Food Waste: Why Are We So Afraid of Throwing Away Food?
Make Peace with Food
Key takeaway: challenge old rules and listen to your body cues.
Why are we all so afraid of throwing away food?
Here are things I’ve been hearing from clients lately:
- I was raised to clean up my plate, so I still feel guilty if I throw away food.
- If I see a bunch of food in my fridge, I get overwhelmed, and then nothing sounds good.
- I only like certain things for leftovers, but I feel like I have to eat them, so I just let them sit in my fridge until they rot and then throw them away.
- If I throw away fruit that goes bad, I feel like I’m throwing away money.
- I hate the burnt crust on pizza, but I feel like I have to eat it anyway.
- I really like this food, so I want to keep eating since it’s not good as leftovers.
Where does this come from? Primarily from old food rules we got from a parent, our culture, or some f-ing diet. But, most of the time, if we dig a little deeper, we can easily see it’s false guilt coming from someone else’s rule, and it doesn’t serve us in our lives today.
A classic example: the ‘Clean Plate Club,’ which says, “if you put it on your plate, you have to eat all of it.” Why? My body is not a garbage can. So why let this old rule have power?
Key takeaway: challenge old rules and listen to your body.
Consider each time you are hungry, and you ignore the signal, or if you’re full and you ignore the signal, you’re eroding your mind-body connection. So it’s a lot gentler and kinder to try to listen to your body.
Depression era values can impact the food choices we make today.
Key takeaway: The body is not a project. Be kind to your body.
American culture is permeated with a work-hard, struggle-through-it, bootstraps kind of mentality. This asceticism says “if I enjoy it, I feel guilty” and “if I had to suffer through it, I’m proud of it,” or in diet culture, it’s often rooted in an idea that the body is “bad.” There’s so much martyrdom going on with food. What about that sounds like a good life? Especially with food, we’ve learned to try to control our bodies instead of being kind to the body. We’ve learned the body is a project, something we need to “fix” instead of thinking about ways to heal our relationship with the body and have a 2-way conversation. It’s our job to let food bring us joy and offer our body kindness so that we can enjoy a healthy mind-body connection.
The ‘Clean Plate Club,’ says, “if you put it on your plate, you have to eat all of it.”
False logic: If I don’t eat it, or if I throw away food, I’m “wasting” money
You already spent the money, so whether you eat it or not, you don’t increase how much money is in your wallet. However, there’s a small degree of truth here because maybe you’ll now want to buy something else. So, ask yourself, “Am I so tight on money that I need to consider this as a priority, or is it just an old narrative that is another form of shaming?”
Consider throwing away food as the price of admission for feeding yourself. Food is perishable; therefore, we will throw away some of it.
Consider this example, if you buy a ticket to the fair because you adore seeing the animals, would you see the animals and then force yourself to see all the crafts, flowers, eat at every food stand, ride every ride, and play every game? No, you are allowed to enjoy the things you like most and then leave. Similarly, the price of admission for feeding yourself is buying ingredients for what you want to eat and throw away the rest.
I’m not advocating for being careless and throwing things away when you could explore options. I always go back to the question, “Is this useful?” Case in point, if I buy ingredients for a burrito, and there’s leftover cheese, I know I can save it and eat it tomorrow, or I can freeze it, and I’ll still want it. However, if I buy a bag of carrots and then run out of ranch dip, I know I won’t be interested in eating any more carrots, so I will need to decide whether to buy more dip or throw away carrots. It’s fine either way.
False logic: None of this food sounds good, so I won’t eat
If you have a rule that says, “eat what I already bought,” but then you end up skipping meals rather than eating, that’s not ok. For example, dinner time rolls around, and I know I have chicken, potatoes, and green beans in my fridge, but what I’m really craving is a burger. So I look in the fridge. Nothing sounds good, so I go back to what I was doing.
An hour later, I try to talk myself into cooking, so I look in the fridge again. But now I’m tired, chicken and potatoes still don’t sound good, and my stomach feels wonky. Unfortunately, the only thing I want is that burger I’ve been craving.
An hour after that, I’m SO hungry that I go ahead and get a burger and fries, and since I’ve gotten too hungry, I ate fast, and now my stomach hurts, and I’m feeling a lot of guilt and shame.
Let’s try another way. Dinner time rolls around. I know I have chicken and potatoes, but I’m craving a burger, so I go get one. I can listen to my hunger and fullness, enjoy the hell out of the burger, and my stomach is not hurting after eating.
Key takeaway: practice permission to honor your cravings. Follow your body cues.
Key takeaway: eat as much or as little as you want, and feel free to scrape the rest in the trash.
If food insecurity is important to you, find out what you can do.
False logic: There are starving children in Africa, so I need to clean up my plate.
Whether you clean your plate or not, it will not impact how much others have to eat. If caring for food insecurity is genuinely close to your heart, you might consider giving to a local food bank or sponsoring a child in Africa.
I have a client who decided to start giving herself permission to listen to her body, eat until full and scrape the rest of the plate into the trash. Then she made a point to donate food to her neighborhood food pantry each week because that is truly part of her core values. I have another client who realized giving food away isn’t actually a core value, so this false guilt needs to go, along with the rotting food in the back of the fridge.
The “Clean Plate Club” mentality passed down from parents forced us to finish our food whether we were full or not. Depression-era economics tells us if we don’t eat everything we are wasting our money, while guilt passed down (also from parents) urges us to continue eating since there are starving children in Africa. Meanwhile, back in your own home, if you buy it, you eat it, whether it sounds good or not, may lead to binging on foods that we crave once we finally give in to the temptation.
People are more concerned about throwing away food than the damage overeating does to their body. Listen to the cues of hunger and fullness your body is telling you and don’t let the priority of wasting food override the false logic you have been programmed to believe.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences, and questions. Leave a comment below and tell me what you think! This topic is very common, and I hope that by untangling the old food rules, you’ll be able to be more mindful, enjoy food more, and feel just a little more at peace with your body.
We hope this article helped you become more comfortable with throwing food away when it’s necessary. You may also want to see our article on 12 Reasons Why Intuitive Eating is Harder than it Sounds.
If you’re interested, you can also use our helpful free pdf HALT guide on Building Awareness Through Reflection.
Contact the author Lynae Smith, to take the next step in your food journey