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Eating Without Shame

I always liked Halloween as a kid. When I was little, it was fun to dress up, and I enjoyed Halloween games like bobbing for apples or trying to eat an apple off a string without using my hands.

Then when I got older and my weight became an issue, I liked Halloween because it was a time when I could eat candy without feeling ashamed – or at least, not as ashamed. After all, candy was one of the highlights of the holiday. Kids were expected to eat it, and for a short time each year, I didn’t feel as guilty about my eating.

Halloween this year is different, of course, but feeling shame about eating candy or other foods is still around.

Even if you live alone and aren’t eating in front of anyone, you might still experience shame or guilt about how you eat. It can be hard not to feel this way, but I’ll share some tips to help.

Examples of eating

Before getting to the tips, though, it’s worth mentioning that one of the reasons shame-free eating is difficult is because we don’t see it very often. Most women in TV shows and movies either don’t eat anything, or they go for salads and lighter fare. That normalizes the sense that eating in other ways is shameful.

But I’ve recently discovered a show with a very different example – Call the Midwife. If you’re not familiar with it, the show takes place in the East End of London in the late 1950s and early 1960s, following the stories of nuns, midwives, and nurses.

And one of my favorite characters is Sister Monica Joan, in part because of how she eats.

In the very first episode, a new midwife arrives at Nonnatus House and is greeted by Sister Monica Joan, a nun in her 80’s. And the first thing Sister Monica Joan does is take the newcomer to the kitchen to search for cake – a cake that’s hidden because everyone else knows the elderly nun has a sweet tooth and will eat whatever she can find.

Sister Monica Joan’s preference for sweets is a running theme in the show, and one of the things I like best about it is that she’s completely unashamed. Admittedly, sometimes she carries this a little far, such as when she eats something that was meant for a specific occasion, but overall, it’s refreshing to see a woman eating what she wants.

The rest of the women, too, eat quite well. They’re often shown around a bountiful table, and when a new nun tried to make their noontime meal lighter, it didn’t go over well. As one of the women pointed out, they needed the fuel to get through their long and often difficult afternoons.

I’ve been enjoying those examples of women eating, especially because it can also be hard in real life to find women who eat without apologizing or feeling guilty for their choices. Far too often the conversation turns to diets. And women might choose what to eat based on what they think they “should” have rather than what they want.

Moving away from shame

Getting away from feelings of shame about eating can be difficult, but here are a few tips that might help.

Talk about it

One of the reasons shame is so powerful is because it stays hidden. If you can bring it into the light by talking about it, you reduce the hold it has on you.

Even better, if you talk about it, you’ll likely empower other people to share their stories, too. You’ll find that you’re not alone in how and what you eat, and that also makes it easier to let go of the shame.

Savor your food

If you’re ashamed of what you’re eating, you’re more likely to eat is quickly and mindlessly, without tasting it, because you don’t want anyone to catch you in the act.

Allowing yourself to slow down and enjoy your food helps shift those feelings. If your food is good enough to enjoy, then it can’t be shameful, can it?

And remember, you can slow down to enjoy anything, whether it’s a gourmet meal or a candy bar you got out of a vending machine. It takes practice, but it’s worth it.

Change your thoughts

Finally, change how you think about eating. Instead of telling yourself that what or how you’re eating is “bad,” tell yourself that you’re eating. End of story.

And remember, your worth doesn’t depend on your food choices. You’re worthy regardless of what you eat.

This is important because what you think has a direct impact on how you feel. If you think what you’re doing is shameful, you’ll feel shame. But if you can change your mindset so you think about eating as a way to fuel your life, you won’t feel that shame anymore.

Enjoy eating on Halloween and other days

Whether you’re eating Halloween candy, a kale salad, mashed potatoes, ice cream out of the container, an apple, or anything else, don’t feel ashamed of it.

Enjoy it fully and openly, so shame doesn’t have a chance to set in. You may even find that you eat less this way, but either way, you’ll be happier for it.


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