Some of my sweetest childhood memories are of my family’s occasional Saturday stops at a local pastry shop. My sister and I, told we could each pick a treat, always gravitated toward the shop’s sponge cake mice, topped with chocolate mousse and almond slices for ears. My sister wolfed hers down, grinning over at me as I slowly reveled in each bite. I approached all food this way – curious to taste without fear of consequence.
For children, food comes guilt-free. As we get older, though, the relationship with eating gets rockier. Insecurities creep in where carefree delight used to live. It’s not uncommon, amid conversation with friends, for our guilt to show its face. We often scold ourselves for our eating habits, saying we had a bad cheat day yesterday, we shouldn’t have had that extra slice of pizza or that second – oops – third donut. Even when mentioned laughingly, it’s hard not to feel the frustration behind each comment. And that anxiety can be contagious.
By the time I reached my twenties, I found myself critically analyzing everything I put in my body, wracked with guilt each time I allowed myself a moment of “weakness.” I thought my remorse served as motivation, but in reality it was a punishment.
I hoped it would push me to do better next time, but truthfully it didn’t help me improve my habits or feel better about the way I looked. From that guilt grew a sense of shame, a feeling that weighed on me more heavily than the extra pounds I’d feared.
I realized one late November day, as I pored over articles brimming with tips to ward off holiday temptation, that the energy I spent on my food guilt left me exhausted. What I really wanted was to sit around the table with my family and take part in a Thanksgiving meal without the post-pecan pie self-punishment. On that day, I began to let go of the guilt, to search for the simple joy in each piece of food I ate.
While I haven’t found a perfect balance, shifting my focus has given me space to give myself a break. For me, balance now means giving my body more of the good things it needs and wants. It means roasting fresh vegetables for dinner and following it up with a slice of leftover blueberry galette. It means catching up with friends over cheese and rosé until we’re the last ones to leave the restaurant. It means getting to the root of where each craving comes from. Ultimately, letting go of the guilt has helped me to reclaim myself. Whether the source is stress at work, lack of sleep or day-to-day anxieties, there are times when a yoga class will do the trick and times when there’s no better cure than a scoop of ice cream.
Contributor Olivia Cooper is a full-time communications professional and part-time baker living in St. Petersburg, Florida. On her blog, A Dash of This, she enjoys sharing recipes inspired by her Southern roots and her love of French flavors.