Food Indulging: The Hard and Unfortunate Truth About Treating Ourselves

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Indulging in FoodsWe all indulge.

It’s a fact. We’re human after all.

The concept of ‘treating ourselves’ has been around since the first ever batch of chocolate chip cookies came out of the oven.

It appears that we have this urge to regularly indulge in foods we know (100%) make us less healthy. We’re rebels. We want to break some rules. We want to live a little.

We want to ignore some of our most essential eating habits.

And so every so often we say screw it. We throw our middle fingers up to the world and let our taste buds go crazy. 

And it feels good. It feels damn good.

But what happens to your body when you indulge? What consequences do we suffer when we decide to break our rules and make poor food choices?

After reading this post, you’re probably going to hate me. It’s OK. I’m ready for it.

But, if I’m lucky, this post might give you a slightly different perspective on the effects of food indulging.

Let’s dig in.

Let me start off by saying something important (and, hopefully, obvious): I’m not your mama. 

I didn’t put together this post to tell you to stop indulging. That’s not my place. Nor am I an advocate of living life behind some crazy rules. I indulge every so often too. I mean look at that first image. I’m eating pizza. And, no, unfortunately it’s not gluten free. But I was in Rome. And when in Rome you do as Romans do.

But here’s the point: Indulgence is a choice.

And the purpose of this post is simply to make you more aware of what happens to you and your body when you do make this choice.

So what is indulgence you ask…

Well, for the sake of this post, indulgence is the act of making poor food choices every now and then. Note that this doesn’t include people who make poor food choices every single day, although everything mentioned in this article applies to both groups (drastically more to the second group).

But why do we indulge you wonder…

Well, for a number of reasons.

To start, we’re probably hooked on these foods, at least psychologically. We indulge when the food is around us (and it usually is). We indulge when it’s easy to indulge (and it often is) or when we have no other options (or at least we think we don’t). We indulge when we immerse ourselves in a toxic environment

Some of us have this funky mindset that says we deserve a treat after a good workout or training session. That we deserve a treat for the hard work we just put in. Realistically, that’s the same line of thinking as: “Hey, I just had an awesome workout! I feel great. I’m going to celebrate by punching myself in the stomach.” That’s why I said exercise can make you fat.

Sometimes our indulgence is based on social pressure. Like that time you really didn’t want that piece of birthday cake, but you felt like you practically had to have a piece so people wouldn’t look at you funny. Maybe you awkwardly asked for the smallest piece as consolation but didn’t bother rejecting the big one handed to you.

Regardless of why or when it happens, the consequences of making poor food choices are the same.

Let’s begin the analysis by zooming in on your digestive tract for a moment.

Zooooooooooom.

OK. We’re inside your gut now. I’m chilling inside your small intestine.

Your small intestine is where all the digestion magic happens. This is your holding tank for food. All the food that enters your mouth eventually reaches your small intestine.

small intestine anatomy

The intricate insides of your small intestine – the food holding tank. Gross. [Source]

The small intestine is the key to a healthy digestive tract. It is long and has an enormous surface area. They say that if you were to take it out, open it up, and spread it on the grounds at Wimbledon, it would cover roughly the surface area of a full tennis court. Crazy, I know.

Your small intestine is actually the largest separator between the outside world and the inside of your body. And here you were thinking it was your skin. Nice try. Nothing actually ‘enters your body’ until it crosses the small intestine membrane and enters your blood stream.

Interesting stuff, I know.

But the small intestine’s most important job is to help you absorb nutrients effectively. 

And here’s what’s really interesting: roughly 70-80 percent of your entire immune system is stationed inside your gut.

That’s right. Nearly 80 percent!

This is because of all the nasty stuff that makes it inside your small intestine (you put all sorts of crazy things in your mouth). Your intestinal wall is, therefore, loaded with immune cells which are ready to find and destroy any pathogens that try to make it through the intestinal lining. 

But what happens if these pathogens somehow make it into your bloodstream?

Well, there are other defenses and filtration systems in place to take care of this (remember, your body is a complex system), but it doesn’t always work. If these defense systems are  breached, a full-body immune response is triggered to fight these bad guys.

Not a good situation to be in.

If this kind of thing starts to happen on a regular basis, auto-immunity can develop. But I won’t get into that at the moment.

Introducing Leaky Gut Syndrome

What the heck is a leaky gut?

It’s simple.

Leaky gut = increased intestinal permeability

What the heck does that mean?

It means that bad stuff can easily make it inside your body.

Leaky gut syndrome happens when the intestinal lining is structurally damaged, making it very easy for bacteria, toxins, and undigested foods to leak into the blood stream and trigger an immune reaction.

Once they’re inside, these guys can wreak havoc on the entire body.

