What Causes Food Guilt? How Do We Fix It?

Written by: Ankita Kathad – MA
(Clinical Psychology)

Last updated date : April 25, 2022

Table of Contents

What Causes Food Guilt? How Do We Fix It?

  1. Signs of Food Guilt

  2. What Causes Food Guilt? Why Do We Experience It?
  3. How to Fix Food Guilt?

Food guilt occurs when we feel very shameful and sad for consuming food. The smallest amount of food can make us look down upon ourselves. Have you ever felt very sad after eating your favourite fried chips? Well, that is food guilt! In this article, we understand what causes food guilt. We learn about why experience food guilt and the ways we can fix it!

Chapter 1:
Signs of Food Guilt

Food guilt alters our eating habits. It can affect us mentally and emotionally. It can also cause many physical issues. Following are some signs that you may be going through food guilt:

  • You feel that you have betrayed yourself after eating anything. It can be as minor as eating candy.
  • You self-loathe even at the sight of a food item that you feel like eating.
  • You feel ashamed while eating out.
  • It is difficult for you to enjoy the food that you’re eating

Food guilt affects our mental health. We can overthink all the carbs and sugar we consumed. It can disturb our mental peace. We may engage in unhealthy forms of dieting and exercise to burn the extra calories we consumed. We may also experience food guilt because we see so many social media stars endorsing some kind of food and shaming people for eating unhealthy.

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Chapter 2:
What Causes Food Guilt? Why Do We Experience It?

There are many reasons for food guilt. Largely it is based on our perception. Here are some reasons for food guilt:

  • Dieting: When we are dieting, we feel that we are breaking a rule when we eat out of our diet plan. Moreover, we feel guilty about not being disciplined enough. We think that we are not serious which is why we have cheated on the diet. Additionally, when we are dieting, we are extra conscious of the calories we consume. Therefore any addition to our diet could alarm us. We will therefore feel guilty about going out of our diet plans.
  • Food labels: Food items have labels that indicate nutritional values. Food labelled as high in fat or carbs can make us feel guilty. We may love the taste of it but we feel guilty for consuming them. We know that the food is not good for our health. Some people may have sweet tooth and hence overeat sugary items. We tend to overeat because we like to eat to our heart’s content. However, later we feel guilty for consuming those extra sugars. We associate well with healthy and bad with unhealthy. Therefore we feel guilty for consuming ‘Bad’ food items.
  • Eating disorder: When we suffer from binge eating disorder or anorexia (where people starve themselves), a small amount of food can bring intense guilt and sadness.
  • Social environment: We may feel guilty for eating food in some environments. When we are amongst a group of very health-conscious people, we may think twice before ordering a can of coke. We may feel guilty for eating our favourite chocolate ice cream in front of them.
  • Trauma: In past, if our parents were very critical of our food habits, we may feel guilty for consuming food now.
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Chapter 3:
How to Fix Food Guilt?

While it is important to be careful of what we eat, eating should not be a guilty event for us. Guilt occurs when we feel we have done something wrong. Eating is not wrong. Food guilt can affect our social relationships. Due to the guilt, we may not enjoy a fun moment with friends or family. Food dishes also carry some emotional value. We may end up hurting the emotions of the cook who has made the dish for us. For instance, if our grandmother has a family recipe and she wants you to try it. You may tell her no because you have food guilt. This can hurt your grandmother. Here are some ways you can fix food guilt:

Mindful Eating
Mindful eating involves a lot of steps. The first step is to have an awareness of the food guilt. It is important to notice what causes food guilt. You need to accept the food guilt before trying to fix it. You need to understand why you feel ashamed. Guilt occurs when you have done something that is not in alignment with your intentions. Therefore you have to acknowledge that food guilt is not because of the food. It is because you couldn’t control your urge. Food guilt is therefore a deeper issue related to impulse control and not sticking to your routine. Understanding and acceptance is the first step to change. Understand where your guilt comes from. Is it a result of stress eating? Or is it because you were bored and you ate a lot? Or is it because of the impulsive urge that we discussed above? If guilt is rising from an emotional issue, for instance, eating chocolate because you were sad. Rather than feeling food guilt, reflect on why you were sad. Mindful eating is also a practice that is good for the way you feel about a particular food item. Take a moment to think before you eat. When you pick up a food item, check-in with yourself. Check how you feel about the food. Check with your hunger. A small activity such as a prayer of gratitude can help you pause before you eat. Reflect on the entire activity of eating. When you make a habit of feeling grateful for what you eat, you feel find that the feelings of guilt go away.
Maintain a Food Journal
Write down a journal to keep a track of how you feel. It helps you see why you experience food guilt. If you feel that you have overeaten, note it down in the journal. Reflect upon ways you can make yourself feel better. For instance, if you feel that you overate at a party, you can make yourself feel good by having a detox tea. You can go for a run the next morning to cut down on the extra carbs. You can note down how you felt at the party, and what were the good things that happened there. These good memories will make you feel less guilty about consuming junk food. You can set boundaries in the journal. For instance, you can make a note of how much percentage of unhealthy food is permissible. A food journal need not just be about strict diet regimes. You can make notes about your thoughts and memories associated with a particular dish. This way you will start looking at food positively. For instance, you may associate a pack of popcorn with a fun movie night with friends.
Working on Food Regulation
Food is never a problem. Then what causes food guilt, you wonder? The quantity is the real problem. You may look at several chefs and food enthusiasts who are very fit. Even though they consume all kinds of foods. The key is moderation. They consume very small amounts of food. Similarly, we may crave a dish but we fail to eat it in moderation. This fear is what stops us from eating a particular dish. We fear that we will overeat. Which are we end up feeling guilty. Practising moderation is a struggle when people are dieting. Firstly, they refrain from eating unhealthy food items. But when they spot their favourite dish, there is a fear that they will overeat. Since they had resisted it for far too long, there is a possibility that they might indeed overeat. This is why practising moderation is important. Once in a while, your diet should include a normal day where you eat your meals out of the diet plan. During those days you can practice moderation. Make a mental note of the quantity that is permissible.
Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food.
Foods that are unhealthy are a reason why we experience food guilt. Banning some types of food may make you hate them. An anti-diet approach to a healthy lifestyle is to become a conscious and intuitive eater. In this method, you don’t rely on diet regimes. You learn to listen to your body cues and respond accordingly. You eat when your body signals hunger. It is important to stop when the hunger is satisfied. You give importance to nutrition and exercise. To summarise, you focus on the overall well being of your body. You make sure that you don’t become overweight or underweight. In this approach, you look forward to cues that your body provides. You may often notice feeling parched and drying of lips. This is a sign of dehydration. An intuitive eater will quickly grab a bottle of water and hydrate themselves. You can work with a nutritionist to help you in this process. They can help you understand what your body needs and how much it needs. Experts help us understand why we experience food guilt and what are the causes of food guilt. Working towards a healthy lifestyle absent food guilt is a long journey. It involves developing a healthy relationship with food. You can see expert advice for the same. There are many books available on intuitive and mindful eating. At Epsychonline, there are many articles to understand feelings of guilt and eating disorders. These articles help you understand more about the mind and the body. Do check them out.