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How to Overcome Guilt-Trip After Eating Unhealthy Food?

a woman eating pizza

What Is Food Guilt?

Nobody is born to feel guilty, especially when it comes to eating. Food guilt is taught and often stems from learning that food is either “healthy” or “unhealthy”. When the goal of eating healthy is taken to the extreme levels, any preconceived unhealthy food subsequently causes feelings of guilt.

The problem is that feeling guilty about what you eat hampers both your mental and emotional well-being. When we link food with being “bad,” we ignite a psychological flow of desire. We restrict ourselves to stay “in control,” only to find ourselves out of control when so-called willpower fails and the flow of guilt begins. Most often, these guilt-ridden foods are high in fat and sugar, both of which diet culture commonly exploits.

But that is not your willpower that fails. In fact, willpower is nothing more than diet culture’s justification for the reason why diets don’t work. A previous study demonstrates that those who link indulgent foods with guilt are more likely to feel less “in control” over such foods when they are under stress. And while food guilt might not pose major restrictions on everyone, studies show that even a small thought of indulgent food can spark guilt in those with restrictive eating habits. This is because, to those struggling with disordered eating, “disallowed foods” hold an increased sense of excitement.

5 Steps to Work Through Food Guilt

  1. Identify and Validate Your Feelings of Guilt

Disordered eating and food guilt, both are normalised in our culture. It’s nearly impossible to not have an increased awareness of foods that we usually think of as being less nourishing. To rid our minds of these negative links, like guilt and shame, around food, we must neglect the messages of diet culture.

Do you feel guilty because you ate something that is not very nourishing? Remember that the food you eat nourishes not only your performance and health but also your mind and soul.

Is your guilt showing after a mindless eating experience? If so, was that the food that you needed at that moment? Emotional eating is valid and might need some extra steps to work through. If your mindless eating is the result of stress, boredom, or anxiety, then consider if trying any different activity can better help you manage those feelings.

  1. Break The Rules

Eating foods that you don’t feel safe with can be scary, especially if you feel an overall lack of trust in yourselves around that food. Remember this: avoidance of weakness heightens your awareness of weakness. You’ll need to break your food rules to rebuild trust with yourself around your favourite foods. 

Rationalizing your food choices, or placing conditions upon them is one tactic often being used to fuel the cycle of food guilt. Have you ever thought, “I can eat ABC because I “ate clean all week” or “exercised for X amount of time?” Removing any such conditions is how you give yourselves an unconditional grant to enjoy your favourite foods anytime.

  1. Practice Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is learning how to listen to and honour your body’s cues of fullness and satisfaction. Developing a positive eating experience is key, especially when it comes to foods you might not consider as safe or clean.

Write down the list of common foods you feel are bad or unhealthy. Reframe your mindset and think that this food is going to nourish your mindset.

  1. Rely On Affirmations

When it comes to food and nutrition, changing your mind hardwiring is a difficult journey that involves a proactive approach to battling toxic messages set by diet culture. Your mindset is very much like a muscle; similar to how you work on your muscles, your mindset needs consistent work. Use positive affirmations as repetitive reminders. Write them and hang them in your kitchen or bedroom!

  1. Be Curious, Not Judgmental

Curiosity lets you make space for self-reflection and personal understanding. As mentioned above, your feelings of guilt are rooted in social stigmas and standards regarding what a healthy balanced diet should look like. There may be certain instances where you feel you did overdo it. Instead of saying, I’m so bad! I ate too much dessert… I should have thrown away the rest! Say I overdid it on dessert today… I’m not feeling too good physically. It’s okay, it is not my fault. I’m learning how to respect my needs mindfully and that takes time.

Here are a few suggestions on how to overcome food guilt:

  • Be gentle with yourself as you go through the endless messaging of needing to control your food intake.
  • Food guilt and food morality should have no place on your holiday plate.
  • It's OK if you do feel guilty after eating. The holidays are a hard and stressful time with fear of food and weight gain for many.
  • Avoid advice that instils fear in you during the holidays. Often they make you feel like you will do something wrong even before the holiday starts.
  • Eat with your family, and have a personal goal to enjoy your favourite foods.
  • Dieting and restricting your food intake will always cause you to eat more than you had intended.
  • You can trust your body to know what to do with the food you consumed during your holiday times.
  • The holidays are a special time to gather with your family and friends. Thinking and worrying about what and how much you're going to eat no longer needs to be your priority.

Take Away

Eat what you love, and be mindful of the food you're eating, take time to enjoy every bite. Keep food guilt away by going for a long walk after dinner, or getting a proper good night's rest to start a new day in the morning. If you are worried about weight gain, you can try some weight loss exercises.

And remember, self-compassion is the key as you navigate your relationship with food and body image throughout your holidays and year-round.