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Food Love Day 5: It’s not willpower

Audio mini-series:


Do you feel you have control over your food choices?

Choosing what to eat can sometimes seem like the hardest task — decision fatigue is real!

Or maybe you feel like you just need to “do it.” Like you just need more willpower to make a healthy choice.

Or perhaps you don’t see the foods you eat represented in food guides, meal kits, or online blogs.

I think a lot of how “healthy eating” is presented to us focusses on “willpower.” And by doing so it assumes that we as individuals are solely responsible for the types of foods that go into our mouths.

I see the pressure of that willpower really make people harshly judge their own food choices, as well as the food choices of others.

On day two you reflected on your food story. Hopefully this started to draw out a bigger picture of what food is like for you.

Yesterday you were offered the experiment of getting curious with your food, a concept often associated with mindfulness practice.

Today I offer you another, which is the practice of observing without judgment.


My name is Krystal Merrells. I’m a registered dietitian and a concussion warrior in Ontario, Canada.

I’ve had multiple concussions and I’ve seen how food can become this big stressful thing after a brain injury. I am here to help you move towards feeling good with food.

This is Food Love. A 14-day mini-series exploring your relationship with food.

Today is day 5: It’s not willpower


Let’s do a quirky analogy with fish!

Have you ever had a fish tank? Seen one at a friend’s place? Or been to an aquarium?

Whether you have or haven’t doesn’t really matter. But let’s take a moment to imagine one.

Imagine a clear tank, filled with water, some stones, some greenery, maybe a miniature sized sunken pirate ship… plus two fish.

Let’s name them for fun: Finley and River

Finley and River swim around doing their thing, living the ultimate mindfull fish life.

They may eat some aquarium plants and fish flakes when it’s feeding time. Finley and River do this every day.

And how absolutely ridiculous would it be if Finley and River judged each other’s food choices?

Finley: Oh my Titan, River. I can’t believe you ate so many fish flakes!

River: Yeah well, I am trying to eat a Mediterranean diet, but I just can’t seem to stick to it!

Finley: Try lowering your flakes to less than one fin full at a time.

Aside from the fact that Finley and River are fish, and we assume they don’t talk like us humans do, what do you find ridiculous about this conversation? About these food judgments?

I think of the limits of their environment.

Finley and River can’t really choose where they live. They don’t have control over what aquarium plants or fish flakes are made accessible to them.

Finley and River are simply doing the best they can with what they got.

And my guess is that you are too.

Our history with food and our environment have so much more to do with our food choices than just willpower alone.

And when I say environment, to me that encompasses a lot of things: 

The climate where we live, what foods can be grown locally, politics and economics of importing and exporting, money and how accessible it is to the people who need it, education about food and the chance to practice food skills, resources for those who are ill or disabled to have access to good food, accessibility and representation of different culture’s food in stores and public health campaigns etc.

I think we know and accept this for other things in life. Like whether you live in an apartment, or a house, or are renting a room. Many factors contribute. Your housing situation truly isn’t just dependent on willpower.

Though I find many make this “lack of willpower” judgement when it comes to food.

So let me just say, right here, right now:

Your food choices aren’t from willpower alone.

Your neighbours food choices aren’t based solely on willpower.

That person who seems all into health and fitness – their choices aren’t the result of mere willpower.

People in all different body shapes & sizes – their food choices aren’t from willpower neither.

When we unfairly criticize ourselves for the food choices we make, we’re more likely to judge others in the same way, regardless of their situation.

And sometimes our criticisms of others are reflections on how we judge ourselves.

Judgement is a vicious cycle…

So can you drop the food judgement?

And don’t get me wrong. This isn’t to say there isn’t a time and place for criticism and judgment. Please do criticize the broken systems that perpetuate food, health, social, and economic inequity. Hold accountable the systems that make it so hard for people to get safe, good food that meets their health needs.

But does harshly judging your individual food choices, as well as the choices of others, help you have a good relationship with food?

After all, if you were married, would judging and criticizing your partner every day nurture the marriage?

So your reflection questions today:

Do you notice times when you unjustly criticize your own food choices?

Where do you notice judgement of others for their food choices?

And what would it take to let that go?

Or view it simply as data that you can use to inform what you do next?

Or maybe even replace it more with love & compassion?


When: “Why did I do that?! Why did I eat those chips and chocolate?? I’ve ruined my diet because I just couldn’t say no.”

Try instead: “I’m noticing that I am harshly judging myself for eating chips and chocolate. I don’t feel good about it because it makes me feel like I’m ruining my diet. But realistically, I enjoy these foods and I can have them sometimes and still be healthy. I was so hungry and these were the only foods around. Next time I’ll try to have other snack options available because overall that’s what I want for myself, but no matter what foods I eat I am worthy of love.”

Remember, Finley and River are doing the best they can with what they got. And as a result they make good fish friends, swimming around, eating fish flakes, and living the ultimate mindful life. 

Best in food love,


P.S. You are so awesome for being here! I know today’s reflection is a tough one. Criticism and judgement aren’t easy topics. So just a big virtual high five to you for reflecting on this!

And don’t worry, tomorrow we’ll have a palate cleanser 🙂 We are going to completely shift gears, and have some fun. I can’t wait for you to hear it!