For Memorial Day weekend, Brian and I visited friends in Miami. We ate lots of my favorite foods: shrimp, french fries, gelato, whole wheat waffles.

While I enjoyed every bite, afterward, I felt the subtle, gnawing nudge of guilt. And some negative thoughts had slithered in:

What if you gain weight from all of this? You’ve already gained weight since last summer. What if it all goes straight to your expanding hips and thighs? What’s wrong with you? Did you really need to eat the whole plate? You know, you look pregnant, right?

While I can’t control these automatic thoughts, I can remind myself that they’re definitely mistaken. I can remind myself of the truth.

If you’ve recently had the same kinds of demoralizing, irritating thoughts, here are a few reminders:

  • You have permission to eat whatever you want. The only rule, if there is a rule, is simply that you savor and enjoy what you’re having.
  • Normal eating is flexible.
  • You have permission to reach for seconds, if you like, or to stop after one helping. It’s totally up to you, your cravings, your hunger and satiety signals.
  • You aren’t naughty, bad, stupid, disgusting, an idiot or ______ for eating certain foods or for having more of certain foods. These are the words of the 60 billion-dollar diet industry (and many women’s and “health” publications). Unfortunately, they’ve become engrained in our vernacular. Which is understandable, because, sadly, such statements, seem to be everywhere. But they’re false (and manipulative).
  • Whatever you’re feeling is OK. Sometimes, we have a tendency to berate ourselves for feeling guilt or shame or discomfort. Why can’t these feelings just go away? Shouldn’t I be over this by now? But those automatic thoughts and feelings — yep, the negative ones — are OK. These may be deeply held beliefs. So try not to judge yourself for having them. Acknowledge how you’re feeling, and try to feel those feelings. Again, whatever you’re feeling is valid.
  • The guilt we feel is really more of a habit than the truth. Those are the words of Susan Schulherr, who told me a few years ago:

“Feeling guilty about high-calorie foods, or fats or sweets, is a habituated responsethe habituated thought is going to come up whether we like it or not. So the trick is to recognize it for what it is: a habit, not a truth.

As I say to my clients, you may not be able to stop the thought or related feelings from popping up spontaneously, but you dont have to set out the tea service and invite them to stay. Once we recognize were in the guilty feelings, the step toward change is to interrupt them rather than to let them romp at will in our psyches.

“If guilt pops up when youre trying to enjoy [food] in peace, you need to take that step back and respond with your own version of Oh, of course, theres that guilt stuff again. It makes me feel like Im being bad, but Im actually not.

  • I also really like these other phrases from Susan: “I dont have to earn the right to enjoy what I eat.” “What I eat has nothing to do with being good or worthy.”
  • Try to meet yourself — and those negative thoughts and feelings — with compassion. Talk to yourself in a kind way. Try to act in kind ways.

When guilty feelings and negative thoughts arise, try to remind yourself that you haven’t done anything wrong. Remind yourself that you are still worthy.

You are worthy whether you reach for a second helping or not. You are worthy whether you eat an apple or a piece of apple pie.

You are worthy whether you have these feelings or not.

Every day, every moment, when I experience these kinds of feelings, I try to move with kindness. Some days are harder than others. But I remind myself that kindness — always kindness — is the key.