When I started my binge eating/bulimia recovery I would feel guilty when I ate certain foods, eating bread was one of the hardest things I had to do. In the deep, dark depths of my eating disorder, I would starve myself for a week and then eat a loaf of bread or entire pizza to myself (I would hide the evidence after). I had very strict rules about what I could and couldn’t eat, which would 99% of the time result in some sort of binge/purge cycle. Guilt basically ran my eating disorder. I did so many diets and obsessed about weight loss so often that I had a very strong list of “good” and “bad” foods built up in my head. Whether you suffer from an eating disorder or just can’t stick to that new diet, this article will help you!
Do you have certain foods you feel guilty about eating? Do you think, “I feel guilty when I eat ______”
Have you been stuck in a diet cycle where you deprive yourself, cheat, binge and then feel awful about yourself?
Do you have a list of forbidden foods you tell yourself not to eat? And then just end up binging on them anyways?
Do you feel so much guilt when you eat these “bad” foods, that in a state of self-loathing, you give up all hope and eat everything and anything you can put in your mouth?
Do you feel lost and have no idea how to eat like a normal person?
I understand all of these concerns and fears. It was really scary for me to let go of trying to control the foods I ate through dieting. I thought that diets helped me be more in control, but I was secretly out of control on these diets and stuck in a dark and very unhealthy cycle of gaining and losing the same 20, 30 or even 60 pounds. Guilt ran how I ate and I was miserable.
“I feel guilty when I eat” doesn’t have to be your relationship to food. If I can learn to let go of dieting and food guilt, you can too. Below are a list of steps to start finding more food freedom and less suffering around food.
How to Stop Feeling Guilty When You Eat
STEP ONE: Let Go of Dieting and Food Rules
“I’m a failure because I can’t stick to this diet”
“I have no self control or will power”
“I’ll never lose weight and keep gaining it back again and again”
This is one of the hardest steps to take (that’s why it’s the first one). This step will take practice. I had quite a few bumps in the beginning. The first time I let go of my “good foods vs bad foods” mindset, I didn’t fully succeed. I didn’t understand how to eat like a normal person or what a healthy normal day of eating looked like. It was so scary! Eventually, I went back to dieting, it was all I knew and I was terrified of gaining weight. (Funny enough, by the end of those 2 years back on diets, I lost 30 pounds two times and gained back 40 pounds).
When I finally let go of dieting and food rules it was because I had a general and open food guide to follow and helpful tools. I’ve never felt more in control of my body than I do now and I no longer feel guilt or out of control around food. You can sign up below to get my FREE Guide on How to Eat Like a Normal Person which explains the basics of eating normally. Also, if you’d like to learn more about why diets don’t work, click here.
*TIP* – A big reason why diets don’t work is because we focus on taking things away from our diet or depriving ourselves of foods we really enjoy. Instead of focusing on staying away from certain foods, change your focus to adding in nourishing, healthy foods. What are healthful foods you can add to your meals or snacks?
STEP TWO: Acceptance & Body Love
Initially, I put this step last, but I think it’s really important to remember, that if we are busy obsessing about, or hating our bodies, it stunts our success in creating that healthy body we so badly want. If you feel stressed or annoyed by me telling you to love yourself and your body, that’s natural. I always thought it would be impossible to love my body… but with practice it becomes easier everyday.
To start this process you need to accept where you and your body are right now in life. (This ties into step four). Accept the present moment you’re in and let go of the past. Don’t beat yourself up, there’s nothing you can do now to change what has happened before – any weight gain or recent binges. Your body is perfect the way it is and you were meant to be here, facing this challenge in your life at this very moment.
*TIP* – If you’re having trouble with body love, practice simple self care steps such as eating foods that make you feel good or exercising in ways you enjoy rather than with discontent for your body. One of my favourite self care activities is to have a bubble bath with a book and my phone turned off.