Here’s what Dallas and Mellisa Hartwig had to say in their book It Starts With Food:

“Increased gut permeability is always a problem because it means your body no longer has control over what comes in and what stays out.”

Maintaining a healthy gut lining is, therefore, very important.

But here’s what happens when you indulge: you damage your intestinal lining.

Poor food choices flood your gut with toxins, overwhelm your immune system, and create increased gut permeability, digestive distress, and full-body inflammation.

Let me give you a more visual example.

Story time…

The other day I went rollerblading with my girlfriend in a small town nearby.

In an effort to impress her and win over her love, I tried to pull off a somewhat dare-devilish maneuver where I went full speed down a super steep hill that ended with a sharp corner. Not smart.

And it didn’t help that I’m no good at breaking.

Here’s what happened:

skin gash

Yea, this happened. No, you can’t actually see my butt.

While I didn’t manage to pull off the stunt, I think she was still somewhat impressed.

Anyway, how does all of this relate to food choices, leaky gut, and food indulging?

Let me explain.

When you make poor food choices, you are essentially doing the same thing to your intestinal wall that I did to my poor skin. In both scenarios, our insides are completely exposed to the outside world and the chances of bacteria getting inside and causing an ugly infection are increased.

In both cases, there is an increased chance that the immune system would be triggered.

(Fortunately for me, I got my hands on some solid antiseptic wipes).

If you are continuously making poor food choices, you are structurally damaging the intestinal wall. On purpose. You are essentially creating gashes on your gut and making it that much easier for bacteria and toxins to find their way in, which, once again, would require your immune system to step in and take action.

And the more times your immune system has to step in, the more likely it is that you’ll end up with some form of auto-immunity.

Not good for your health.

And if health isn’t your thing, maybe you’ll be motivated by the obvious: indulging will make you fat.

“Deposition of visceral fat (which contributes to that sexy apple shape) is one of the direct effects of increased gut permeability.” – Dallas and Mellisa Hartwig from It Starts With Food

Conclusion

The human body, on its own, is very good at keeping itself safe and healthy. But the problem occurs when we start making poor food choices that infiltrate our defense systems and wreak havoc throughout the entire body.

Indulging – or treating yourself – is, at the end of the day, a process of poor decision making.

And, even though you may not be indulging on a daily basis (or even if you are), the consequences are the same.

We don’t purposely throw ourselves skin-first onto the concrete to create gashes on our skin for fun (I hope not anyway). So why would we purposely put food in our body that will create gashes on our intestinal wall?

Think about what that moment of indulgence is worth to you. Is that temporary pleasure worth all the damage?

You don’t have to answer that.

I’m not advocating you never treat yourself again. We all indulge. My goal here is not to convince you to stop indulging. I’m simply trying to make you more aware of the things that are happening inside your body when you do. 

Because awareness (and understanding) will only help you make better food choices down the road.

So, to indulge or not to indulge?

The end decision is yours to make.

Now I want you to do something important for me: scroll down to the comment section below and tell me why you indulge. What is it that drives your food indulging? I’m really curious.

And, if you have nothing to say, please do me a favor and share the post with your social circles. I will love you forever.

Cheers!

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Comments

  1. So, what’s considered an “indulgent” food? Pizza from Domino’s vs homemade? Are homemade chocolate chip cookies indulgent, how about “healthified” baked goods, or even bacon that’s high in fat? You get my point, what is considered an indulgent food?

    • Good question Shannon. I guess there are a lot of highly debatable foods out there. But my logic is simple: if it can’t be found in nature (in one variation or another), it’s probably not a food that’s going to make you healthier. Simply put: focus on eating real foods. Obviously there are some exceptions, but that’s what I try to follow. I’ll be posting a more specific list of healthy and unhealthy foods on the blog in the near future.

    • Fabien SÉVIN says:

      In my point of view, indulgent foot might be any food you try to avoid in your daily diet.
      If you avoid carbs, a white bread sandwich might be your indulgent food, so could be a pizza. Domino’s or homemade, it would still be loaded with carbs. Of course, the homemade one will be more loaded of nutrients, but still an indulgent food.
      If I understood correctly, Srdjan targets mainly the Domino’s and all those kinds of processed foods which are full of “junk ingredients”.

  2. In general – anxiety makes me indulge.

  3. Fabien SÉVIN says:

    Well well well…hum… Why do I indulge…?
    Definitely because I’ve been raised in a carbohydrate world, so now I’m an addict and sometimes my brain craves for poor food overloaded with sugars.
    Often, in order to be polite, you’re right. Generally, if I declined the processed meat, then the pastas during a dinner, I’ll at least eat the dessert… or, may be, it’s just because my will crumbled…
    And sometimes, it’s to reward myself after few days or few weeks of being very careful.
    But, thanks to your post, I’m more aware than I already was that it’s not really a reward. It’s more like “Hey, congrats ! Let’s have a glass of cyanid !”
    So I will train harder to answer “No, thanks.” when I’ll be asked “Do you want a piece of this delicious poor nutrients-loaded food ?” :)

    • Awesome Fabien! I’m glad the post has shifted your views on indulging in a positive way. I think sometimes just being more aware of our actions (and the choices that lead to those actions) is enough to change the way we do things. Good stuff!

