That pang of guilt after eating something unhealthy was something that I battled with for years. When I was overweight and I was trying to diet to lose weight, I would feel really horrible and hate myself after I ate something that wasn’t on the plan I was following, but here is why those feelings of guilt were totally unnecessary.
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There were 2 mistakes with this. 1) I saw it as a diet rather than my new lifestyle and 2) I was developing a bad relationship with food. It was only when I stopped dieting, just ate well the majority of the time and still enjoyed food that the guilt left. This is a bit of a long post, but if you are dealing with feeling guilty after eating, then here are the things that have really helped me. You can scroll down to the bottom to see my bullet points 😉
If you go off track and eat something that was not part of your plan (whatever your plan is), feeling guilty about it is not going to take it back. You have eaten the cake – worrying obsessively about it is not going to change that you ate it. It is just going to escalate the problem – especially if you are an emotional eater. When you do go off track a little, the guilt felt usually makes you feel so much worse that you just think “Oh well, I will carry on eating junk – I might as well”. That attitude isn’t going to get you anywhere. My first bit of advice is just draw a line under it, ditch the guilt and move on.
First off, you need to move away from the notion that there is “good” and “bad” food. Food is neither good or bad and labelling it as that gives it power. YOU are the one with the power, not the food. I think there is far too much moral judgement when it comes to food, and most of that judgement is coming from ourselves. If we eat all of the things we know we should and that make us feel healthy, then most people would label themselves as being good for that day. But if they strayed even an inch from that track, or heaven forbid had a cupcake, then they would been bad that day. Having a not so healthy and balanced meal does not mean you have cheated and it is those kinds of labels that instil this guilt in people and make the problem worse. Digging into some Ben and Jerry’s does not mean you have ruined everything and it doesn’t automatically erase how well you have been eating before. Weight gain comes from consistently eating more than you are burning – not doing it once a while. So skip the guilt! There are no “bad” foods, there are just poor habits.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I would personally eat a cupcake every day and say that is a good way for me to be eating, but if a cupcake did happen to find its way into my hand and then “magically” into my stomach, then that is okay. It doesn’t change how well I have been eating prior to that and it certainly doesn’t then turn me into a “bad” person who is a “bad” eater.
Everyone has that one food that sends them off track, that they just can’t eat in moderation. For me, there are a few. Ice cream, Crisps/Chips and dip and cookies are my downfall. Oh, and pizza. If you KNOW you can’t eat them in moderation, just don’t have them. I know that might not be what you want to hear, but if you are still in the beginning of your weight loss/getting healthy, you might not be in a place yet where you can exercise restraint. I know I wasn’t in the beginning. I could not be around those foods without going overboard and then feeling a huge wave of guilt, so I didn’t eat them very often, or I would make my own healthier alternatives and I ate other foods I craved that I could eat in moderation – like cupcakes.
We put so much pressure on ourselves to have a perfect diet, comparing ourselves to how “good” people are eating and how “bad” we have been ourselves. All that this pressure and guilt actually does is take the pleasure out of eating, because it certainly doesn’t change what you have eaten. You ate that giant bit of cake because you like cake. Once you have eaten it and feel guilt over it, you are not enjoying that cake any more, but you have still eaten it – so what is the point in the guilt? You might think that the guilt will make you make a better choice next time – but has that really worked for you? It sure doesn’t work that way for me. To stop consistently eating things that were making me unhealthy, I needed to address the reason why that was happening – not guilt trip myself into that. You can learn from you eating habits and learn to make better ones without beating yourself up about it constantly.
You can see where the confusion has come from though. When we were really young, we were praised for eating and eating to get big and strong was a good thing. But at the same time, if we ate a cookie before dinner, we were told off and made to feel guilty. Then, as we moved into our teens, there came a lot of pressure. We shouldn’t eat too much, otherwise we would get fat. That was the message that was coming from friends, family and the fashion industry. We had gone from being “good” because we had finished all the food that had been given to us, to being “bad” because we had eaten everything. Being “good” now meant restricting what we were eating and not enjoying food as much as we once did. That has lead to a lot of confusion well into adulthood and a lot of guilt has come with it. We know so much more about our food now – the sugar/fat/calories in it, which is definitely a good thing, but along with that DOES come more guilt if we let it. Eating is no longer just a pleasurable act; it is loaded with guilt, fear and shame.
It can also get to the point where you fear the guilt of eating something “bad”, so you avoid being in situations where that might happen. So often I would miss out of spending time with friends because it involved food that would make me feel guilty – I was missing out on my life. For example when I went out for dinner last night. I could have let the fear of eating something a little less than healthy overwhelm me, but I didn’t. I just relaxed, made the best choice I could and enjoyed it, as I knew it wasn’t an every day thing.
The media also doesn’t help. Health and fitness magazines/websites are filled with “guilt free” recipes to lure people in. It makes people think that if they are not eating the guilt-free recipes that are in those magazines, then they should be feeling guilty about the choices they have made.
