Diet guilt aka food guilt or any other similar name revolves around the concept that we feel shame / guilt for eating certain foods, eating what we deem to be ‘too much’ or other similar eating habits. We live in a time of detox diets and despite what many think, the idea of ‘clean eating’ hasn’t quite disappeared yet. And the result is guilt and shame if we can’t live up to such standards.
And if you’re thinking why shouldn’t I feel guilty? I overate / ate _____ etc. know that it’s a logical response but you need to think about what serves you. You never deserve to feel guilt, shame or any other negative emotion based on what food you consume. As the saying goes, unless you stole it there should be no guilt around your food.
“Guilt - I did something wrong
Shame - I am wrong”
The above may sound harsh, and you’re thinking I was just a little annoyed at what I ate. But this is what you’re feeding in to your body. This is what you’re re-affirming… shocking I know.
What is wrong with enjoying what you eat?
If you need to, take a moment and ponder that over. What is wrong with enjoying what you eat - whatever you eat. Take stock of what voice answers, and if it is yours.
Think of where this idea comes from.
Yes, I’m afraid the big bad diet culture is to blame again. But there’s a reason it’s at the root of many of our issues, it’s all encompassing. And perpetuates thoughts such as what we eat having a moral value. We have all brought into the myth that there are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods and that if we eat the ‘right’ foods in ‘right’ amounts we can achieve the thin ideal. And that would be morally virtuous.
And the flip side - that eating the ‘wrong’ foods, in the ‘wrong’ amounts is bad, a failure and cannot be forgiven. Food becomes an indicator of virtuosity, strength, worthiness…. The list goes on.
You didn’t wake up one day and decide eating x amount of chocolate was too much. Someone would have told you. It can be helpful to think of where these thoughts come from, and how much you value the source material.
The goalposts are always moving…
The forbidden food of the month iiisss….. It seems like there’s always something new to avoid, or a new diet that’ll fix something that’s wrong. How can we do the right thing if we don’t know what that is? It’s easier to make a rational argument (which sometimes our brain needs as feeling something is wrong may feel like not enough) when we weigh up what we trust, the evidence, and how much it’s affecting our lives.
So how do I end the food guilt cycle?
With my clients I follow the Intuitive Eating framework, and am a strong advocate for this approach. Turning inward in an intentional manner and honouring your body’s cues will always be a good thing when it comes to your relationship with food. Whether by yourself, or with an expert’s help.
But here’s some other tips to help:
1. Talk to yourself as if you would talk to a friend / family member
I appreciate it sounds easy, and obvious. But I was recently talking to someone who did this exercise on a yoga retreat, they wrote down their inner critic’s voice. And then their partner (random stranger) had to say these things to them. And you know what, the reflex was ‘why would they say such harsh things, none of which is true’ - which never happens internally.
How would you feel if your friend told you that they feel guilty for eating cookies before dinner. Or your daughter said that they feel ashamed of not being able to stick to a diet.
2. Reflect - is it really about the food?
For many of us our relationship to food isn’t about food, it may be the way our parents raised us or our friends and how they talk about food.
Or maybe it’s your current feelings - stress, anxiety, fear, anger - they can all lead to us putting more pressure on our relationship to food. Or beating ourselves up. We often have a bit of a thought spiral into shame when out of control. Is there something you’re trying to control with food?
This may be something you reflect on or seek out expert advice if you struggle with.
3. Know that guilt only follows restriction
Knowing you can eat a food whenever you like means there will be no guilt if you do consume it. But put the food off limits and voila, eating it will instill a sense of shame. And of failure.
4. Embrace the grey zone
No good or bad, embrace that food is food. Sometimes it’ll be satisfying and hit the spot. Sometimes you’re eating in a rush. Start to notice that inner voice, is it saying what you should or shouldn’t do or that things are right and wrong. Work on changing your language both externally and internally.
5. Take it slow if you need to
Working to make peace with all foods may take time. Maybe you slowly integrate more foods, or work on not feeling any guilt / shame around some foods in a certain order. Or make a list and check them off.
Work on your inner voice a day at a time, challenging it. Then slowly changing it.
It can be easy to know you need to change, but hard to change. Take your time if you need to.
6. Curate your feed - and in real life too
We often say to curate what you see on social media, and unfollow triggering accounts. And while I 1000% advocate for this, and do it myself regularly, your input in real life is just as if not more important. It can be a hard pill to swallow (sorry) but surrounding yourself by people on diets, talking about their guilt over eating certain foods etc. will never contribute to feeling great around food.
Set boundaries, ask your friends / family / those that surround you to respectfully not comment on food around you.
If it’s helpful, mantras / affirmations / statements to reinforce can help you. Repeating the below or noting it somewhere in your eyeline can be useful.
“There is no shame in eating foods I enjoy”
“I am listening to my body, and there is no shame in that”
Or any along a similar line.
If any of the above was useful and you want to chat through it more send me a message here or on Instagram
And if you want support getting over diet or food guilt book in a FREE 1:1 discovery call with me.