Have you ever felt bad about eating a certain food or maybe for eating what you believe to be too much?
Do you get extra stressed leading up to an event in which all of your favorite foods will be present?
Has an eating experience ever left you feeling ashamed?
If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then you have experienced food guilt, which means you’re in the right place!
Keep reading to find out my 5 step process on how to stop feeling guilty after eating.
What is guilt?
Before we talk about food guilt, let’s quickly clarify what guilt is. Essentially, guilt is something you experience when you have done something wrong, potentially even something punishable by law or unethical.
Feeling guilty is an awful feeling, though something we need to experience at times in order to keep us in check. That being said, there is a time and place for guilt, and guilt associated with eating should not be one of them.
What is food guilt?
Food guilt is the feelings of shame, stress, anxiety, and failure that occur with an eating experience. This may include feeling bad for eating a certain food, or for eating too much, it could even be feeling bad for not eating enough of something.
Diet culture likes to label foods as “good” or “bad” so it only makes sense that we feel bad or good about ourselves depending on what we eat.
At some point we decided eating “bad” food was a punishable offense, much like breaking the law. When we eat something “bad” many of us feel the need to punish ourselves by working out extra hard the next day or by starting a new diet and ridding ourselves of any “bad” foods.
When you think about it, it’s actually pretty messed up. I think we can both agree, if you experience guilt after eating, it needs to stop right now.
How to stop feeling guilty after eating
Food guilt, while actually pretty normal in our society, has major negative impacts on our lives. As a Registered Dietitian and Intuitive Eating Coach, I am here to tell you that food guilt should not be part of your eating experience.
Personally, I used to experience food guilt all of the time, every single day actually. It took me a while to realize this was not healthy and only harmed my relationship with food, my body and even my friends and family to some extent.
On my journey to becoming a Registered Dietitian, I learnt how to overcome food guilt and now I get to help others do the same. I’m going to walk you through 5 steps you can take to overcome food guilt.
5 steps to stop feeling guilty after eating
1. Determine where the food guilt is coming from
I think it’s important to first understand where food guilt comes from and why it affects you. Ultimately, food guilt comes from diet culture, where food is labeled as good and bad, or healthy and unhealthy.
We live in a world in which we are praised for eating "good” or healthy food and are criticized for eating “bad” or unhealthy food. We’re also told that eating these inferior foods leads to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc. and that if we want to be healthy or “fit” we should avoid these foods at all costs.
Society sets a body standard and we all work toward that standard like little minions. We are told we should look a certain way and we are told how to achieve that through our diets.
Unfortunately, more often than not, the diet advice we see out on the internet isn’t coming from Registered Dietitians. Rather, it’s coming from individuals who tried a shake and lost weight or influencers who naturally live in thinner bodies.
The truth is, we aren’t all meant to be thin or muscular and some individuals naturally live in larger bodies. When we try to change our bodies through restrictive eating patterns we actually cause more harm than good, both physically and psychologically.
This food guilt is a major contributor to psychological harm. If you want to read more about the harms of dieting, I highly recommend that you check out my other blog post, “Disadvantages of Dieting.”
So now that we have established that food guilt comes from diet culture, let's continue taking the steps to fight diet culture and overcome food guilt.
2. Understand there are no “good” or “bad” foods
The truth is, there are no good or bad foods. Foods do not have moral values, so we need to stop moralizing them. Diet culture feeds us numerous lies and this is just another one of them.
When we label a food as bad we feel bad (i.e. guilty) if we eat that food. This creates a fear within us around certain foods, and overall results in a poor relationship with food and our bodies. This is a gateway to disordered eating and potentially an eating disorder.
I like to think of foods as nutritious and less nutritious. Sometimes I like to refer to the less nutritious foods as my “soul” foods. Sure, from a nutritional standpoint, quinoa is more nutritious than Kraft Dinner. But that doesn’t mean you should never eat Kraft Dinner.
If you like Kraft Dinner and you want it, you should eat it. Not only is it good for your soul, but it also provides you with fuel, mainly in the form of carbohydrates, an essential nutrient.
Am I saying you should eat Kraft Dinner everyday? No. But I also wouldn’t tell you to eat quinoa everyday. The point is, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you choose to eat something less nutritious.
3. Recognize why you eat the way you do and eat in ways that feel the best to you
There is a reason you eat the way you do. If you’re reading this you are likely someone who tries their best to eat “healthy” but when that doesn’t work out you end up binging your favourite foods and then you feel overwhelmed with food guilt.