  4. Helena de Waal says:

    I’m a ‘routine’ person! During the week everything is fine till Friday 13:00!
    Weekend! No routine! It freaks me out! So now I’m planning a special weekend eating plan!
    I’m planning ‘things to do on weekends’ i’m already fully booked till end September! :-D luckily I’m a creative girl! :-D
    Another thing that damages my body from the outside to the inside is : bad windy or rainy weather!

    • That’s really interesting Helena. A similar thing applies to me. My Monday to Friday is nearly spotless when it comes to eating healthy, but when the weekend comes around I’m immersed in different environment and my routine falls apart.

      Let me know how that special weekend eating plan works out for you. I’d love to hear more about it.

  5. There is a saying something along the line ” what hurts you is not what you do some time but what you do all the time”. This can be applied to all sorts of things including food we eat. If you structure you life and food you eat to your satisfaction and stick with it most of the time, occasional taste of something different is not going to hurt you but help feel fulfiled and complete. Like pizza in Rome :)

  6. Just stated working at a tapioca store and I feel the need to sample the drinks and food cuz it looks so yummy, and I feel so guilty afterwards. I need more will power, but after reading this I’m sure I will make smarter decisions. Im going to visualize what those foods could do to me, and hopefully that will prevent me from consuming them

    • That’s a tough situation Dalia because you’ve immersed yourself in an unhealthy environment. Here’s a drastic measure you can take if you really want to avoid consuming the foods/drinks there: tell everyone that you’ve found out that you’re allergic to the foods/drinks they sell and you can’t have them anymore. The idea of someone finding out you lied will prevent you from ever touching the stuff again. Just an idea :)

  7. Awesome Post!
    For me, most indulgent foods are usually breads – croissants, buns, custard buns, chelsea buns, etc…
    But, I also think that certain indulgences are more of a habit than anything else – i.e. after a good workout I may not necessarily be hungry but have the habit to indulge in a “reward” snack (which may not always be a healthy snack)…

    • Good points Faeme! Here are my thoughts:

      If you know what your indulging foods are, get rid of them. Eliminate them from your environment. Don’t even make it an option to indulge on those things. If you must, you can replace them with healthier indulgences. Eventually, however, you want to remove the indulging habit completely.

      You are absolutely correct – it all comes down to habits. And I’ll talk about how to change/eliminate/build those in a future post. Eating after a workout is partly due to habits and partly due to biological drivers (read why exercise can make you fat for more details).

  8. Krysia Mailo says:

    Thank’s for all the effort you go to to educate Srdjan. This info on leaky got syndrome strengthens my resolve not to eat crap and will be information I’ll pass on too.

  9. I’ve gotta admit I indulge when I’m tired, run down, or feeling ‘under the weather’. I know it’s the last thing my body needs, but during these times, my will is weak. :P

    • Haha I know what you mean Paul. Check out the response I left for Carlo. He has a very similar trigger. Try the strategy I laid out next time you feel the triggers come on. Cheers!

  10. Great post! Personally, I’ve noticed when I’m stressed and bored I oftenly indulge…

    • So you’ve identified what triggers your indulgence (or indulging habit) Carlo. Now it’s time to change up your routine. Next time you get bored or stressed, I want you to put on your shoes and go outside for a nice, refreshing 30 minute walk. DO NOT go to the fridge before the walk. As soon as you feel the trigger, head out the door. Do this for 30 days and watch your old indulging habit disappear.

  11. Sometimes I indulge to try to satisfy that taste in my tongue. like for a sweet dessert. but nowadays, i just settle for a little taste, you are absolutely right. it is due to poor decision choices. but i found that as i’m slowly weening it off, its becoming a lot more sustainable. rather than cold turkey straight up. so i am getting better, thanks to people like you who are inspiring me!

  12. I loved this post!! I’m a nursing student so I loved the little anatomy lesson involved with this. I must admit, the weekends are my worst indulgent times. But, I have found that finding foods to supplement my sweet tooth, such as bananas with a little bit of cinnamon and a small amount of honey on top, help me stay away from bad carbs that are just plan awful for me, like cakes and cookies. I found this post extremely interesting and relevant to my life right now. Thank you so much!!

    • Awesome! I’m glad you enjoyed it Lindsey. And finding healthy alternatives (or healthy ‘routines’ in habit-speak) is an excellent strategy. Like I told Leanne, I’ll be talking about this more in-depth soon. Stick around!

