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  • May 15, 2024

Feeling Guilty After Eating? A Few Tips That Can Help

Why Do I Feel Guilty After Eating?  In the past century, our world has become increasingly fixated on food.  Despite […]

Why Do I Feel Guilty After Eating? 

In the past century, our world has become increasingly fixated on food. 

Despite being a fundamental, essential component of living a healthy and balanced life, food for many has become the enemy.

There is always a new fad diet, and there is always a new body ‘ideal’ being praised.  And accompanying this, is the overwhelming message that smaller is better, and food is a variable that can and should be controlled. 

As a result, many fall down a path of shame and insecurity about their eating habits, leading to experiencing guilt after eating.

 

What Is Food Guilt? 

Guilt refers to feeling self conscious, and experiencing distress about your potential responsibility for a negative outcome (1).  Essentially – the feeling that you have done something wrong and that you are at fault. 

Typically, this relates to the idea of hurting someone else, making a poor decision at someone else’s detriment. This can also be failing to do something that you should have done. Often, this is followed with a sense of shame, sadness and regret.

In a world consumed with diet culture, our relationship with food can be tainted with this sense of guilt. 

This says a lot about the world we live in. Somehow, eating – something so necessary and fundamental to survival, has become an act so associated with these guilty feelings.  

 

This may look like:

  • Deeming foods ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and feeling shameful after eating something you consider to be ‘bad’
  • Apologising to others for eating ‘too much’
  • Dealing with distress and regret after eating 

 

However normalised our world has made this, this is not something that is normal or healthy. It is a common experience to have these feelings, but it doesn’t have to be this way.  

 

woman holding a burger in one hand and a chicken drumstick in the other hand. Pink doughnut and cupcake are on the table

 

Seeking Control

There are many reasons you might be experiencing food guilt. In order to combat these feelings, and reclaim your relationship with food, it is helpful to identify why you may have fallen into this mindset.

The human experience is unpredictable, and at times overwhelming. Controlling your intake may feel like a way to reclaim this control. 

This can very quickly spiral into an unhealthy, disordered relationship with food. For many, this is where the sense of food guilt stems from. 

 

Could I Be Experiencing an Eating Disorder?

Unfortunately, it’s quite common to express feelings of guilt after eating. It is also a common symptom of an eating disorder/disordered relationship with food. 

 

Although normalised, I am sure you’ve heard others say things along the lines of:

  • ‘I shouldn’t have eaten that’
  • ‘I’ll start my diet tomorrow’
  • ‘I feel so guilty after eating that!’

 

However common this may be, it is also an indicator that your relationship with food isn’t healthy. Having a predisposition to factors that sustain an eating disorder, will place you at risk of developing one.

Fixating and obsessing over food, and dealing with the guilt and shame surrounding eating, can cause a disordered relationship with food. For some, this may spiral into an eating disorder. 

Studies have found that this shame, a self-conscious emotion, plays a major role in emotional eating (2). You may find yourself stuck in a binge-restrict cycle, fuelled by food guilt and shame surrounding the behaviours.

 

break up with diets ebook

 

Breaking The Food Guilt Cycle – HOW?

You may be thinking – ‘How on earth do I ever get rid of these feelings?’

Even if the guilt is so deeply woven into your relationship with food, it is entirely impossible to reclaim the narrative and work on healing your relationship with food.

There are steps you can take to mend your relationship with food, and slowly, over time, reduce the frequency and intensity of the guilt. 

It may take time, dedication and difficulty. But through implementing plans and strategies to manage the emotions, it is possible to live a life free of food guilt.

 

Avoid labelling foods ‘good’ and ‘bad’

A common mentality expressed through those experiencing food guilt, is the determination of foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

No food is this simple. No food can be easily categorised into one box or the other, good or bad.

Healthy and good are not synonymous. Food isn’t something that needs to be labelled, something that elicits an emotional response and these feelings of guilt.

Sure, some foods offer greater nutritional benefits than others. This doesn’t mean you need to exclude all foods from your diet that don’t meet your criteria for ‘healthy’. 

But, the definition of healthy is subjective. What is considered ‘healthy’ for one person, may not be the same as the next.

This is why the defining of foods as good and bad ultimately sets you up for this cycle of guilt, and feelings of failure when you eat something you have decided is off limits. 

No food is objectively bad, and no foods need to be avoided (unless you are allergic to it!). No food is objectively good.

Food is not something that should be categorised and attached to morality. This perpetuates the feelings of guilt after eating something your mind may deem as bad/unhealthy.

Abandon these labels, and work towards viewing food in an objective, neutral way. Learn that all foods fit, and that the food isn’t the problem – the emotions are. 

 

Give Yourself Permission To Eat All Foods

You can’t heal your relationship with food through restriction. You can’t heal by continuing to restrict yourself from foods that cause you to feel this guilt. 

In order to give yourself the best chances at building a healthier relationship with food, it is so important to eat the foods that your mind (and diet culture) has decided is off-limits. 

 

sprinkled icing doughnut

 

Say No To Diets

Yes, we know – there is always something new. There is always someone online claiming the newest diet to be the one that finally, truly works.

Fad diets are unsustainable. Cutting out entire food groups (keto, I am looking at you) is restrictive, and you are likely to be unable to sustain this long-term. Fad diets do not promote healthy and sustainable lifestyle and diet habits (3). 

