In 2019, the New York Post wrote about a study on how Americans feel about their food choices when it comes to guilt.
Analysis showed that almost 30% of what participants ate had feelings of guilt associated with it.
And that’s not all…
On average, this “food guilt” took place 5 times a week.
So if you have ever felt ashamed of yourself for snacking on a cookie, ordering French fries, or indulging in an extra helping, you are certainly not alone.
What is food guilt?
Typically associated with feelings of guilt over a poor food choice, common symptoms can include:
- feeling shameful for overeating
- regret over food choices
- stressing over what to eat and when
- the thought of food occupying the mind too much
- trying to overcompensate for what was eaten (such as an extra hard workout)
- punishing yourself with strict rules and dieting
Why does food guilt happen?
There can be a variety of root causes for food guilt, but many times it comes down to the relationship an individual has with feelings around food.
Feelings can revolve around such issues as:
- food and weight
- food and disease
- food and worthiness/personal value
- food and fear/anxiety
- food and sadness/depression
in addition to dealing with trauma, grief, or other difficult things in life.
What causes poor food choices?
Wonder why you can’t walk past the donuts at work without reaching for one or say no to that extra helping of pasta even though you’re full?
Meet your “feel-good” hormone, dopamine.
Dopamine provides a rush of pleasure, associated with the sense of reward. It releases during enjoyable activities such as having sex, working out, going shopping, and yes…eating calorie-dense, high sugar, and high fat foods.
This means that even though you probably shouldn’t, the craving for feeling good can overpower what the brain is saying.
For many, the reward of dopamine fills a void, stuffs feelings, and/or comforts everything from boredom to loneliness.
What can I do to help alleviate food guilt?
First and foremost, when it comes to working through food guilt it’s essential to be aware of it.
Questions such as:
- What is my relationship with food?
- Are my unsavory choices based on a physical or emotional need? Which one(s)?
- How is food guilt affecting my life?
Next, examine where any specific beliefs or feelings come from:
- is it due to cultural expectations?
- has someone made a hurtful comment?
- am I running from something (such as past trauma, grief, or confrontation)?
- am I scared of something?
- what is missing in my life?
From here, develop skills for a healthier relationship with food. Although this can look different for everyone (based on what need is being met by poor food choices), some tools may be:
- working through emotions; processing trauma or grief with a holistic counselor
- discovering new ways to meet the underlying need (such as going to a movie with someone on a Friday night instead of over drinking with friends or going for a walk after dinner rather than reaching for something sugary).
- acupuncture and/or herbal supplements to calm cravings and reduce stress
And throughout this process, remember…it is a process!
Small changes over time can make a big difference, so don’t put stringent expectations on yourself that will difficult to adhere to. Be kind and loving with yourself as you work through your food guilt and know…you are not alone.