We’ve all had those days where we feel like we just can’t resist temptation. Maybe your clothes are a little more snug than you’d like and you’re feeling down about your appearance, you’ve had a rough day at work, an argument with someone or you’re feeling stressed. You know, the days where you just can’t seem to make good choices no matter how hard you try and you grab the first thing that looks good to eat, and you seem to spiral and can’t stop eating foods you’d rather not eat. Whatever the reason, succumbing to the cravings can leave us feeling guilty and ashamed. It’s easy to say to try not to worry and just move on, but there are ways to shift from a bad day of eating and to get back on track. So how do you move on from a bad day of eating?
It’s important to forgive yourself. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up for having a bad day of eating. Give yourself some grace and remind yourself that when feeling stressed, our learned behaviour is often to seek out comfort in food. This is the perfect time to pinpoint the event or feeling that led you to the fridge, pantry or store. View it as a wonderful opportunity to learn why you reacted the way you did. Think of it as collecting data about yourself so you can be more mindful in the future and be more self-aware of people and situations that trigger that emotional reaction, that forces the need to self-soothe with food.
Often, we catastrophise the situation and allow a bad day of eating to spiral into days, weeks or longer, binge. Forgiving yourself for turning to an unhealthy comforting behaviour means acknowledging you were doing the best for yourself in that moment, but you are not going to let that moment define you or your progress.
Get back on track
View the event as a bump in the road on your journey, you slowed down for an obstacle and now you’re back on the road from where you slowed down. I know most of us view the bump as failure and need to start again from the beginning, but there’s no need for that, this is a one meal or day event, not indicative of who you are as a person.
Once you have forgiven yourself and taken some time for reflection, get back on track straight away. Don’t wait until tomorrow or the next Monday to start eating healthily again, that is just lengthening the binge cycle. Each meal is a new opportunity to make better choices. Better choices doesn’t mean punishing yourself by cutting back/starving yourself, excessive exercising or drinking loads of water to offset a bad day. It simply means returning to healthy eating habits. Start by avoiding processed foods, sugary drinks, and processed fats. Choose lean proteins, unrefined and unprocessed carbohydrates, and healthy fats instead. Make sure you’re getting in enjoyable movement.
Movement releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. It can also help to reduce stress levels, but it needs to be something you enjoy. Sweating is not fat crying, nor can you “work off” the poor food choices that are causing metabolic disturbances, returning to clean eating will take care of that.
Make a plan
One of the best ways to mitigate a bad day of eating is to plan ahead. When we are feeling stressed or down, it’s easy to make snap decisions about what we eat, without considering the consequences.
If you can, take a few minutes to sit down and plan out your meals for the day or week. This doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Simply knowing what you’re going to eat and when you will eat, can help reduce stress and make it easier to stick to healthy eating habits. Planning ahead can also help you avoid trigger foods and situations that might lead to unhealthy choices.
Make meal planning a priority by creating a shopping list and sticking to it. This will help you avoid buying unhealthy or unnecessary snacks and if it’s not on the list, don’t buy it. Batch cooking and meal planning ahead of time will help you have clean meals on hand and avoid last-minute unhealthy choices. This also reduces the excuse of time pressures or convenience, as barriers to eating well. Another way to avoid unhealthy eating is to keep trigger foods out of the house. If you know certain foods will tempt you or cause you to overeat, it’s best to avoid them altogether.
If you are about to enter a social gathering or situation where people normally trigger you, try writing a story about what might happen and how you will react. Re-write the ending to one that you want instead of spiralling into behaviours you’d rather avoid. If you wish to enforce boundaries in your story, you can do so by visualising yourself remaining calm and in control no matter what others say or do. See yourself responding confidently, without getting defensive or becoming angry. Remind yourself that you don’t have to prove anything to anyone – you’re simply there to enjoy yourself. And if someone says or does something that bothers you, remember that you always have the option to walk away. You don’t have to engage in any discussion that makes you uncomfortable.
Take some time for yourself
After you have forgiven yourself it’s important to show some self-care, to nurture yourself. This is a great opportunity to do something special that doesn’t involve food. Maybe there is a book you’ve been wanting to read, or a project you’ve been wanting to start. Maybe you just need some time to relax and watch your favourite movie. Taking some time for yourself will help you to remember that you are more than the food you eat, and that you deserve to treat yourself well. Finally, make sure you’re managing your stress levels. Stress can lead to increased cravings for sugary and fatty foods. Find healthy coping mechanisms such as yoga, journaling, or walks in nature.
