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Overcoming food guilt

This is one of the most common things I see in the fitness/nutrition space. Too many people experience food guilt on a regular basis and it’s truly so sad to see such shame surrounding one of life’s simple joys!

It’s one thing to promote eating nutritious foods for the sake of overall health & longevity but what often happens is that gets taken too far, foods get categorized as good & bad and shame begins to set in when less nutritious choices occur. 

This biggest reason for this in my opinion, is diet culture. It drives rigidity in food choices and leads people to think that’s the only way to achieve their physical goals. And THAT right there is the biggest issue with diet culture. It perpetuates looking a certain way and THRIVES on your insecurities. It makes you feel pressure to work on your ‘beach body’ and eat these ‘superfoods’ or take this pill to ‘look amazing’. Because once you look amazing, everything else in your life becomes great, right?! (eyeroll). And don’t get me wrong, I’m all about feeling confident and comfortable in your skin but please make sure your confidence isn’t based on diet industry standards because that’s a battle you’re never going to win.

Also, think about how many times you see things labeled as ‘guilt free’ or ‘reduced guilt’. Whether it’s a recipe from a fitness / ‘health’ account or even companies selling products. Trader Joe’s for example, as much as I love them, they are guilty (hah) of this with their reduced guilt products (mac n cheese, guacamole etc). This simply perpetuates the idea that the real versions of either are bad, forbidden or unhealthy, making you feel like you’ve done something wrong when you eat them. No bueno!

Anyway, my point is that like most humans, at some point I’m sure you’ve experienced some sort of guilt or shame when you’ve broken the ‘rules’ that have been pounded in your head from the unfortunate way food is portrayed in many different spaces.

This is why I preach SO heavily… listening to your body. The more you can forget all the rules about what’s ‘good’ and what’s ‘bad’ and simply pay attention to your body’s hunger & satiety cues, the less guilt, shame & anxiety you will feel surrounding food. It’s a peaceful place to be because it’s based on how you FEEL, not how that food is going to make you look or the lack of nutrients it’s going to deliver etc. If at the end of the day you are respecting your body’s needs, you have NOTHING to feel guilty about or ashamed of.

Now even this can be problematic and here’s why: overeating. But here’s the deal, it’s inevitable and everyone does it from time to time. This is where you need to knock some sense into yourself. There’s no point in dwelling on something SO temporary. Just know there is not one person on this planet that masters eating until satiety for the rest of their lives. That’s just like assuming an NBA player will make %100 of the free throws he takes. You can be really good at something but still miss here and there. That’s just the way life goes. And the more you practice, the better you get. Consistency > perfection people.

The key here is being objective with yourself and understanding that food guilt is a choice. And a silly one at that. However, it’s not as easy as snapping your fingers and being at complete peace with all foods. It’s something you have to practice unlearning. So how does one do that? Here are some steps to help you get there:

  1. Ditch the good/bad vision of food. OF COURSE there are more nutritious and less nutritious foods. But just like eating one salad isn’t going to make you healthy, eating one donut isn’t going to make you unhealthy. You know what you need to be eating most of the time, do that but also let yourself live a little. It’s not going to make or break you.
  2. Remind yourself how short life is and how food is something that truly is meant to be enjoyed & shared with loved ones. You’re not going to look back on life and remember all the outings/events you missed with your family/friends or the times you didn’t get ice cream with your kids (parents – keep in mind your kiddos pick up on YOUR habits/emotions surrounding food). You WILL remember the experiences you had and the people you shared them with. A lot of the time, food & drink will be involved in these experiences, enjoy it!
  3. Become more mindful when you eat ANYTHING. Like I said, food is meant to be enjoyed. Be present when you eat. Appreciate what you are eating, whether it’s roasted brussel sprouts or a slice of pizza. The more you can focus on this, the better you’ll be able to listen to and honor your body’s fullness cues. A good way to practice this is begin asking yourself after eating: ‘how am I feeling right now?’ and ‘would I like to feel this way again’, whatever the answer is analyze it WITHOUT judgement, it’s just data moving forward. Think of this as an experiment! 
  4. Stop restricting. The more you restrict a food or food group, the more you are going to want it & the more you are going to lose control when you do finally cave. I know this can be scary at first but letting go and allowing food choices be abundant will be the best thing for you long term. You’ll be surprised how little you crave things when you just allow them to be a normal part of your nutrition. At first you may even go a little bananas but it’ll simmer down, I promise.
  5. Analyze your choices. So say you do ‘let go’ and soon enough you have an empty pint of Ben & Jerry’s next to you and there’s a sleeve of oreos missing. Try to retrace your steps and figure out what caused this. Were you stressed and found comfort in something sweet & indulgent? Were your cravings just so intense you couldn’t help it? Were you so locked into your new favorite netflix series you didn’t even realize it happened? Really dig deep here and again, without judgement, see what data you can uncover. If it was emotional, that’s a sign you need to find something else to alliviate those feelings (food won’t solve your problems unfortunately). If you lost control it’s most likely because you restricted yourself for so long (this will get better, you just need to ride it out). If you were wrapped up in a show, this means you need to practice being more present while you eat.

All in all, we just need to stop giving food so much power & control over our thoughts & actions. Shift that control to your body, let that lead the way. The more you take the time to honor what your body is telling you, the greater respect you will have for it. Your mind & body are the only ones you got, so you might as well spend the time treating them both with respect & giving them the power and love they deserve.

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