You Don’t Need an Excuse to Eat!

By Katie, 5:27 am

“I ran an extra mile on the treadmill today.”

“I’ve had a really stressful day at work.”

Or my personal favorite:

“I’ve been good all week!”

Those of us who have a rocky relationship with food often find ourselves coming up with excuses or justifications for our eating habits. We feel like we have to rationalize eating. It’s no surprise, really, when we see ads like this on billboards and in magazines:

This ad for Auntie Anne’s pretzels reads, “Pick a reason to get one – any reason.” In the background are some suggested reasons, many of which I’ve used in the past.

There are the emotional justifications, such as my boyfriend dumped me and it’s the perfect break-up snack.

And then there is the vow to “make up for” the treat: I’ll run another lap in P.E.

Though the advertisement is a bit cheesy, it’s still effective because it gets into the heads of so many women and girls. I’ve certainly spent inordinate amounts of time rationalizing my eating in this way: “It’s ok because…” or “I deserve it because…”

But guess what? Nowadays I can eliminate all of the “reasons” on that advertisement in one fell swoop: It’s ok to eat because I’m human. I deserve to eat because I’m hungry. End of story.

One of the most important steps I’ve taken in the process of healing my relationship with food has been giving myself full permission to eat. I don’t need a reason, an excuse, or a justification. I don’t need to “make up for” it. And I certainly don’t need to feel bad about it, thank you very much!

Have you seen this advertisement, or another one like it?

Have you ever found yourself looking for “reasons” or “justifications” for your eating? Do you now give yourself full permission to eat?

*All photos are courtesy of Sociological Images.

50 Responses to “You Don’t Need an Excuse to Eat!”

  1. Fanni says:

    Wow, it’s so good (?) to know that I’m not alone with this whole absurd justification thing. I ALWAYS have to give myself a reason why I DESERVE to eat, even when I’m really hungry. It’s ridiculous and very harmful. I really like your solution and I’ll try to use it: I eat because I am hungry. And that’s enough. No more excuses needed. Thank you Katie for bringing this topic up!

    • Katie says:

      Thanks for your comment, Fanni! And it really is true: you don’t need any reason other than you’re human and you’re hungry.

  2. Alina says:

    Yes. Just yes. There is no need to earn food, ever.

  3. I haven’t seen this ad but I think it is disgusting. How is it that we have gone so far off the deep end in our country with weight and body image that companies are playing off the feelings of not deserving to eat.

    We are human. We can not live without eating. We deserve to eat because we are human and nothing more.

  4. Such an important lesson! For me, it was always the justifications for NOT eating, even if I was hungry, that disrupted my relationship with food. Examples: “I can’t eat lunch yet, because it’s only 11:15am” or “If I eat anything now, I might get cramps while I’m running” or I can’t eat rice for dinner because I had lots of carbs at lunch” or “It’s too late to eat anything; I’m just going to bed now, anyway”.
    These days? I do give full permission to eat what I want whenever I’m hungry, because the mental, emotional and physical fall-out of restricting is just not worth it.

    • Katie says:

      Great point, Megan! I have been the same way in the past – always finding reasons why I SHOULDN’T eat.

  5. I haven’t seen this specific Auntie Anne’s ad yet — probably since I can’t eat them anymore — but Auntie Anne’s definitely didn’t use to advertise like this! I worked their all during high school hehe.

  6. When I am hungry, I give myself full permission to eat . . .

    AND sometimes when I’m not hungry, I give myself permission to eat too.

    Sometimes its a special occasion or trying a new food at school or even for comfort or warmth.

    As long as it doesnt become a habit and I am fully observant what Im doing, I dont have a problem with it!

    My personal favorite excuse . . . I blew it! Might as well keep going!

    Which translates to me . . .

    I harmed myself . . . Might as well keep harming instead of taking care of myself when I need to most!

    I think when we are I a disordered state it’s so easy to believe ANY excuse to deserve to give ourselves a mini vacation and eat.

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  8. Kristine says:

    I LOVE this post!

    It is seriously SUCH a common thing.

    Why do we need to make excuses for for something that should be nothing other than instinctual. If your hungry, you do not need an “excuse”–you need food! If you are emotionally hungry, you dont need food, or an excuse to eat food– it will not fill the emotional hole no matter how much you eat.

  9. Tamara says:

    I’ve noticed a trend in advertisements like these lately–it may not actually be a new trend, but just one I started to notice after I stopped believing thoughts like this were okay.