STEP THREE: Drop the ALL OR NOTHING Mentality
This has been a huge factor in the success of me dropping food guilt. One day, I asked my friend when the ‘blips’ or ‘bumps’ in trying to do things (like eat normal) would stop happening. He told me that bumps and stress never stop in life and we just learn to live above our demons. If you’re a bit of a perfectionist like me, this tool is extremely helpful.
If you have a binge or overeat, treat it as an isolated incident. It doesn’t mean you have to start all over again, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it just means you hit a bump in the road. It’s easy to fall back into old habits (I have time and time again). But because I learned to have compassion for myself, I’ve been able to move forward in all areas of life, find peace with food and drop my ‘all or nothing’ mentality. Practice compassion and forgiveness.
*TIP* – You can use a bump in the road as a learning opportunity. Were you in a restrictive mindset and your body was fighting against you? What can you learn from this experience? Was it simply you enjoying yourself like ‘normal eaters’ do, but you’re being too hard on yourself?
STEP FOUR: Release the Past and Judgement
Don’t dwell on the time wasted gaining and losing weight for years. I spent 20 years of my life disliking my body and suffering from an eating disorder, but dwelling on that doesn’t help me. Focus on moving forward and making long term changes. Short term satisfaction comes from losing 5 pounds in a week, but long term happiness comes from a daily practice of nourishing your body with foods that are healthful and palatable (ones you enjoy!).
You’re not bad, wrong, unlovable or unworthy because you couldn’t stay on an impossible diet. Your body is designed to send you extremely strong signals to eat when it’s being deprived. This is a survival mode that our amazing bodies have produced from the days when food wasn’t as readily available. You need to know, that eating a cupcake is okay and doesn’t mean anything about you. You’re not broken and you don’t lack will power, in fact, you’re wonderful… just the way you are.
STEP FIVE: Believe It’s Possible and In Yourself
You don’t have to fully believe that you’re going to let go of years of chronic dieting, binge eating or food guilt right away. But you do have to believe it’s possible. You must have hope that there is something more out there in the world outside of carb-free and low fat diets.
You also have to foster belief in yourself! You’re WAY stronger than you give yourself credit for. If you’re reading this article, it’s most likely because you’re a determined, passionate and powerful person. It takes a special kind of person and a lot of will power to keep going on diets that your body is constantly fighting against. Give yourself some credit, you can do this!
STEP SIX: Stop Thinking About Food & Enjoy Life
When you read my Guide on How to Eat Like a Normal Person, you will see that one of my tools is to write down my meal plan and schedule every night (for the next day). This leaves a lot of brain space for me, to not have to focus on food all the time. I used to spend ALL DAY and ALL NIGHT obsessing about what I should or shouldn’t be eating. It took a lot of energy and joy out of my daily life.
So I encourage you to spend less time thinking about food and more time enjoying life. Experience activities that don’t revolve around food, try new things and get outdoors. The great thing about eating like a normal person, is that it keeps you satiated and takes away those thoughts and cravings related to food. Without all those food thoughts taking over your brain, you have more time and energy to spend with friends or family doing the things you enjoy!
STEP SEVEN: Remember This is a Journey
A few years ago I took a yoga program and during it I started meditating. I followed the program very closely and it shifted my life drastically. But when the program was over, I stopped meditating and journaling because I thought I was fixed. Firstly, I was never broken and didn’t need to be fixed. Secondly, I now know life is a practice and takes work (similar to yoga).
Although I was happier on a daily basis due to the shifts I made with my way of thinking through meditation, yoga and journaling… challenges in my life still continued to appear. I kept going to yoga but I had dropped the other two tools that helped me find more peace in my life. I soon found myself back in my same old ways of thinking, weight gain, self-destructive habits and unhappiness that I had in my life before I started.
It took this hard and painful lesson for me to truly understand that life is a journey. Practice forgiveness and be compassionate with yourself. When the challenges come up (and they will) get out your tools that help you move through them. When you get off track of your path or take a few steps back, don’t beat yourself up. Remember life is a journey and we have the tools to get back on track, we just have to choose it.