Food can be fraught with emotion and meaning. When it’s labelled with a number of calories, even more so, because that number matches the food to your weight, your exercise habits, and your potentially complicated feelings about both.
So, it’s understandable if you have guilty feelings about sneaking a snack, labelled or not. But if this describes you, I beg you: Do not assume these feelings are normal or ok or a part of a healthy relationship with food.
I’m thinking about this because of a tweet I saw from John Tesh, a radio personality known for sharing lifehack-esque nuggets of advice. “Feeling guilty about a snack you just ate?” he asks rhetorically, before advising the reader to do housework to burn off the calories.
Feeling guilty about a snack you just ate? Do 30 minutes of chores – aka scrubbing floors, dusting, folding laundry, etc. That’ll burn about 150 calories – which is the equivalent of most small candy bars. #IFYL— John Tesh (@JohnTesh) July 6, 2020
There’s a lot going on here. For one thing, why housework? Is that a subtle keeping-women-in-their-place kind of thing?
But more importantly: if you are feeling this guilty about a snack, you should consider seeking help from a therapist who has experience with eating disorders.
Sure, maybe this tweet was a joke, or just a cheap calculation for clicks. But it speaks to a transactional mindset that aligns with disordered eating behaviours. The idea of trading food for exercise is also just a shitty way for influencers and companies to guilt you about your eating, your activity levels or both. God forbid you have a snack without feeling bad about it or finding a way to “earn” it through drudgery.
The truth is, it’s normal and fine and ok to eat something and not be wracked with guilt. Maybe “normal” is a difficult word to use here, because this mindset is so common. But you don’t have to accept it. You can just eat the snack — whether it’s 150 calories or a heck of a lot more — and move on with your life.
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It took a long time for this to sink in for me. Years ago, I was the type who would take a lap around the block just for chewing on a stick of gum. I understood energy balance, but what I did not get was that continually trying to burn off every single calorie I ingested was exhausting, miserable, and completely unnecessary. That popular saying, “You can’t out-train a bad diet” is true for most of us. The assumption here is that the term “bad diet” of course refers to a diet that puts you in a calorie surplus (and while I definitely take issue with dichotomizing/polarizing language when it comes to food, that’s a post for another time). It’s going to take you a lot more time to exercise off a certain number of calories than it will for you to eat it. If you happen to indulge, enjoy every bite. Stop when the treat no longer tastes amazing or when you’re feeling relatively full. The idea that you have to go run off 400 calories because you ate 400 calories’ worth of donuts can become a slippery slope, and disrupting your mental peace is not worth it. If anything, you can always pull back a little bit at the next meal. Make sure your total calories are kept in check and it’s all good. No stress.