Food and guilt, two concepts we often conflate when we shouldn’t. How does this happen? and how can we change our perception of food so that guilt never comes into the equation again?
The truth is food is food – it is not innately good or bad. Whether or not someone has an eating disorder has nothing to do with the food itself and everything to do with the person’s perception of the food. Eating disorders are not food disorders they are mental disorders that impact the way we perceive food.
More than just people with eating disorders experience food guilt though. It’s the common problem of feeling bad for the simple and necessary act of eating. So, why does this happen? Here’s my take: our thin-centric, body obsessive, over advertised, and hyper aware culture has pounded the idea into all of us that some foods are “bad” while some are “good.” This categorization is based off of someone else’s interpretation of nutritional science and it is how the diet industry continues to thrive. Some nutritionists say eating mostly fat is best, some say the key is to cut out all carbs, some say cooked food is wrong, some say juice is the only right thing. There are so many diets and opinions out there they can’t all be right. Maybe none of them are. Maybe the truth is, “health” means something different for everyone and food is just food, whatever and however you want to eat it is just fine. But the more society and culture dictate that some foods are bad while others are good all of us are left scrambling to figure out how to navigate eating amongst the messages.
Often we tell ourselves we can’t have a certain food because of ~reasons~ so gosh darnit our mammalian brain NEEDS it like a toddler who was told they can’t have something. When you deprive yourself of something your body begins to crave it more, which means that once you eventually eat the damn “bad” food you react with feelings of guilt due to your “lack of self control”.
So, food guilt. How do you stop it?
The first step, like with any problem is to acknowledge it and recognize it as silly and unimportant. There are better things that can be taking up space in your brain. Just recognizing the phenomenon can be enough to take away its power.
The second step is to honor your hunger. Eat when your body tells you too and more importantly eat what you are craving honestly.
Finally, remove your judgement from your cravings. If your body wants a cookie then give it a cookie. There is nothing wrong with it, and eating it will not hurt you.
Once you finally begin to eat what you want without feelings of guilt or shame you will find that you won’t crave them overwhelmingly. When you do, you will feel free to eat them without the shame or guilt! It takes practice but it can be done.