There is no shortage of reasons why you may feel food guilt. You may feel guilt because you deviated from your brand-new diet. Or because you ate until you were uncomfortably full. Or because you broke a self-imposed food rule. Or because you ate emotionally when you “should have known better”.
Whatever the reason, food guilt doesn’t serve us. In fact, it tends to only set us up for an even more complicated relationship with food that can be damaging for our physical, mental and emotional health in the long run. Plus, experiencing food guilt takes away from experiencing your life and fully enjoying and appreciating your food and the many roles it has in your life.
Overcoming food guilt is a journey. Know that it takes a lot of compassion, patience and practice to reframe your mindset around your relationship with food and remove feelings of guilt.
That said, here are 4 first steps you can take today to overcome food guilt:
- Bring awareness to when and why you’re experiencing food guilt
Food guilt is normalized in our culture. It’s nearly impossible to not have a heightened awareness towards foods and what is considered healthy or unhealthy. To rid our minds of these negative associations and unlearn the messages of diet culture, we must first bring awareness to when and why we are experiencing food guilt.
This takes some serious self-reflection. When do the feelings of food guilt creep up? What foods, meals, situations, or people are the most triggering? What exactly do you feel guilty about? Where did you learn about these food rules? For this, it can be valuable to have a reflective journaling practice.
- Call out your inner Food Police
Once you have identified your inner food police (the voice that judges your food choices and makes you feel guilty for what you ate, it can be helpful to give her/him a name. Doing so allows you to separate yourself from her and remind yourself you are not her and you do not need to listen to her. We don’t typically have a defense mechanism for ourselves against ourselves but we do against external comments. The way I like to think of it is entering into a dialogue with an annoying salesperson that rings your doorbell every day to try and sell you something…you now have the power and autonomy to politely shut the door on her. So, whenever food guilt creeps in in the form of your inner food police, call her out and remind yourself that you don’t have to entertain this inner food police.
- Challenge your “bad” food mentality
Whenever there is food guilt, there is usually a “good” vs “bad” food mentality. This absolutist thinking where there is a plethora of “bad” foods and only a handful of “good” foods makes navigating your daily food choices a minefield. To start dismantling this belief, write down all the foods that you label as “bad” and “good”. Next, consider how simply by having a belief that a certain food is forbidden or off-limits, it heightens its power over you. It’s like the forbidden fruit effect: when you think you’re not allowed to have it, you want it even more.
How different would life be if all foods were neutral and there was no morality attached to them? Chances are you wouldn’t be so tempted to eat your “bad” foods all the time in the first place.
- Know that emotional eating is not a sin
Lastly, know that emotional eating is not a sin. When we become stressed, anxious, or worried, it’s only human to gravitate towards food to cope with our emotions. You are not alone in this, it’s a natural response. Yes, we want to build our self-care toolkit so that we have a plethora of self-care tools (not just food), but every now and then we all emotionally eat. This doesn’t make you a bad person, and you don’t need to feel guilty for this.
The best thing you can do after emotionally eating is to be kind to yourself, show yourself compassion and to take the time to explore why it happened. What were you unwilling to feel? Unwilling to confront yourself with? There is a nugget of wisdom to be found in every emotional-eating episode, and it’s your job to find it.
There is a lot more to letting go of food guilt, but this is a great starting point. If this feels too overwhelming or confronting, it may be helpful to work with someone in a 1:1 capacity to help guide you through the process.
Stefanie Jung is a Holistic Online Health Coach & Yoga Teacher with a focus on helping women heal their relationship with food & their bodies. After helping 100s of women through her 1:1 coaching offers in the last six years, Stef recently launched ‘Discover Food Freedom’, a 9-week self-guided online course, to help even more women ditch diets, overcome binging & start to trust themselves around food again. In this course Stef empowers women to take charge of their own health, while providing ongoing support & guidance every step of the way.
For more on Stef, visit: https://www.wholesomestef.com/discover-food-freedom.