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  • Writer's pictureBrittney daCosta Banning

How to Handle Food Guilt

It’s inevitable that at some point most of us will eat more food than we intended and end up feeling guilty about it. A little guilt is normal, but when we beat ourselves up and our reaction negatively affects our decisions, it becomes a problem.


These are some of the things we do as a result of how we react to feelings of guilt that can negatively impact our long-term results.


What NOT to Do When You Experience Food Guilt



Restrict Calories

Restricting calories as a result of food guilt often leads to an unhealthy relationship with food. Imagine overindulging on sweets, treats, and all the forbidden foods. So much so, on Christmas day, it may seem only logical to eat less over the next couple of weeks to make up for it. Chances are when restriction takes place as a result of negative feelings, it’s going to cause yet another episode of overindulging. Next thing you know, you have to restrict yourself to make up for the extra calories again. And then you binge… again. And so the cycle begins. The only way to break this vicious cycle is to NOT restrict your calories as an emotional response.


Punish Yourself with Exercise

Exercise is meant to be a positive tool to help us physically, emotionally, and mentally. When used as a means to burn off extra calories you feel guilty having eaten, it becomes punishment, and can actually do more harm than good. Additionally, the dopamine hit you get with long bouts of cardio or HIIT workouts can feel really good… and be addicting. Relying on exercise as punishment is pointless in the end considering it doesn’t actually burn that many calories in comparison to your general daily non-exercise movement. And just like that with food, it often leads to an unhealthy relationship.


Avoid Social Events

It’s one thing to choose to not eat out as frequently because it doesn’t align with your overall health goals. It’s another to feel anxiety over any social outing involving food. YOU are in control. You choose what you eat and how much you eat of it. And choosing to eat a few bites or even a few meals that aren’t perfect isn’t going to completely derail your progress. It’s what you do consistently over time that matters. Enjoy your time with loved ones, regardless of whether (not-so-perfect) food is involved or not.


Beat Yourself Up

Feeling guilt is a normal healthy emotion and is one you’re going to experience, whether you want to or not. The key is whether you choose to believe the negative thoughts that start to cycle through your head and whether or not you ruminate on them. When you let the feelings engulf you, that’s when you end up in the viscous binge-restrict or binge-punish cycle. When you recognize the feelings taking over, remind yourself that it’s how you react to those feelings that matter… not having them in the first place.


How Food Guilt Can Affect Weight Loss

Continuing to cycle through these patterns will likely stall your weight loss progress, and will often lead to weight gain. For example, let’s say you overindulge over the weekend so the next week you restrict your calories but then end up overindulging (again) the following weekend. By the end of the week, you’ve actually consumed more than you would have had you just allowed yourself to eat more in the first place. If you continue this pattern, the surplus will eventually lead to weight gain AND an unhealthy relationship with food.


Falling into these patterns isn’t fun for anyone. Even more than affecting your weight loss progress, it can affect your mental health. If you believe you have a serious issue that goes beyond simply moving passed this vicious cycle, please seek professional help.


Since you know you’re going to feel guilty about overindulging or eating certain foods at some point, how can you process that guilt without it negatively impacting your day and possibly even your long-term results?


4 Ways to Get Passed Food Guilt


This is by no means an exhaustive list; however, I believe that making an effort to implement even just these three tips can have a major impact on your reaction to food guilt going forward. While these are intended to be strategies to implement after food guilt has set in, it’ll be helpful to make them a practice in your everyday life so you’re even better equipped to handle the emotion in the moment.


01: Practice Awareness

The first step to healing or moving passed anything is always awareness. Sometimes that feeling of guilt will resonate as heaviness and anxiety, and can easily be pushed down and passed off as unimportant. It’s up to you to pay attention to that heaviness and interpret it for what it is. Burying the emotion is only going to cause it to rear its head as a binge session or something that’s going to require far more work effort to undo… like an eating disorder. Instead, try to become more aware of your reaction and get to know yourself better.


02: Breath Gratitude

Feeling gratitude helps regulate emotions and positively impacts multiple areas of our lives. When you realize you feel guilty, conjure up something you’re grateful for. It can be as simple as having a roof over your head or as specific as the fact that you ate the food because it created an experience with loved ones you may not otherwise have had. Breathe in the feelings of gratitude, and exhale the feelings of guilt. Do this three to five times and consciously make an effort to relax one body part after another as you do.


03. Practice Compassion

If a friend came up to you and said, “I’m so mad at myself for eating all that food and then two pieces of chocolate cake to top it off! What was I thinking? I feel so awful. Now I’m going to beat myself up and eat a whole package of cookies and then go to the gym to try to exercise it off” You’d say something like, “That’s so silly! You enjoyed a meal with a friend… so what?!” Why is it that we can be so unkind to ourselves and yet it wouldn’t even occur to us to speak so harshly to a friend? When you feel the guilt setting in, remind yourself that no one is perfect and that in the end, what you did or didn't eat isn't that big of a deal anyway.


Remember to be patient with yourself. As with any new practice, implementing these will take time. Especially considering it likely took you years, or maybe even a lifetime, to create the habit in the first place. When you put in the work, you CAN break the cycle and stop food guilt from negatively affecting your health, physically or emotionally.


For support to help you process food guilt and reframe your mindset to improve your relationship with food, fill out our obligation-free application to work with one of our expert coaches.


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