You are what you think, not what you eat!

by Kelsey Ellis, RHN

Could the guilt and shame we experience after an overindulgence really be worse for our health than the food itself?

According to this article from the Institute for the Psychology of Eating (, the emotions of guilt and shame that we have after eating foods we have a demonized as “bad” or “unhealthy” may do more damage to our bodies than the calories and nutrients in the food itself. This highlights that there may be a link between how we feel about the food we consume and its effect on our metabolism.

The nervous system, consisting of the brain, spinal cord and nerves are like a telephone system that communicates with the digestion system when we eat. When we eat foods that are delightful and make us feel joyful, signals are sent from the brain to the parasympathetic nervous system promoting relaxation and improved metabolic output. When the parasympathetic nervous system is triggered, the function of the salivary glands, stomach, pancreas, liver, gall bladder and intestines increase and digestion becomes more efficient. However, when we consume foods that we deem as bad for us and make us feel guilt and shame, the sympathetic nervous system is triggered instead and adrenaline and cortisol are produced resulting in a stress response that shunts blood away from the digestive system and into the cardiovascular system. This leads to slowed digestion, decreased enzyme production and elevated blood sugar levels which can ultimately lead to insulin resistance, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

So, is it possible that by changing our thoughts about the foods we eat, we can change how we digest and metabolize them?

Here are four ways to re-train your thoughts and let go of the guilt and shame that could be adding inches to your waistline:

  1. Become aware of your inner critic

 If you are struggling with emotional eating or are a chronic dieter, you know very well who your inner food police is. That little voice in your head that says things like “you shouldn’t be eating that, it will make you fat.” It lives in your mind and imposes food rules and judges every choice you make, inflicting feelings of guilt and shame if you choose the “wrong” one. The food police fuels disordered thoughts and keep us from building a healthy relationship with food. When these thoughts come up, determine whether they are coming from you or your food police. Next, ask if these thoughts are kind, helpful or true. If they aren’t, choose to reject what doesn’t serve you by replacing the thought with a positive one. Although the food police can be persistent, the more you work towards shutting it down, the quieter it will become.

  1. Set your intentions at each meal

 Take a moment to pause before your first bite. Look at your food and take in all of its textures and colours. Think about how nourishing it will feel to take a bite. If a negative emotion starts to bubble up or you begin to judge your food choice, don’t suppress it. Acknowledge that it is just a thought and let it pass. If you believe that the food you are about to eat will make you sick or fat, it likely will. However, if you believe that it is best for your highest good and will give you the love and fuel you need, it will be just that. If you feel stuck, I encourage you to use the following affirmation: “I enjoy the foods that are best for my body and believe that this food will nourish every cell in my body.”

  1. Become aware of whether you have emotional eating tendencies or not

Fresh foods such as vegetables, fruit and legumes can be nourishing for our physical health, meanwhile processed foods such as pastries, candy and ice cream can be damaging to our physical health but emotionally nourishing. Food nutrition is not as black and white as some textbooks make it out to be. How the body responds to food is very individual and therefore our food choices impact us all differently. Some people are more physical eaters and others tend to be emotional eaters. Emotional eaters have an emotional attachment to food that can be associated with positive or negative feelings connected to memories stored in the body. Common triggers include enjoying the taste and smell of popcorn at the movies, or a milkshake that you had earned after good grades as a child. These feelings can be re-triggered around certain foods, environments or energies. On the other end of the spectrum, physical eaters are emotionally detached from food and view it strictly as fuel and nutrients for the body systems to function. This is why some people are completely okay with eating candy, while others feel uncomfortable with it.

  1. Practice eating “banned” foods in moderation

Living a life of constant food restriction will typically result in an episode of binge eating (gorging one’s self to excess) at some point. A food binge may seem harmless but can ultimately lead to feelings of unworthiness, lack of self-control and failure after repeated instances. By allowing yourself treat foods from time to time, you are giving yourself the permission to enjoy all foods and you may actually find you don’t crave them as often. When you eat a treat food and realize that it does not immediately sabotage your weight loss efforts, it can be a very empowering experience. Before indulging, allow whatever emotions come up about the food and try not to judge them. If the guilt starts to set in post meal, instead of beating yourself up about it, try using the affirmation “I release myself from the negative emotions I associate to these foods and do not allow my food choices to determine my worthiness.” Repeat this affirmation as many times as you need to bring relief. Going for a brisk walk can also dissipate feelings of shame as well as balancing your blood sugar naturally (a win-win!)

Certainly, I’m not saying we can eat junky foods all of the time without any harm if we believe it’s good for us. I am simply suggesting that what we believe about the foods we consume can powerfully influence how it affects the body. What we believe, whether joy or guilt is alchemically translated into the body through nerve pathways, the endocrine system, and the digestive tract. So, it is safe to say you’re not what you eat, you are what you think!

Kelsey Ellis is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, they offer appointments at Local Health Integrative Clinic on Mondays & Wednesdays Click here to book an appointment with Kelsey.