Instead, they continue to teach you that foods are good and bad. They continue to put limits on your food choices, leading you to feel guilt and shame when you eat foods that don’t align to your strict diet. They never allow you unconditional food freedom.

Usually, these diets centre around the promise of weight loss. They promise this to be fast, determining foods have some special properties causing weight gain or weight loss. 

Suggesting that some foods can change body chemistry is a major red flag. These dramatic statements claiming to be the newest, the best, are often not backed by any actual science. Instead, someone who is unqualified, shares anecdotal experience to be used as evidence. 

Just because it worked for one person, does not mean it will work for you. Each individual has a unique set of factors defining what healthy is for them. 

Low fat, high fat, high protein, raw diets – these fad diets, among others, thrive off insecurity and diet culture. An important step to helping you make peace with food is to stop the continual search for the newest and best diet.

 These diets do nothing but perpetuate your unhealthy relationship with food. 

 

Develop Your Hunger and Fullness Cues

Constant dieting and weight fluctuations can really impact your hunger and fullness signals. For some this may look like a complete absence of hunger signals, and others this may increase your hunger. 

Feeling guilty after eating may reduce your mental hunger, and lead to not eating enough. This can cause physical hunger to become overwhelming, and may lead to an episode of overeating – which just increases these feelings of guilt! 

When you eat enough, consistently, your body (with time!) will learn to regulate these cues. Your body needs to learn to trust you.

You may experience these feelings of guilt if you eat beyond physical fullness. This isn’t a sign that you’ve done something wrong, or something you need to feel guilty about. 

Learning to identify the signals your body is sending does take time. Even if you don’t feel hungry, if it is time to eat – you need to eat. You need to continually nourish your body with any and all foods, reclaim these signals and teach your body that food isn’t something to feel guilty about.

 

 

Pathway to Learning How To Eat Intuitively 

This goes along with identifying hunger and fullness cues. We are born as intuitive eaters. We cry when we are hungry, we stop when we are full.

It is through the world, through society, that we learn that food is a variable that can be controlled. We learn that food is good or bad. We are taught that weight gain is wrong,  and weight loss is celebrated. We are essentially taught to feel guilty around food.

When initially trying to reclaim your relationship with food, and get rid of the feelings of guilt, you may not be ready for intuitive eating. This is okay!

The mechanical action of food is just as important. Again, your hunger and fullness signals may be all over the place. Instead, learn to implement a daily routine. 3 meals and snacks each day, without restriction, or deprivation of foods you consider to be bad/unhealthy.

Ultimately, the goal of this is to eventually get yourself to a place where you can eat intuitively. A place where your hunger and fullness signals are regulated.  A place where you eat when you are hungry, and stop when you are full. A place where you eat enough, consistently, without the feelings of guilt and shame.  

The pathway to intuitive eating, with unconditional food freedom, is a journey. However impossible it may seem, you are entirely capable. 

 

Don’t Focus On Your Weight

The ultimate goal of life is not to be the smallest version of yourself.  Smallness is not better. Smallness does not inherently mean healthy.

If the pursuit of smallness is also making your world so, so small – then this is the most unhealthy thing you can do for yourself. Diet culture teaches us that weight loss is the solution to all of life’s problems. 

The pursuit of losing weight often results in the loss of much more than just weight.  It impacts your metabolism, feelings of stress, anxiety and insecurity. The more you fixate on your weight, the more you will feel guilty after eating. 

The more you focus on losing weight, the more you will feel regret and shame after eating foods that your mind deems bad or unhealthy. 

 

 

Bringing Awareness To Your Thoughts and Triggers

Learning about yourself is a key component to healing. You may be so disconnected from who you truly are. By spending time focused on your weight, your body, the rules your mind has created, it’s easy to lose who you are.

Bringing awareness to your thoughts, through learning to identify your triggers, can be a powerful tool in reducing the frequency and intensity of your thoughts.

 

This may look like:

  • Unfollowing social media accounts that promote dieting
  • Pushing yourself to go out for meals when invited, at places that are unfamiliar to you
  • Removing yourself from conversations that fuel the guilt mindset

 

Who Can Help Me?

Whatever stage of disordered eating/eating disorder you are at, it can be really helpful to have a dietitian and psychologist on board.

Your dietitian can work with you to implement a meal plan. They can help you challenge fear foods, encouraging you to step out of your comfort zone. With time, they can help you to embrace intuitive eating, and food freedom. 

A psychologist can work with you to address the thoughts you have around these challenges. They can help you to identify triggers you may not even realise, and to address any self esteem/body image concerns that come with the healing process. 

 

Summary

As unfortunate as it is, experiencing food guilt is a common experience. 

For some, it can be a passing comment after overeating. It can be a fleeting thought, one that can easily be pushed to the back of their mind. For others, it can completely spiral. It can become all consuming and have a dramatic impact on your mental health and life. 

These feelings of guilt do not mean you actually have something to feel guilty about! Despite what your mind may tell you, nourishing your body with any and all foods is the key to mending your relationship with food, and actually eradicating the guilt from your life. 

The dietitians at Imbodi Health offer the ‘Nourishing Mind and Body Program’, a 6 month coaching experience. This program aims to help guide you on your path to intuitive eating, reclaiming your relationship with food, body and self. 

 

Reach out to the dietitians at Imbodi Health for a discovery call. Where they can work with you to create a plan for your unique needs. 

 

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS
 

 

Written by: Student dietitian Tara Finn

Reviewed by: Imbodi Health dietitian Jade Wrigley

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