How to deal with food guilt in the moment

by Health

Food guilt… It has the potential to ruin your day, send you spiralling into a horrible mood, and even make you feel as though you have to “compensate” for what you’ve just eaten later on. It’s not at all fun, nor is it productive or helpful. 

Particularly around the festive season, when you’re eating and drinking all the fun treats, you may find yourself experiencing a case of the guilts. But don’t panic, we’re sharing some effective strategies you can use to overcome food guilt whenever it rears its ugly head. 

1. Rationalise.

When you’re experiencing strong food guilt, it can be difficult to take the emotion out of the situation and think rationally. So take a moment to breathe, and reason with yourself.

Ask yourself: Will you still feel guilty for eating that slice of cake in a month? Does that slice really make you unworthy of love? Or will you look back on the cake, and remember how it made you feel connected to those you shared it with?

Rationalise with yourself, and debunk the myths that little voice in your head is feeding you. So much of the guilt you feel stems from beliefs about yourself, your body, and the “healthfulness” of your eating habits – all of which simply aren’t true. Eating carbs or sugar won’t make you a bad person. Skipping the gym doesn’t make you lazy. Overeating doesn’t make you unloveable.

Take a moment to breathe through the guilt, and talk yourself down off the ledge by being rational.

2. Stop seeing foods as “good” or “bad”.

Following on from this, a great way to take the emotion out of your food choices is to stop labelling foods as being “good” or “bad”, “healthy” or “unhealthy”. These labels attach so much weight and emotion to every bite of food you put in your mouth – and this is inherently unhealthy.

Remember, there are no good or bad foods. Of course, there are some foods which are more nutritionally-dense than others, but all foods have a place in your diet. If they’re not feeding your body specifically, then they’re feeding your mind and soul – and that’s just as important!

Allowing yourself to eat all foods, without the need to make up for it later, skip meals, or engage in other disordered behaviours, can be a really effective way of reducing food guilt, and reminding yourself that all food is neutral, and allowed!

3. Let go of your food rules.

So often in recovery, you’re still unlearning many different food rules you’ve created over months and years. These rules dictate what you can and can’t eat, how much, and when. And it’s time to banish them once and for all.

The truth is, a balanced diet includes all foods, and creates space for the many different roles of food. Food is not simply fuel. It’s also pleasure, connection, tradition, culture, comfort.

Individual foods and food groups only have power over you if you allow them to. By telling yourself you can’t eat sugar, suddenly you elevate sugar to this elite-like status, idealising it and inadvertently making yourself crave that food so much more. But, by removing the rule that you “aren’t allowed” to eat sugar, suddenly it returns to being just another food. It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just is. And if there are no emotions, judgments or rules attached to a food, then you have no reason to feel guilty in the first place!

So when you feel your food rules speaking up, fight back. Remember, there are no rules when it comes to why or what you’re eating.

4. Talk to yourself as you would a friend.

Can you imagine saying to a friend or family member at a festive celebration, “Are you sure you want to eat that? Haven’t you eaten enough? You’ll get so fat if you eat that. Oh, you’re eating carbs… carbs are so unhealthy. You eat sugar – gross, that makes you unworthy of love.”

How ridiculous do these thoughts sound when you read them like that! Can you imagine saying these things to someone you love? So with that in mind, why is it okay to say them to yourself?

If you notice negative thoughts and criticisms popping up in your head, acknowledge them and practice compassion. Don’t judge yourself for experiencing these thoughts, simply rewrite them when they appear.

Replace your feelings of guilt with positive affirmations, and remember that you haven’t done anything wrong – you’re still very much worthy of love and acceptance.

If you’re struggling to separate yourself from these critical thoughts, try writing them down in a journal or even on your phone. Seeing them written down can be confronting, and help you recognise the need to reframe the thoughts to become more compassionate and kind. Consider how you’d speak to a friend who was experiencing these thoughts.

And if you’re still not having any luck, talk to a friend or relative! Tell them what’s going through your mind if you feel comfortable doing so, and ask them to help you reframe and rationalise the guilt you’re experiencing.

5. Remember your recovery goals.

Finally, it’s important to remember the bigger picture. You’re working towards recovery – and in recovery there is no such thing as good or bad foods, or food rules. In recovery, you work hard to give yourself full permission to eat all foods, without guilt or compensation. So how can you practise these goals in the moment, while you’re experiencing food guilt?

Forgive yourself. For eating whatever you’re feeling guilty about, and also for experiencing the guilt itself. Then, choose to move forward with your day.

Remember your why; why did you embark on your journey to recovery? Did you want to stop spending your life trapped in your head, feeling guilty and unworthy for your food and exercise habits? Did you want to be more present with loved ones? Did you want to live a fuller, happier life? 

At the root of every “why” is the goal of freedom. By ridding yourself of these compulsive behaviours, rules and fears, you liberate yourself from the feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

So remind yourself of why you started this journey in the first place. And then choose to act in alignment with those goals. There’s no place for guilt in a world that allows you to live your most free, happy life. There’s no place for self-flagellation in a world that sees all foods as equal, and focuses on connection and presence.

By combating food guilt in the moment, you don’t allow it to take hold of you. This means you take away the power of food to ruin your day or your mood, and instead take control back into your own hands! You can remain present, allow yourself to eat any and all foods you want, and move on with your day, knowing you haven’t done anything “wrong” or “bad”. 

It’s a really important skill to develop, and one that will save you from many bad days in the future! Remember, you have unconditional permission to eat all foods, as you like, without needing to compensate or feel guilty afterwards. Embrace that, and remember food is there to enjoy – you just need to allow yourself to do so!

Need some support working through food guilt and rules? Join us in Recovery Club today for all the motivation, encouragement and tools you need on your recovery journey – we’re all in this together!

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Sarah King

Sarah King

Hi future friends, I’m Sarah King, an Accredited Exercise Physiologist and health coach.

Science, not trends is the foundation of my approach. By nourishing the body and mind with scientific facts we can build foundations for a life of realness, not just wellness.