    There’s one ad that plays during online episodes of HGTV shows for Jell-O featuring a slim woman sitting on a clock with her shoes off smiling and kicking playfully at the falling numbers. She’s ravishing a spoon of chocolate “mousse temptations” and a coquettish voice-over says, “Smooth, rich chocolate. 60 calories! It’s me o’clock.”

    The message decoded: “You deserve decadent treats because you work so hard. But only artificially sweetened 60 calorie treats, because we still need to keep our figures, don’t we girls?” It’s like those magazines supposedly about taking care of “me” with all the articles about losing weight and pleasing men (I think you posted about that once).

    • Katie says:

      YES! It just goes to show that our society’s definition of “self-care” and “self-indulgence” includes all kinds of contingencies(at least for women). Sigh.

  10. THAT ad is disturbing. Would you agree that it’s targeted towards women? I think I’d say so. I learnt in one of my classes and I’ve experienced that emotional eating is targeted towards woman in the media. The ad might seem innocent but really it’s sad when I consider the percentage of woman suffering from disordered eating in this country.–A

    • Katie says:

      I definitely think the ad is targeted at women. I might even say it’s targeting teenage girls, because of the bubbly font they use in the background. It’s quite sad that issues of disordered/emotional eating focus on women specifically, and in this case even ENCOURAGE it. :(

  11. I haven’t seen this but I agree with you 100%!! I think you summed it up perfectly by saying “because I am hungry” lol!

  12. Cammy says:

    Needing an excuse to eat is what morphed my ED from “classic” restricting anorexia into a case of major compulsive exercise. The only way I could deal with the anxiety of following my prescribed meal plan was to work out. I don’t think it was even all about weight, I gained weight (albeit slowly) as food increased even though exercise increased concomitantly. The endorphins just acted like a drug to calm me down and an outlet for all the emotions and anxiety I was going through. Actually just wrote a related post.

    Anyway, needing to constantly justify what we eat is a habit that really bothers me when I hear others doing it, and people do it CONSTANTLY, tough to block that out sometimes. Really glad you hear you’ve gotten a grip on the issue and are able to enjoy and take good care of yourself. :)

    • Katie says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Cammy! Can’t wait to check out your post!

  13. Sarah says:

    Katie, I love this. There is so much freedom in giving ourselves permission to do something if that is what we really want and need.
    And then maybe we’ll still genuinely want the pretzel, and maybe we won’t. No big deal, right? :-)

  14. Sarah says:

    I think that justifying actions is a major part of human life. Not only do we justify eating, we justify drinking, we justify purchases, we justify our emotions. It seems that as a society we are not “allowed” to do anything without a reason. I believe that especially women believe that we are not allowed to just be happy, we have to justify our happiness. My boyfriend dumped me so I’m allowed to eat the pretzel so I can feel happy (temporarily). But I can’t just eat the pretzel because I want to. It such a difficult mindset to overcome become of its constant presence in our lives.

    • Katie says:

      Ohhhhh such a great point. I agree that the whole justification thing goes way beyond food.

  15. Katie, fantastic post! You make such a great point. I’ve totally done this, particularly when I was in diet-mode throughout my college years. I’d always rationalize why I was or wasn’t eating. “I was good all week” was a common one.

    Like Cammy said, I also hear people justifying what they’re eating a LOT. I’m going to be more aware of whether I’m still doing this, too. While I’ve given myself full permission to eat what I want, the diet mentality can creep in here and there.

    Such a great lesson. Thank you!

  16. Holly says:

    For YEARS I lived only having (what I think of as “treats”) when I would exercise a lot to “make up for it.” For example, for a couple of years, I would aim to burn 600-700 calories in my a.m. workout, and then during the day I would NEVER consume more than I’d burned off that morning. I didn’t feel it was justified. WTH?!! I’m so happy to say I am not like that anymore. Because you know what? I’m an active person. I usually eat very healthy, whole foods. So that cup of ice cream? Or that piece of cake? If I really want it, I don’t need an excuse anymore. And THAT feels fantastic. :-)

    Great post, Katie!

  17. Lisa says:

    I definitely have a rocky relationship with food. I am doing much better by not thinking I need to workout if I slip up and eat too much food. Exercise should be about fun and being healthy–NOT a punishment for overeating!

  18. Nicole, RD says:

    Great post, Katie! I had not seen Auntie Anne’s advertisement and I think it preys on that unhealthy relationship with food, like you said. Sometimes marketing is so brilliant it pains me!

  19. Ugh. It took me so long to get over needing an excuse to eat certain things. I actually used to plan my daily eating around my 1hr elliptical sessions…

    Great post! I love your blog…it keeps me sane!

