This guest article on food guilt is written by chartered psychologist and eating disorder recovery therapist Dr Rachel Evans.
Do you feel guilty about eating certain foods? For some of us it’s when we think we over-indulged, say at a BBQ, and we’re feeling stuffed. For others it can be after we ate any food that doesn’t fit in with our current diet.
You might be thinking “How do I stop feeing guilty about what I ate?”. This is a common question asked to chartered psychologist and clinical hypnotherapist Dr Rachel Evans. Dr Evans has a PhD in the psychology of eating, as well as training in neuro-linguistic programming, emotional freedom technique and T.I.M.E techniques. She helps women daily to overcome eating disorders and food guilt. Having suffered from orthorexia and bulimia herself, Rachel understands the sensitive nature of the condition first hand. She has dedicated her life to helping others in similar situations.
Dr Evans leads us through four questions to ask yourself if you are experiencing food guilt and ways to help overcome the symptoms.
1. Where did this food guilt come from?
When was the first time you felt guilty for eating that food or quantity of food? Some of us can trace it back to childhood. We heard our family speaking about being ‘naughty’ for eating certain foods. Or only being allowed to eat certain foods on specific days or occasions. As a child we are taking in the values of our family as our own. If we haven’t questioned them as we grew older, then we can still be operating from those! It might be someone else’s guilt that you’re carrying with you.
Also, I think that diet culture has a lot of answer for. There are so many products marketed as ‘guilt-free’. This infers that you should feel guilty if you eat the full fat/sugar non-modified version. Personally, I only started to feel guilty about what I was eating when I started following a strict diet and then broke the rules.
2. Have I actually done anything wrong?
Unless you stole the food, then it’s unlikely that you’ve actually done anything wrong.
If you’re still thinking that you have done something wrong because you ate ‘too much’ or ‘too late’ or ‘not right’, then I’d love you to consider – “wrong according to who?”
It’s interesting to reflect on who made the food rules that you’re following. I’ve tried all sorts of diets. When I was following Whole 30 then I felt guilty for eating green peas. The creators had told me that I shouldn’t eat them (even though they’re my favourite vegetable and I had 23 years of my life eating them guilt-free). When I subsequently went vegan, peas were back on the menu. But then I felt bad for eating salmon, which I had been feasting on while I tried to complete a Whole 30.
Now I eat peas and salmon when I want to with zero-guilt. The take away is that you are the expert on you and what you need to eat! Not being able to follow someone else’s dietary rules is normal because they weren’t made for you.
3. What can I do to help myself feel differently now?
No one likes to feel guilty, especially when you never actually did anything wrong. Guilt is an emotion, which is a physiological state in the body that we interpret consciously. The good thing about emotions is that they typically peak (and in this case feel at the worst) within 90 seconds and then will start to reduce. Also, we can take action to change our physiological state.
My clients find that consciously reminding themselves that they did nothing wrong is a good start. Then using techniques such as deep breathing (in for 4, out for 6), going for a short walk or ‘tapping’ can help to change their energy and bodily state. Try this Emotional Freedom Technique ‘tapping’ video.
4. Is there anything deeper triggering this food guilt?
If there is another situation (current on in the past) in your life that you are feeling deeply guilty about, then you might be transferring that guilt onto food and it could help you to speak to someone about it.
If you’re feeling guilty or anxious about eating most foods or a whole food group, or those feelings remain for a long-timer after eating, then it’s likely that something deeper is going on. In those cases I would suggest to see you’re GP or a mental health professional such as a psychologist or dietician who specializes in disordered eating. There are numerous UK charities and hotlines you can contact e.g BEAT, speak to your local GP and / or join my community here to learn more about the workshops I host or book a complimentary 1:1 call with me to learn how we can work together. Visit: https://eatingdisordertherapist.co.uk/click-me.