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"If you're experiencing high levels of food guilt when you eat out/eat less-nutrient dense foods, it's a sign that your weight loss journey is moving in an unhealthy direction. Food guilt is not normal."
- Elaine Acheampong of @ilaineyflex
Food guilt is so familiar among us that it's practically accepted as the 'normal standard' - especially since weight loss and 'healthy living' being popular (and controversial) topics for many decades. We receive messages that provoke this from social media "beauty standards'', marketing tactics, our childhood and our perception of food.
Experiencing food guilt when actively working to lose weight or stay 'healthy' is not beneficial or effective in achieving your desired goal. You're essentially blackmailing yourself by giving out a helping of shame when (or after) you consume food to ensure your survival and all for the sake of "looking good for the 'gram" - does that sound fair to you?
This game of going back and forth of restrictive eating & binging with sprinkles of self-induced embarrassment undoubtedly places a strain on your mental and emotional well-being and can invite the onset, or trigger, an eating disorder.
Let's look into why food guilt is a red flag to your overall well-being, as well as 6 ways to break the connection between feeling regretful and consuming food.
When Eating Healthy becomes Unhealthy:
Just because you're reaching your daily macronutrients, on a slight calorie deficit and exercising five days a week doesn't mean that you are living your happiest and healthiest life.
In a society that places so much pressure on how we 'should' look, dress and live, it seems unnatural to 'eat and be merry!' and be genuinely grateful to be alive.
However, it is exciting to live in a time focused on each of us eating well and being holistically balanced but the line between health-conscious and health-obsessed is very slim.
Orthorexia Nervosa, coined in 1998, is described as "an obsession with proper or healthful eating". A person with this eating disorder can reject whole food groups (all carbs, all fats, all meats, etc.) and can lead to the rejection of all meals they do not deem to be "pure".¹
This is only a brief description of the disorder. Orthorexia isn't yet formally recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Please consult a medical professional if your food guilt affects your quality of life.
There is a deep and dark shadow to food guilt. For this reason, I believe it needs to be managed more seriously.
"It is suggested that dietary restriction increases the desire for forbidden foods, in the form of cravings, and may induce negative effects such as guilt, anxiety and depression."²
The results of this study concluded that simply having restrictions on one's diet generated an increase in cravings plus unfavourable effects on mental health.
Remember when your teacher or parent told you not to eat or do something? Them telling you not to only made you want to do it even more!
In a previous post, we covered how having a toxic relationship with food can affect your weight loss results. Check it out when you're finished with this post to gain a deeper understanding of how significant your perception of food is.
How to break the cycle of food guilt:
Please remember as you practice these actions below that you should treat yourself with utmost kindness and compassion to successfully change this habit. That is what food guilt and shame are- a learned habit that doesn't affect our worth or value as the beautiful and magically complex individuals we are.
1. Accept it and be aware of the Feeling:
When you notice the emotion arise, accept its arrival and do not try to suppress it. With gentle curiosity, gain an understanding by asking why the guilt has come about. Is it the item of food (something labelled "bad" in your mind), are you eating out of boredom or stress, or maybe you felt pressured by peers or family?
2. Question your triggers
Once you notice what spurs the guilt, pause and ask yourself what can you do to change the cycle. For example:
If you notice you eat when you are bored, then get active or take a break from what you're doing.
If you're eating a food labelled "sinful" in your mind, then question what is so bad about it and can you change your belief.
3 Let go of the labels:
There are NO foods that are "bad" for you unless you are allergic to that item. Also, why shame the food item for purely existing? It's not the food's fault for being "bad". However, it is your responsibility to how you consume the food (i.e. in moderation).
4. Eat Mindfully
It's common practice to eat on the go, at your desk or in front of the tv, but by practising mindful eating, you'll pause and give your attention to your tastebuds, the food consumed and how you feel as you eat.
5. Savor that chocolate!
Allow yourself to indulge in the pleasure when eating. Create a safe space for yourself to consume the delicious food and appreciate the experience for what it is. One slice of cake or a bowl of ice cream will not completely derail your weight loss progress, so please, enjoy it without the guilt, even if for a few minutes.
6. Mind your Self Talk
How we talk to ourselves has a huge impact on everything; from our self-esteem and success in life, to how and what we eat.
Be kind to yourself, always. As you bravely take responsibility to release food guilt, talk to yourself as you would to someone you dearly cared for if they were doing this and have the same level of encouragement and patience.
Do you want guidance to have a happy and healthy relationship with food AND see progress with your weight loss journey? Book a CONSULTATION CALL below and receive your personalized action plan today.
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Written by: Andrea Thelen of AuthenticAndrea44
8th July 2022
¹ NEDA. (2019, December 13). Orthorexia. National Eating Disorders Association. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/other/orthorexia
² Fletcher, B. (C., Pine, K. J., Woodbridge, Z., & Nash, A. (2006, October 19). How visual images of chocolate affect the craving and guilt of female dieters. Appetite. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0195666306005988
³ Kuijer, R. G., & Boyce, J. A. (2013, November 23). Chocolate cake. guilt or celebration? associations with healthy eating attitudes, perceived behavioural control, intentions and weight-loss. Appetite. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0195666313004698
DISCLAIMER: All blog posts are for educational and entertainment purposes only. Any advice or recommendations given in these posts does not supersede directions received by a licensed medical professional (i.e. doctor, psychiatrist, nurse, psychologist, etc), nutritionist, dietician or your personal trainer. The reader is responsible for their own health and well-being.