the fair, then a deep fried Twinkie just might serve me best.
When I am able to think like that, I take the judgment out. And any guilt is significantly reduced. Because I’m thinking about food differently. I’ve taken it’s power away and given it back to me.
Are these Twinkies as nutritionally dense as other food choices? Perhaps not. But that’s not what I’m getting at here. I’m trying to point out how judgmental I am when I eat, and how that judgment doesn’t help anything. It just gives me FOOD GUILT.
I am allergic to peppers. Specifically the Capsaicin in the seeds of peppers. When I am offered a salsa that is heavy in peppers, I know to refrain from eating it cause the results could send me to the hospital. But I don’t think “That salsa is BAD”. I just think, “That salsa will not serve me.”
For some reason when food choices have the black and white clarity of an intense allergy, I am able to make choices devoid of guilt. I think about it in terms of how the food will affect me. Not that this food itself is good/bad. And I don’t think I am good/bad for not eating it.
So if I can make food choices without guilt when it comes to my allergy, then I bet I could do it in other times as well, if I reframe how I think about things! SCORE!
So this year, I ate.
And I enjoyed every minute of it!
And I feel absolutely no guilt. Because I made choices that made sense in the moment, and I refrained from judging those choices as good or bad. They’re just choices. And they served me in that moment.
Sometimes I ate because something sounded yummy. Sometimes I ate because I wanted to try something new. Sometimes I ate because I walked 23,558 steps/nearly 10 miles in the course of the day and I WAS HUNGRY. I made choices that served my needs. It wasn’t good or bad, it just was.
And the guilt never bubbled up. Not even once. And I felt free! Like I somehow managed what I thought was impossible.
I was able to be at the Fair, eat what was tasty and not feel ANY GUILT WHATSOEVER about it! Huzzah! It’s a BRAVE NEW WORLD out here!
And I want everyone who’s experienced FOOD GUILT to join me.
Will I always be able to get there? Probably not. FOOD GUILT in all caps is a tricky little bastard. But now that I know it can be done, food feels less like an enemy or a friend, and more like something I eat to help get me through the day.
It feels like a new and powerful way to think. And I’m excited to keep practicing this.
A truly State Fair State Mind.