When we’re stressed, our bodies go into survival mode. The “fight or flight” response kicks in and we’re focused on surviving the stressor. This means that the reasoning part of our brain, the frontal lobe, shuts down. We’re not thinking about the long-term consequences of our actions, we just want to get rid of the stressor, and any reasoning or desire to not succumb to the craving is overridden. This is why it’s so hard to resist cravings when we’re stressed. Our bodies are telling us that we need the quick fix of sugar or caffeine or whatever else we’re craving in order to get through the stressor. But these quick fixes only make the problem worse in the long run. When we’re able to reduce our stress levels, the cravings become less intense and we’re more likely to make healthy choices.
There are many different ways to manage stress. Some people find that enjoyable movement helps them release tension and clear their minds. Others find that meditation or deep breathing exercises help them to relax. And still others find that journaling or talking to a friend helps them to process their thoughts and feelings. Find what works for you and make it a part of your daily routine. When you have a plan for managing your stress, you’re less likely to give in to cravings and more likely to make healthy choices.
Take care of yourself
It’s also important to take care of yourself emotionally. Make sure you have a good support system in place, whether that means friends and family, therapy, or online communities. Find what works for you and make sure you have an outlet to express yourself. This can help to prevent emotional eating binges as well as helping you to cope with the triggers that led to the bad day of eating in the first place.
Here are some suggestions for self-care:
- Practice self-affirmations. Believe in yourself and your ability to stay on track.
- Be grateful. Write down things you’re thankful for each day.
- Go for a walk. Get some fresh air and sunshine.
- Read a book. Stimulate your mind with stories and new ideas.
- Listen to music. Let the rhythm and melody lift your spirits.
- Treat yourself. Do something special for yourself, like getting a bubble bath or a pedicure.
- Watch guided meditations on YouTube. Relax and focus on your breath.
- Practice deep breathing exercises. Inhale slowly and deeply, filling up your lungs. Exhale slowly, letting all the air out. Repeat several times.
Pay attention to your sleep hygiene and make sure you’re getting enough sleep, as poor quality or quantity of sleep can lead to increased cravings and hunger. Some tips to improve sleep quality include:
- Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool.
- Establish a regular sleep schedule and stick to it as much as possible.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol late in the day.
- Avoid working or using electronic devices in bed.
- During the day get up and move around every few hours to keep your body active.
- Practice some relaxation techniques before bedtime.
- Make sure your bed is comfortable and inviting.
- Keep a journal by your bed to jot down any worries or stressors that might be keeping you up at night.
- Winding down for 30-60 minutes before sleep with a calming activity such as reading or taking a bath
When it comes to changing your relationship with food, mindset is everything. If you’re constantly berating yourself for your food choices or beating yourself up after a binge, you’re not going to be in the right mindset to make healthy changes. Instead, focus on being kind and compassionate to yourself. Remember that you’re human and that everyone makes mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them and to move on.
Here are some mindset affirmations that can help:
- I am worthy of love and respect, no matter what I eat.
- I am not my mistakes. I am so much more than that.
- I am in control of my food choices. No one else can make those decisions for me.
- My worth is not determined by the number on the scale.
- I am capable of making healthy choices.
- I deserve to be happy and healthy.
- I am worthy of love and respect, no matter what I eat.
Making a mindset shift can be difficult, but it’s so important if you want to change your relationship with food. Remember to be patient with yourself and to take things one day at a time.
Focus on the future
Once you have forgiven yourself, it’s time to focus on the future. What are your goals? What do you want to achieve? What are some healthy choices you can make today that will help you reach your goals? Make a list of your reasons for avoiding processed foods. Keep it handy and refer to it when you’re feeling tempted. Focusing on the future and remembering why you are eating clean will help you to stay on track.
Remember that change takes time. Be patient with yourself and trust that you will get there eventually. Every meal is a new opportunity to make better choices. If you slip up, don’t beat yourself up. The most important thing is to stay positive throughout the process. Remember that one bad day does not define you, and that you can make healthy choices with each new meal. Just keep your head up and keep moving forward. Making the choice to move on from a bad day of eating is a big step, but it’s definitely possible with the right mindset and approach. Be patient with yourself, focus on your goals, and be kind to yourself throughout the process.
Pauline Atchison (Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner) www.nextstophappy.com
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