By Louise Bula RD (BSc, PgDip)
What is Food Guilt?
Food guilt is something everyone has probably experienced at some point in their life. Maybe you decided to get an extra slice of apple pie, or you gave in to having a bar of chocolate when you told yourself that you’d be good on that day. You then experience a sudden rush of guilt and loss of control.
Feeling guilty for eating food is like feeling guilty for breathing air. We need air just like we need food, for survival. Food guilt can be damaging to your physical and mental health and in some cases, it can also lead to disordered eating behaviours.
Don’t Let Food Guilt Stop You From Enjoying Life
Life is all about enjoying experiences and making memories. Food has always been a social thing that families and friends bond over. Food guilt removes that enjoyment factor you get, and can even sometimes lead to you feeling anxious about a social gathering that may involve food.
This Easter has been a very different one to others because of the restrictions due to the COVID 19 pandemic. If you have felt anxious, stressed and worried over the last year, you are not alone.
So you allowed yourself a few indulgences over the last few days. Guess what? This is completely normal, and you deserved that! There is no need to feel food guilt around certain food choices that you may have made. A healthy balanced diet and lifestyle, allows room for all types of food.
I’m a big preacher of the 80:20 rule whereby 80% of the time you eat a healthy balanced diet, and 20% off the time you allow room for indulging foods you may enjoy including chocolate, pizza, wine or cake.
My Six Top Tips on Overcoming Food Guilt
- Think about why you have felt that food guilt
It is common for people who experience food guilt to be avoiding that very food they have indulged in because they think it is ‘bad for them’. Other people also build this idea that a little bit of chocolate contributes to significant weight gain.
You never hear of people feeling guilty after having a big bowl of vegetables or healthy proteins like chicken. The reason for this is because they either don’t have negative thoughts or are not avoiding these foods.
The first step to overcoming food guilt is acknowledging whether you have these thoughts in your mind and why you have them.
- Let go of “the rules” and make your own!
Now you know these ideas you have in your mind, imagine writing them down on a piece of paper and throwing that into the ocean. Let go of these absurd rules that have not done you any good so far.
I want you to tell yourself out loud “I’m worth it. If I fancy a bit of chocolate, I’m going to enjoy myself. A healthy balanced diet allows for a bit of every type of food in moderation”.
By changing your food rules, you’ll find that overtime these foods look less tempting and if you were to allow yourself a treat, it no longer feels like you have lost control.
- Make sure your meals are balanced
Make sure your meals are balanced with plenty of vegetables, wholegrain carbohydrates and healthy lean sources of proteins. A good balanced meal can help to keep you feeling satisfied for longer and make you more likely to make healthy choices.
After a day where you may have indulged especially, getting back on track to your usual healthy eating routine and drinking plenty of water is all that’s required to avoid you from slipping completely.
- Apply some planning with your meals and snacks
Gain control over your appetite by planning a few meals or snacks during the week. If you have planned for them, you are more likely to stay on track and to make healthier choices.
- Create the perfect meal environment
How many of us eat with various distractions around us, including the television or our mobile phones? Studies have shown that having no distractions when eating can allow people to think more about what they are eating.
Being more mindful about what you are eating helps with portion control and making healthy choices. You may find your meal could have maybe had more vegetables. So, you make a plan to have more vegetables with your next meal.
Try switching off the television and play some classical music in the background. This really helps my clients with creating a relaxing atmosphere and apply some mindfulness with their meals.
- Love yourself
I constantly remind my clients that it is so important to practice self-love. We are all human and none of us are perfect. This also applies to our food choices.
It is perfectly normal to slip up with your eating, and beating yourself up about that is like getting angry with yourself for tripping on the street.
Next time you overindulge, think about why that happened and what could you do next time to avoid that situation from happening again. By reflecting with sympathy, you will be able to learn from a situation and be better prepared if it were to arise in future again.
One last thing
Easter only comes once a year and it is a time to be able to enjoy with your loved ones. Planning Easter walks is also a great way to get moving and get some exercise in.
It has been a tough year for many, so give yourself some love, get your leggings on, plan your meals for the week and get a workout in!
If you feel you need more support with overcoming food guilt, please seek support from a Registered Dietitian who specialises in Eating Disorders or Disordered Eating Patterns.