Weighing In: Food Guilt

Photo by Alexis Desrosiers

We all can admit to a time where we overate. Whether we were stressed, unhappy, bored, or enjoying a family party, over eating occurs and everyone does it from time to time. The trouble with overeating is the food guilt that many find afterwards. That’s why it’s important to remember that food is just food — it’s used for nourishment and to give our bodies the energy it needs to function each and every day.

As kids, we snacked within reason, our parents cooked most of our meals, and our brain cues told us when we were naturally full. Now that we’re responsible for making our own meals and feeding ourselves, we choose what we eat, when we eat, how much we eat, and when to stop. It might not seem like it, but this is a big burden. It is no wonder that we find it hard to control ourselves around delicious and tempting food.

Once we label food as “good” or “bad” is when the guilt can kick in. We reward ourselves when we stay away from the “bad” foods, but we punish ourselves with negative thoughts when we give in to our cravings. The all-or-nothing mentality kicks in, and we may find ourselves eating more of the “bad” food than we should.

Valley talked to Health Psychology professor Stephen J. Wilson, Ph.D., to get his opinion on food guilt. We asked if he believes food guilt could be considered an eating disorder, and he says, “I do not think that experiencing guilt after eating would be considered a psychiatric disorder in and of itself.” However, Wilson also says, “food guilt would probably be subsumed within another disorder that already exists, such as an anxiety disorder, depression, or, if it was associated with problematic eating behavior, something like Binge-Eating Disorder (BED) or Bulimia.” In fact, one of the symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder happens to be “feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterwards”, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. So while food guilt is not itself a disorder, it could be a symptom of another disorder and should be approached with caution.

How you handle the after effects of eating does not need to be horrible. You have the power to stop the food guilt from occurring. Instead of beating yourself up about the calories you consumed, try to erase the idea that you messed up in the first place. Sure, you ate a few slices of pizza. Big deal! Were you hungry and did it taste good? That’s all that matters.

What you choose to eat or not to eat does not reflect who you are — food does not define your value or worth. Honor your hunger cues, but don’t ignore all of your cravings. Enjoy them!

After all, it’s only food.