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Why Do I Feel Guilty After Eating?

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If you’re noticing certain foods bring out a strong negative emotional response you might be wondering: Why do I feel guilty after eating? 

You might notice food guilt if: 

You might feel guilty about food because you feel you’ve surpassed the “acceptable threshold” on a hypothetical fullness scale. 

Diet culture feeds us all sorts of ideas about why we should feel guilty when we eat just about anything. 

You CAN get rid of that sinking feeling of guilt you get after you’ve finished eating.  Let’s talk about what food guilt is, when we might have food guilt, and how to get rid of food guilt for good. 

infographic why do I feel guilty after eating

What Is Food Guilt? 

Food guilt is when you experience strong negative emotions after eating certain foods or for some, after eating any food at all.  

Examples of food guilt include thoughts like: 

  • I can’t believe you ate that! You’re completely out of control
  • You just ate an entire bag of chips, no wonder you can’t get a date 
  • You’re so gross.  Don’t let anyone see you eating that. 
  • I ate so many carbs. I’m going to get fat. 
  • You’re so gross. You’re ating more than everyone else in the room. No wonder you can’t lose weight. 
  • There’s nothing but processed crap in that. You shouldn’t have ate it. 
  • I didn’t need that food. 

Sometimes food guilt can be so extreme that it escalates into eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, atypical anorexia, or orthorexia. 

Food guilt can stem from an active eating disorder voice and lead us down a path of self distruction.  

Is Food Guilt Different Than Guilt Eating? 

Food guilt is the experience we have after we’ve eaten a certain food. Guilt eating is when we feel we’re using food to soothe a difficult emotion. 

Eating to soothe a difficult emotion (or guilt eating) is not alway inherently a negative thing.  Many intuitive eaters will experience guilt eating from time to time and it can be a very powerful and effective coping tool during difficult times. 

Guilt eating can become problematic if: 

  • It becomes the primary way we respond to difficult emotions
  • If we’re using eating in an attempt to hide from or push down our emotions
  • If food is the only coping tool we have for managing emotions

On the other hand, feeling guilty about the foods we have already eaten will never have a positive outcome.  

Food guilt is likely to lead to: 

  • Restricting food in future
  • Negative self-esteem 
  • Feeling powerless
  • Thoughts of worthlessness
  • Depression 
  • A binge restrict cycle 

Why Do I Feel Guilty After Eating Sweets? 

Society tells us that there are good foods and bad foods. This is simply not true.  All foods contain some sort of nutritional value.  

Unfortunately for sweets, we often feel guilty after we eat them because of the pressures of diet cultures.  

Trendy toxic ideas that contribute to food guilt about sweets include: 

  • Carbs are bad
  • Desserts have no nutritional value
  • It’s “junk food”
  • Sweets are “empty calories”
  • Sweets make you fat 

None of these things are true.  However, this doesn’t stop the food guilt that often comes along with sweets.  You likely feel there is some “moral code” you’ve broken by enjoying foods that taste good.

In order to stop feeling guilty after eating sweets, we must get rid of the idea that some foods are superior to others. 

Holiday Food Guilt

Holidays offer a very special type of food guilt.  Although its unspoken, the rules of the holiday often include: 

  • Everyone should show up in the leanest body possible 
  • We are expected to eat, while simultaneously being focused on how we will restrict ourselves later on
  • Comments about food and physical activity are a norm
  • Unsolicited comments about weight can rule the conversation 

People often feel like they have permission to shout out their opinions about body weight and food during the holidays. 

This can intensify food guilt. It can be helpful to have coping strategies in place for managing any stress that comes with the discussion of body weight and food. 

These body positive journal prompts can be an excellent strategy to help manage holiday food guilt and potential body-shaming comments. 

infographic on how to make food with pink flower

How To Stop Feeling Bad After eating Something Unhealthy

From the day we are born, we get messages about how our bodies should look and what foods are okay to eat.  

To stop feeling guilty about eating something “unhealthy,” follow these steps:

  1. Acknowledge that the shame you feel around food does not belong to you. It was passed down to you from generations of diet culture.
  2. Write down the food rules that are coming up in your head. This helps to make them concrete so you are able to choose to accept or reject them. For example a food rule might be “If I eat chips I will get fat.”
  3. Thank your body and mind for trying to protect your from the harmful messages of diet culture
  4. Practice food neutrality (no food is superior to another).

Food guilt comes from: 

  • Messages in the media
  • Influence of friends and family
  • Educational systems focused on calories or macronutrients
  • Our thin-obsessed society 
  • Our healthcare system

Food guilt does not come from Food. It comes from culture.

We live in a culture where thin privilege is rampant and oppressive. This can make it difficult for anyone to eat food without guilt.

Because how you feel about the way your body looks can directly influence your relationship with food, you must also learn to respect our body and develop body trust before food guilt is likely to go away. 

Make Peace With Food

In order to release food guilt, let go of ideas of  what you “should” and “should not eat.”Refrain from creating food rules that will compromise your relationship with food.

Steps to make peace with food include: 

  1. Eat at regular meal intervals (no more than 4 hours apart between meals/snacks)
  2. Recognize any food rules and dismiss them
  3. Utilize the skills of intuitive eating
  4. Honor more than one type of hunger 
  5. Practice body neutrality 
  6. Eat a variety of food 
  7. Practice food neutrality

Remember you are not alone on your journey to making peace with food. Check out this list of eating disorder recovery books and additional resources to learn about others’ journeys to making peace with food. 

Having a list of positive affirmations and quotes is also helpful to make peace with food.

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What is Food Guilt?

Food guilt is when you experience strong negative emotions after eating certain foods or for some, after eating any food at all. 

Why Do I Feel Guilty After Eating?

Messages in the media, influence of friends and family, educational systems focused on calories or macronutrients, our thin obsessed society, the healthcare system

Is Food Guilt and Guilt Eating The Same Thing?

No. Food guilt is often a response to how we feel about what we have eaten and stems from diet culture. Guilt eating is often a stress coping response.

How Can I Make Peace With Food?

Eat at regular meal intervals (no more than 4 hours apart between meals/snacks), Recognize any food rules and dismiss them
Utilize the skills of intuitive eating, Honor more than one type of hunger, Practice body neutrality, Eat a variety of food 
Practice food neutrality

Shena Jaramillo. Registered Dietitian

Hi I'm Shena. I'm an eating disorders dietitian in Washington state. I hold bachelors degrees nutrition & dietetics, cultural anthropology & psychology. I believe in honoring your hunger, having your cake whenever you want it, and that critically analyzing diet culture can change the world!