  13. My indulgance comes from rebellion. Like most of you, I am angelic from Monday to Friday. Come the weekend, or around 13.00 on a Friday and thats it!. Carbocide a plenty!.
    I know its a psychologocal trigger for something, this Friday feeling. I blame the british advert on chocolate!! Thank crunchie its Friday. But so many of us have that association with Friday and treating or indulging. Just wish I could break that cycle.

    • Leanne, that’s a great explanation of what happens to most of us (including me). We’re good from Monday to Friday, but when the weekend comes it’s game over. There are definitely many triggers in play here and, in an upcoming post, I’ll talk more in-depth about habits and how to strategically go about changing them. I’ll let you know when it’s up!

  14. Why I indulge?
    As you mentioned in the article it’s very often social pressure for me. Quite often I feel pressured to have that slice of cake or candy or cookie (whatever, it’s mostly junk) and when I decline, people look at me funny and ask questions and since I don’t feel like explaining, I guess I rather just have it.
    Well, no more of it now. Now, whenever I don’t want something or feel like eating it, I just say I’m not hungry.
    But this makes me wonder – how long can a person avoid it? Last time I lasted about one month when I started to work (last year in August).
    And what would be the acceptable explanation? Is there one at all?

    • Hey Lexie, you bring up some great questions (and ones I’ve pondered myself for some time).

      Here’s where I stand now: I don’t care about giving explanations. Or, if I really feel like I’m in an awkward position, I’ll lie and say I’m allergic to the foods (that one works well, although I hate lying). Eventually, after a few attempts, people will stop offering you that kind of stuff because they know you’ll turn it down (and it might even inspire them to make some positive changes themselves).

      At the end of the day, it’s not about seeing how long you can avoid something for. It’s about making good decisions when they matter.

  15. Amazing Post.appreciate your share… looking forward to more.

  16. I do most with cereal. No milk even, just plain, sugary squares. I like the shapes, the mixing of them, & the idea in my head that if I’m lucky, & put in the right amount of will power, I can get away without putting a huge dent in calories. Obviously that hasn’t happened one to many times…it’s a very tough, deceptive habit to kick because they are so accessible in my home, but I’m working hard on it, trying to detox my body as best I can everyday so I can keep a healthy, happy body. Thanks for the articles

    • “It’s a tough, deceptive habit to kick because they are so accessible in my home.

      You’ve solved your own problem Omar. Removing certain elements from your environment can help you break even the most powerful habits. I talk about this here. Get rid of all cereals from your house and force yourself not to buy any for 2-4 weeks and see how much better you’ll feel. I promise that you’ll get to a point where you won’t even think about them anymore. Let me know how it goes.

  17. Pizza tastes sooooo good. I LOVE melted cheese!

    That said, I actually have been learning this lesson recently. Ive been on a weightloss plan since March and choosing mostly clean foods on most days. But most of times that I allow myself a “cheat day” — such as a day or two I was on vacation last week — I wind up feeling horrible and possibly even end up with a cold or allergy flare-ups. I’m realizing that the digestive problems I had my whole life are likely associated with diet.
    Thanks for posting this blog!

    • Meredith, if you find that the food that you’re eating is causing colds and flare-ups, it’s a good sign that there are some food allergies (and resulting inflammation) happening there. Eliminate the foods for a month and then re-introduce them one at a time. Find the ones that are causing your digestive issues. This is a powerful strategy to figure out what foods your body can’t digest properly and will help you make (and justify) better decisions for your health.

      PS – It was tough to give up pizza, but it’s not the end of the world :)

  18. hey serge,
    let’s me start by saying i freaking love your blog!
    totally not being snarky here… but i just finished reading about your results with the visual impact strategy where you recommended the day off eating whatever your heart, or head, desired. i am a relatively lean fitness fanatic who wants to take my body to the next level… i am at a point where the kind of changes i want to see in my body demand a change in the kitchen. eating clean ( i try to follow the just eat real food mantra) most of the time just isn’t going to be enough to really whittle down my body fat percentage. with so many experiments here i don;t know which one to try… any advice?

    • Thanks Kristen! I think every change in health and body composition demands some kind of change in the kitchen. I think the solution is simple: continue eating real food. By eliminating foods that promote fat absorption, you will have a much easier time at building a leaner body. Once you have that in place, you can start playing around with intermittent fasting protocols. Then incorporate small amounts of high intensity training throughout your week and a lot of low intensity training (like walking or other equivalent activities). Add resistance training into the mix (VI phase 3 style). Focus on some strategic cardio (you can search that up on the blog somewhere). Mix and match those things until you find what works for you. It’s a process, but it’s a worthy one. Hope that helps!

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