Overcoming Food Guilt


Our relationship with food is complex. We can eat for hunger, pleasure or out of emotion. Unfortunately, guilt and shame can become associated with food, or our behaviors around food. Feeling guilt and/or shame around food can lead to negative eating habits - and who wants that?! Food should nourish our mind and body!

Food guilt occurs when you feel badly for something you did or didn't do related to a behavior or decision about food. Food shame is guilt based on a judgement about you as a person related to food.

In our diet-culture these days, we tend to pursue or idealize a certain body type or diet. When we fail at either, we are bound to question our worthiness. How can we kick the guilt to the curb and find a healthy relationship with food?

Lead with compassion
Food can be a big part of our lives: happy hours, birthdays, working lunches, etc. While you can certainly be focused on making choices that make your body feel it's best - it's OK to have birthday cake or pizza! Give yourself wiggle room to listen to what your body wants - if it wants a chocolate muffin, have a muffin! Maybe you balance it out with some fruit, but maybe that's not available. Give yourself a pass to be human and enjoy all sorts of foods.

Dismantle your food beliefs 
There are no 'bad' foods.  When you begin intuitive eating, a huge challenge is to move past labeling foods 'good' and 'bad', or black and white thinking. Putting certain foods on a pedestal while demonizing others sets you up for failure eventually. And failure can lead to feeling a heck of a lot of guilt and shame. All foods have a purpose: providing energy, pleasure and/or fostering relationships. While kale might provide lots of nutrients, it may not give off much pleasure. Alternately, a slice of cake is probably a BIG pleasure and still give you carbohydrates and fats - both of which your body needs. Both serve their purpose and it's detrimental to label one over the other.

Don't diet 
Dieting brings rules, which makes us feel shameful or guilty if we don't adhere to them. Intuitive eating can be a powerful tool. Instead of giving yourself rules to follow, try listening to your hunger cues (ask yourself: am I hungry or full?), being mindful when you eat (put down your fork, engage with your dining partners and savor what you're eating) and eating balanced meals (there should be protein, fat and fiber on your plate).

Think big picture 
When you begin feeling shame or guilt for how or what you ate, ask yourself if this really makes you a bad person. Will this affect your life in 5 years? 10 years? Will you remember what or how you ate when you're 90 years old? Or will you remember your experiences with other people? Don't get so caught up in eating, that you don't experience your best life!

Allison Raines 
BHC Nutrition Coach