You should be able to eat the occasional doughnut and love every single fluffy bite without shaming yourself afterward.
And even if you're not the type to say you're on a diet, you've probably tried to watch what you eat or cut back on sugar before—then felt pangs of regret after coming down from the rush of eating a slice of yet another coworker's birthday cake. That unhealthy pattern of guilt is what Melissa Hartwig, cocreator of the Whole30 program, wants to help you beat in her book Food Freedom Forever: Letting Go of Bad Habits, Guilt, and Anxiety Around Food.
Here's the thing: You should be able to eat the occasional doughnut and love every single fluffy bite without shaming yourself afterward. It's great to have weight-loss goals and hopes for a healthier you, but mental health is just as important as physical, so finding peace with your eating habits is key to long-term success. In Food Freedom Forever, Hartwig outlines exactly how to reset your eating habits and regain control of your food choices in the process. Here are six of her tricks that you can use to stop stressing over everything you eat—and start enjoying it.
ELIMINATE "CHEAT" FOODS AND "GUILTY" PLEASURES
"The words you choose to describe your food and yourself have real power," Hartwig says. "Treating yourself like a child who needs to 'be good' on their diet is misguided. What happens when a child misbehaves? They are punished. Food should never be associated with punishment." And try to stop categorizing the foods you eat as "good" or "bad." Doing so only heightens the guilt you feel when you eat something from your "bad" list.
Hartwig writes, "Someone asked me on Facebook recently, 'I ate a Whole30-inspired diet all day, and I know what to call that—I just say I ate Whole30. But what should I call it when later, I eat some pizza? Cheat? Slip? Fail?'" Her reply: "What if you just called it 'eating pizza?'"
TAKE DEEP BREATHS
It sounds silly, but it's effective. When you start obsessing over whether or not to eat one of the cupcakes at your friend's party, your stress has the power to alter your breathing—"kind of like panic breathing," says Hartwig. So "by changing your breathing pattern, you can send a signal to your nervous system that you're actually DOING JUST FINE, which helps you activate the willpower center of your brain and feel more in control." There's no need to stop what you're doing to meditate; simply focus on slowing down your breathing to a 2:1 ratio of exhale to inhale, Hartwig advises.
CELEBRATE NON-SCALE VICTORIES
Cleaning up your diet can bring more benefits than just weight loss. For instance, more energy, clearer skin, fuller hair, or fewer joint aches. "At Whole30, we call these types of improvements 'non-scale victories,'" Hartwig says. Whether you're trying the Whole30 or simply focusing on making better food choices, these extra perks can help keep you on track. "Free yourself from the preoccupation with body weight and allow yourself the space to focus on all the other things that are changing as the result of your healthy eating efforts," says Hartwig.
WAIT 15 MINUTES BEFORE EATING
When that second beer or plate of brownies is sitting on the table right in front of you, it's hard to resist grabbing another. But first, ask yourself if you really want it—and push that food aside before answering, says Hartwig. "Tell yourself you're not going to eat it now, but if you still really want it 15 minutes from now (or an hour from now, or tomorrow), you'll allow yourself to enjoy it then," she says. "This gives your brain the space it needs to evaluate whether you truly want it, whether you're just feeling bored/anxious/lonely, etc., and whether or not it will actually be worth it."
SAVOR YOUR FAVORITE FOOD
Taking your time lets you truly enjoy what you're eating. Why buy that cookie from your favorite bakery if you scarf it down so quickly you hardly taste it? In Hartwig's words: "Get downright romantic with that cookie." On the flipside, if that cronut is not nearly as delicious as you imagined before biting into it (hey, maybe they're just not your thing), don't hesitate to stop eating. "The only reason to indulge in a less-healthy treat in the first place is if it's so incredibly, deliriously worth it that you're willing to accept the less-healthy consequences," Hartwig says.
PUT YOUR FORK DOWN
While eating, "make a habit of putting down your fork or glass between every bite or sip," says Hartwig. This little trick will help you enjoy the flavors on your fork and give your brain time to catch up to hunger signals from your digestive system. It's also "a physical cue to think about what you're eating and how it's making you feel."