Is Food Guilt Causing You To Over-Eat?

Have you ever thought any of the following after eating a slightly more indulgent meal or a less "healthy" food:

"I've been so BAD now, so I might as well keep eating more of this BAD stuff"

"I've ruined it now, so there no point in even trying anymore"

"I can just eat more of this now I've started and then I can be GOOD again from tomorrow"

"Now I've blown it - who cares, I should just keep going"

Often the GUILT that comes up after eating something is what drives over-eating. If you beat yourself up for eating something "bad", you are much more likely to then convince yourself that you might as well keep going and eat more of this "bad" food or other "bad" foods. It seems counterproductive but I have seen clients talk me through this pattern time and time again. What causes it is our brains' tendency to engage in very black-or-white or all-or-nothing thinking. Basically, we often tell ourselves that we are either being "really good" or being "really bad" and there is no in-between. This then means that if we have one "bad" thing, we feel as though we are no longer in being "really good" mode and give ourselves permission to be "really bad" instead. Another reason that guilt often triggers over-eating is that when we feel low and bad about ourselves often we want to turn to food (and in particular fatty and sugary foods) to make us feel better. So feeling guilty about your less healthy food choices may be actually leading to more unhealthy food choices.

Of course in addition to this, when you feel guilty about eating something, it often means that you aren't enjoying or savouring what you are eating either. Our emotional state when we eat a food can have a significant effect on our body's response to that food. So if we eat a food in a stressed and anxious state, we are much more likely to have a greater blood sugar response and not digest the food as effectively as if we were eating the food in a relaxed state. So the guilt you feel when you eat something may be affecting your food choices for the rest of that day/week but also the effect that the food you eat has on your body too.

If you are someone that finds you feel guilty after eating certain foods, here are some things you can do about this:

  1. Try not to ban any foods completely (unless you have an allergy to them or you are eliminating them for medical or ethical reasons) - when you are banning lots of foods, this tends to really reinforce that all-or-nothing mindset and can keep you stuck in the cycle of banning food, slipping up and eating them, but then feeling guilty for doing so and over-eating as a result. You don't need to eat cake every day of course, but try not to tell yourself that you will "never have it again" (as this can just lead you to crave it more too).

  2. Be kinder to yourself. If your friend or loved-one ate a piece of cake on a day they had told you that they weren't planning to have any sweet foods - you wouldn't start yelling at them that they were a "failure" and that "they should give up even trying to be healthy". So why do you use this language to talk to yourself? Being kind to yourself can really transform your relationship with food. There is a lot of research that shows that being kind, compassionate and yet motivational when speaking to yourself can have very positive outcomes for people in terms of losing weight/sustaining weight that they have lost as well as in other