Even if you are eating a healthy diet, there is still some guilt that could be felt around that. Are we eating enough organic food? Are we eating wild fish and not farmed? Is it local produce only? Not doing these things can still make us feel “bad”.
The bottom line is, we have to do what we can. I don’t eat only organic and local food. Organic is expensive and being on a budget, that doesn’t always happen. I eat local as much as I can, but avocados don’t grow where I live, and I don’t want to not eat them – so I buy them brought in from other places. I have priorities though and I will always buy free range eggs, but that is just something that is important to me.
As I have spoken about before, life is about balance. Doing the things that are right for you the majority of the time. For me, food is not just to fuel my body for everyday things and for my workouts, but it is for pleasure too. At a basic level it is fuel and it shouldn’t be used solely for pleasure, but, I love food and I love cooking and I don’t want to feel guilty after eating anything. When food becomes your only pleasure, that is when there should be cause for concern. Food is not a substitute for other pleasures in life and should not be used to help you deal with your emotions.
If you continue to feel guilt after eating and it is a feeling you just can’t shift, then that is something you need to see a therapist/dietician about. Constantly labelling foods as good and bad and obsessing over them can be a sign that you do have a problem with food and that is not something that should be ignored. If choosing what you eat controls your every thought and move – then you need to speak to someone about this.
For most people, this guilt comes from feeling like we are not good enough. We live in a society where an image of “perfect” is pushed upon us and if we fall outside of that “perfect” image, then we need to feel guilty about that. Where is this guilt coming from? Is it actually coming from what YOU truly think? Or is it coming from the media messages that tell you that you should be/eat a certain way? That same magazine that has given you a huge ice cream craving with its strategically placed averts is the same magazine that is making you feel guilty for eating it. You don’t need to feel guilty for having an ice cream once in a while. This is a lifestyle – can you really avoid ice cream (or whatever your favourite food is) for the rest of your life?
There is also guilt that comes from people being misinformed. There are about a hundred “diets” out there that contradict each other. Some say that fats are evil, others say they should be eaten often, some say carbs will make you fat and others allow unlimited pasta and some allow chocolate in moderation whereas others ban it completely. There are diets that don’t allow avocado because of the “evil fats”, but eating an avocado is certainly not going to make me feel guilty. It is an awesome healthy fat. My solution to this would be to do your reading! Don’t take other peoples word for it. Only you know what is right for you, what makes you feel good and what you should avoid.
Here are the things that helped me eliminate the guilt surrounding my eating.
– I arrange the food so it looks nice and pretty.
– Remind yourself that eating is about balance. Have you been eating lots of foods that make your body feel good and healthy for most of the week? Yes? Well, how is that slice of cake and coffee with a friend really going to change that? Don’t look at every single food choice and analyse it, instead, analyse the patterns over a few day, weeks and months. Not every food you eat has to be “perfect” or low fat/low in calories.
– Stop judging yourself based on your food choices. What you eat does not define you as a person.
– I enjoy and savour every single mouthful and I take my time eating it. If I shovel it all into my mouth, then I know that I am binge/emotional eating. Whereas if I take it slowly and enjoy it, I know that I am eating it because I want to enjoy eating something I like. When you go on holiday, you don’t wish for it to come to an end do you? Well the same is with eating, take it slow.
– Learn from experience. If you know that being too hungry at 9pm will lead you to eating a lot of food that will make you feel guilty, then make sure that doesn’t happen by having a balanced meal. You need to work backwards and address the reasons that are making you feel guilty in the first place. If I eat something like cake or a big bar of chocolate – I just move on from it and start making better choices for my goals. That choice for food has not changed my goals – I just get straight back on track.
– Identify the things that you truly do love. For me, most of my guilt around eating came from binging on foods I didn’t really like anyway – they were just there. If I ate some ice cream, even though I probably shouldn’t have done, at least it WAS something that I enjoyed. I just accepted it and moved on. If I really want a cupcake, I make one myself. I make it exactly how I want, with the exact flavours and therefore I know I will enjoy it and it will not be a mass produced disappointment.
If you are seeing this as a lifestyle change rather than a diet, which you should be, then banning all the foods that you love forever is not realistic, as you won’t be able to stick to it. You might be able to ban them during a “diet”, but this is for life! There is no end date for getting healthy. You won’t stick to this lifestyle change if it is devoid of pleasure and feeling guilt from eating is taking that pleasure away. It is OKAY to indulge sometimes, it is when it becomes constant indulging that you need to address the reasons for it and start to do something about it if you feel it is changing your life. But if you eat some cake one week, you ARE NOT A BAD PERSON! When I was losing weight, I still had days where I would have some cake or order a takeaway and I still lost 7st (100lbs). At the time, I did feel guilt, and it took away all the enjoyment from it. I still lost weight, as I was not eating it all the time, but I was not allowing myself to enjoy it.
It is about making the choices that are right for YOU and ENJOYING them and forming habits. What is life if it is full of guilt? Life is for living and being happy after all. Form healthy habits and skip the guilt!
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