  20. Isn’t associating emotions with food one of the things we are counseled to separate? That connection can lead to binges, stress eating, etc. Nevertheless, it is very effective. It works. Therefore, we must strive to not make that connection, but eat to live. Our bodies need food to survive. We shouldn’t have to use excuses to eat.

  21. Great post- I totally agree with you and loved reading your thoughts. We shouldn’t be bargaining with ourselves to eat!

  22. Bubu says:

    Wow, reading this post and comments is really intense. I’ve struggled at this from the other side – rather than needing permission to eat, I needed to learn when it was NOT a good reason to eat, i.e., eating for emotional reasons rather than hunger. One way or another, eating that is disconnected from hunger or need, and is tied to emotions/rewards/punishments is not healthy.

    • Katie says:

      Good point. I’m sad I didn’t look at it from this angle, especially since I’ve struggled with eating for the wrong reasons as well. You’re right that whether we’re eating or not eating, it’s problematic when it’s tied to extreme emotions and feelings of self-worth.

  23. Julie says:

    Brilliant discussion, both post and comments. I have nothing to say that haven’t been said already (except: hey, I’m here, I’m reading and enjoying it! \o/ )
    It’s sad how companies can prey on such a terrible human weakness (needing permission, needing validation, hiding from emotions through external things) just to sell more. :/

  24. Leslie says:

    Hi Katie–another enjoyable and smart post :) I’m liking your blog so much.

    The whole “food-as-a-luxurious-indulgence” is an interesting trend in advertising, one that plays on our feelings both that certain foods are forbidden and that we should use food as an emotional reward.

    Advertising is on my mind a lot these days–just finishing the first season of Mad Men :) .

    • Katie says:

      I’ve actually never seen Mad Men, but I’ve been told that I would really enjoy it. Your comment has me thinking about the way that chocolate is often marketed to women – as luxurious, sensual, even sexual! Maybe there’s a whole other post there. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! :)

  25. Hadn’t seen that ad, and I find it quite disturbing! Is it only geared toward women? The font (pretend handwriting) looks like a stereotypically girlish one, and I assume the messages are all from the perspective of a girl/woman. Yikes. Cheers to being able to eat because you are hungry, end of story!

    • Katie says:

      YES! The handwriting certainly implies that the ad is geared toward teen/pre-teen girls, which only frustrates me more.

  26. very insightful. its as if we are told the message that we cannot trust our own instincts about when we are hungry and when our body needs to eat. im positive the majority of us grew up relying on those very instincts our bodies gave us to know when to eat. as we grew older we questioned our motives for a variety of reasons.. emotions probably being at the forefront. it goes back to the black and white/all or nothing thinking. on one end we can let someone else tell us when our bodies should eat, and on the other end we can rebel and over-eat whenever we choose. what you are saying is smack in the middle and truly from a healthy awareness, eat when you get the signal and need to and stop when you are content. when you want a piece of chocolate to satisfy a craving (versus over indulgence just to eat a whole case of bars), then it makes perfect sense that we allow ourselves to indulge in that need. otherwise it further proves to ourselves that we cant trust ourselves with our cravings and signals…causing a bigger gap between ourselves and our bodies. this just forces us to constantly look outside of ourselves for that validation.

    such a great post Katie!
    xoxo <3

  27. Nina says:

    Great post Katie. When I was constantly restricting there was always an all or nothing approach to my eating. Now, like you, I have unconditional permission to eat and my food choices are perfect – because they are what i WANT. My weight does not fluctuate whatsoever which still amazes me.

  28. Karie says:

    Great post. I actually binged today as a result of feeling like i earned the binge. How stupid. I haven’t binged in a month and that was my excuse. In my mind i have been “good” but really, binging is so destructive. It messes with my mind and my body. I hope one day to just be balanced with all of this. It is such a struggle.

    • Katie says:

      You are so right that it’s a struggle, Karie. But the simple fact that you’re so aware of your thought process throughout all of this is HUGE! It took me a long time to get to that point, for sure. I am confident that one day you will reach a place of balance and peace with food. Sending positive vibes your way! :)

  29. Nina says:

    @Karie – You will be balanced with this, you are already on the right track by seeing that it no longer gives you the pay-offs that it did before!
    It took me a long time to stop seeing my binge eating as a reward and as something really destructive

  30. Alexis says:

    I haven’t seen Auntie Ann in S. Ca. but I have seen this ad a million times from other products. My thought is, if I need to justify buying your product, then why are you selling it. I’d rather see an ad that simply says, eat it, it tastes good.
    I got fed up one time when a waitress asked if I was going to be bad and indulge in desert. I asked her if eating desert is a bad thing to do then why is the restaurant selling desert. Sometime I just want to scream, get off my back!

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