Why do I feel guilty when I eat?

12 Mar, 2024
Jennifer Low
Why do I feel guilty when I eat?

Why do I feel guilty when I eat?

Feeling guilty after eating is something a lot of people experience.

Unfortunately we live in a society where eating less, restricting intake of certain foods, and being thinner, are all valued highly.

This means that we are CONDITIONED from a very young age to feel guilt when we eat more than we’d planned; or more than our family see as “normal”; or we eat foods outside what we deem healthy as a family unit.

Also, media and social media, particularly this year, demonizes certain food groups and foods…and this is taken more and more to extreme.

It’s hard to know what is healthy and what is less nutritious when we have bananas being compared to mars bars!!!! (yes, this has ACTUALLY happened ….and fyi they are not at all the same!).

There are many reasons you may feel guilty after eating…here are some of them, but this is by no means an exhaustive list….

Keep reading for Jen’s 6 top tips to stopping the guilt…

Reasons you may feel guilty after eating:

💫 Society and cultural Influences

Thinness is better, food is seen as “good” or “bad”

💫Psychological factors

Anxiety and depression can lead to feelings of guilt around eating.  Along with internalised beliefs, past negative comments on your weight, shape, size or eating habits also play a role.

💫 Eating Disorders

Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder frequently involve feelings of guilt or shame related to food intake. In these illnesses, the biological mechanisms of hunger and satiety are distorted or overridden by intense emotional responses.  If you think you have an eating disorder, please ask for support.

💫 Disruption in hunger and fullness cues

Even outside of eating disorders, many people lose touch with their internal hunger and fullness cues. Overeating or eating when not physically hungry can lead to feelings of guilt or regret.

💫 Dieting and restricting food intake

Frequent dieting and the restriction of certain foods or food groups can exacerbate feelings of deprivation, which can sometimes lead to guilt when those foods are eventually consumed.

💫 Guilt as a learned response

Guilt after eating can also be a learned emotional response. If eating certain foods or amounts was met with punishment or judgment during childhood or adolescence, those feelings might carry into adulthood.

Jen’s top 6 tips to alleviate the guilt:

💖 Positive self-talk

Remind yourself you are allowed to eat freely, no one meal/snack will make a difference to your overall health

💖 Remind yourself that we have to eat to survive

Many of us have forgotten what “normal” eating looks like amidst a crazy amount of fad diets and rules – download my free guide if you resonate with this

💖 Start to write down how you feel before eating

Sometimes the guilt that you feel afterwards is merely the feelings beforehand coming out in a different way – it is for example a lot easier to blame being upset or a bad mood on having just eaten a packet of biscuits, rather than acknowledging that you are upset by something more threatening/scary, such as family stress, work stress, grief.

💖 Start to reject diet culture

You do not need to eat in a certain way.  You do not need tonnes of external rules around what you can/can’t eat – once you remove the rules, you create space for allowing food freedom (and I promise that this does not mean you will only eat chocolate!)

💖 Keep a food and mood diary

Record your sleep, stress levels, time of the month (where relevant) – understanding your body and your cravings means you are more likely to be able to be kind and compassionate to yourself

💖 Talk to yourself more kindly

Try to talk to yourself as you would a friend or family member if they told you they’d just eaten what you had eaten – I doubt you would speak to them in the same way you speak to yourself!

Being kind and compassionate to yourself is key.

AND it gets you off the binge/restrict cycle.

Is it time to start to do things differently?

Jen Owner of JL Nutrition Clinic

Jennifer Low, Registered Dietitian, PgDip, MSc Nutrition, BSc Psychology