So why do you eat the way you do? What is it for you? Do you want to be healthy? Do you want to feel good? Do you want to lose weight?
I think for the most part, most of us want to be healthy and feel good and a lot of us want to lose weight, because who doesn’t want to fit in with society’s ideal body size right?
Well first of all, I will say that attempting to control your weight is one of the worst things you can do for yourself. If you are wondering what I mean by this, again I recommend you check out my other blog post, “Disadvantages of Dieting.”
If your goal is to be healthy, you can be healthy and still enjoy all of your favorite foods including Kraft Dinner. To be honest with you it’s actually less healthy when you try to restrict and deprive yourself of what you truly desire than it is to eat the food, regardless what the food is.
If your goal is to feel good then eat in ways that make you feel good (this will also lead to overall better health).
For example, eating a large container of mini donuts for lunch probably wouldn’t make you feel very good. You would likely feel sick and want to lay on the couch for the rest of the day.
Though, if you ate a sandwich at lunch with some veggies and protein, followed by a couple mini donuts for dessert, you would probably feel just fine as well as satisfied. You would be energized and ready to move on with your day.
The approach to eating that I use, personally and with my clients, is called intuitive eating. It’s an evidenced based, guilt-free, self-care form of eating in which you base your food choices on a variety of factors.
Essentially you base your food choices on how certain foods will make you feel, how foods contribute to your overall health and how foods will satisfy your needs both physically and taste wise.
If you’re interested in learning more about intuitive eating, check out my FREE mini training: "Getting Started with Intuitive Eating"
4. Break your food rules and give yourself full permission to eat the foods you desire
Most of us follow some sort of diet or set of food rules, some of us do this without even realizing it. If you feel guilty for eating something it’s because you told yourself you shouldn’t have it, therefore there is a rule.
Do you feel guilty if you eat bread or pasta? This tells me you have some kind of rule around the amount of carbohydrates you can eat.
Do you feel guilty if you eat something without knowing the calorie count or macro content? This tells me you have a predetermined amount of calories or macros that you allow yourself to eat in a day.
Do you feel guilty if you eat the baked goods your coworker brought to work? This tells me that you’ve likely labeled sweets as bad or off limits.
Do you see what I am getting at? Anytime you experience food guilt there is bound to be a food rule behind it, whether it’s one you actually follow as part of a diet or just something you’ve heard before that has stuck with you.
Think of particular foods or eating experiences that often leave you feeling guilty after eating. Now determine what the rule is behind that. From here you can start to dismantle this rule. Is there actually any scientific evidence that validates it? I'm guessing not.
Start breaking down your food rules piece by piece and rid yourself of food rules and dieting for good. If you give yourself full permission to eat the foods you desire at any given moment and quit following external food rules, the guilt will no longer surface.
5. Learn from your eating experiences
Moving away from food guilt and towards guilt-free eating is a process. The guilt won’t go away overnight. When you start to remove food rules, you will likely start to incorporate back more of those foods that were once your “guilty pleasure.”
When you do this, initially you will likely be overwhelmed with food guilt and you’re likely going to want to go back to implementing food rules in order to feel safe. If you do this, you will never truly overcome food guilt.
Instead, keep moving forward and learn from your experiences. Spend some time reflecting on your intake. Determine why you ate the way you did and how you felt after eating.
Let’s say you ate a big supper and following supper you felt uncomfortably full and guilty. Instead of shaming yourself, take some time to reflect. What lead you to the point of overeating?
Perhaps you let yourself get too hungry before supper so when you finally got your hands on the food you ate faster than normal, not allowing your fullness signals to trigger and then ended up eating more than normal.
Or maybe you decided to eat something you had previously been restricting. Typically when you break free from food rules and start reintroducing previously off-limit foods you will initially overeat them.
Now you’ve gotten to the root of your problem. So what can you do differently next time?
Well in this case I would suggest ensuring you keep yourself consistently fueled throughout the day so you don't reach the point of ravenous hunger as well as continue to introduce the previously off-limits foods until they no longer hold this power over you.
No More Food Guilt
Well there you have it. Now that you have a better understanding of what food guilt is and how to stop feeling guilty after eating you can start implementing these 5 steps every single day to stop food guilt.
It’s normal if you’re still feeling guilty after eating, like I said this isn’t going to change overnight. It takes time and it’s going to take some effort. But just as you learned to feel guilty for eating, you can unlearn it.
Looking for further support? I’d love to assist you on your journey to overcome food guilt. Check out my services or follow along with me on Instagram, @dietitian.krista, where I share helpful tips and tricks almost daily!