When I was dieting, I would really really want ice cream. But I believed choosing ice cream was a bad choice and that I was being “so good” if I was able to keep myself from eating it.
As always, I couldn’t resist and eventually ate the ice cream, and then some. What came next was regret and guilt. Always! I didn’t know what was worse – breaking my diet or the horrible ways I would beat myself up about it. I’d then go back to restricting myself and the cycle would continue, much like this graph:
Can you relate?
I’m willing to bet if you’ve ever dieted you probably can.
You know what’s really unhealthy to serve with your meal? GUILT! It never leads to positive places! In fact, guilt negatively impacts your ability to digest and absorb the nutrients efficiently from your food.
So, why in the world do so many feel so guilty about food? Why is feeling guilty about the most natural thing in the world – eating and enjoying food – now a common practice? And, how do you get yourself to stop feeling this way?
To understand how to stop feeling guilty about what you eat you first need to understand why you feel guilty to begin with.
So let’s start with understanding the emotion of guilt and where it stems from
What is Guilt?
Guilt is a feeling one has when they believe they have done something wrong. Examples of wrongdoing include stealing, hurting someone, being rude, lying, and cheating.
These are all appropriate behaviors to feel guilty about. But, you are not born knowing these are wrong things to do or that you should feel guilty about them.
Guilt is taught.
A child is born a clean slate. The only way it knows right from wrong is when their parent (or teacher) tells them that their behavior is good and rewards them (praise, prize, etc) or when a behavior is bad/wrong and there is a consequence (scolding, time outs, etc). How they are raised and the beliefs that are instilled in them is carried with them through life.
So how does this relate to food?
What is Food Guilt?
These same beliefs are taught in regard to eating habits. Diet culture is loud and it tells us that food is either good or bad. This message is trickled down to children, especially if they have parents or relatives that engage in dieting and disordered eating and have an unhealthy relationship with food and their bodies. Children not only hear these conversations and internalize the message, they are also often taught this message directly!
For example, if a parent keeps restricting sweets and tells the child it is unhealthy and they should not be eating it, the child learns that eating sweets is wrong, and the natural reaction is to feed bad about it aka guilt.
This message can also come from school and well meaning educators (my 6 year old is already coming home and letting me know how her teacher taught her that hotdogs and sugar are unhealthy so you shouldn’t eat it. Don’t get me wrong, nutrition education is important – but it backfires when we moralize these food choices and teach them out of context.)
Or maybe as you grew to be a teenager you were surrounded by fellow students who dieted and in this way you learned that there are good and bad foods as it related to health (which is in fact rooted in manipulating body weight, not health), which planted the seeds of food guilt and an unhealthy relationship with food.
The point is, just as guilt is taught, so is food guilt.
When you feel food guilt it means you believe you are doing something wrong, you are breaking a food rule you have.
So, how do you break the cycle? How do you stop feeling food guilt and enjoy food again?
How to Stop Feeling Food Guilt
In order to stop feeling food guilt you need to start viewing it as a signal!
Rather than allowing yourself to spiral and dive deeper into negative self talk and feelings of food guilt, recognize that feeling this way is a signal that you believe you are breaking a food rule.
The key here is to identity what that food rule is and challenge it so you can make all foods morally and emotionally equivalent.
When all foods are emotionally and morally equal, you can begin to experience the food for what it is and cultivate a healthy relationship with food so you can truly connect to your body and figure out how to eat in a way that best serves you with trust and confidence! Because guilt block out your ability to do so.
For example, if you feel guilty after eating a cookie. Ask yourself: what food rule or belief do I believe I trespassed?
Are you feeling guilt because you believe:
- Cookies are unhealthy
- I won’t be able to stop if I start
Now challenge these beliefs with possible positive outcomes! For example:
If I eat this cookie I know that
- It won’t make or break my health
- I may enjoy the cookie and feel satisfied
Then keep giving yourself direct experience with food and learn from it as you make progress!
There should be no room on your plate for guilt! Remember that you were taught to feel this way by someone or something else! Keep digging deeper to recognize the source of food guilt and challenge it so you can make peace with food and eat in a way that feels good to YOU from an authentic place.
Need help navigating how to eat guilt free and heal your relationship with food so you can stop overeating or binge eating and start living a healthy and happy life?
Join my self-paced online program Break Free From Binge Eating!
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