Do you suffer from “food guilt”?
Does eating too much or the wrong foods create feelings of guilt?
You are absolutely not alone in this, my friend. In fact, if you are female and born within the last century and you do not have feelings of food guilt, you are likely in the minority.
More of a societal issue than that of the individual, women (predominantly, but not exclusively) of all ages have been taught to feel bad about eating. We have been programmed to believe that indulging in certain ways with food is wrong. We are shamed for over-eating, under-eating, eating sugar, chocolate, alcohol, caffeine; for being seen at a drive-thru, with an ice cream cone, or with our hand in the chip bag. Society has created a guilt virus, multiplied from one woman to the next, mother to child, sister-to-sister, friend-to-friend, stranger-to-stranger. We pass it amongst us, unknowingly, referring to our food guilt as though it is normal, something we all have in common, and learn to live with.
This is a problem.
In so very many ways.
Guilt is Health Depleting
Guilt is a burden. It weighs us down, literally and figuratively, tugging at our spirit and soul, telling us, time and time again, that we are not good enough the way we already are. Oftentimes, food guilt in itself, creates patterns of over-eating, binge-eating and chronic dieting, contributing to excess weight gain.
Guilt breeds negativity. The minute feelings of guilt begin to take hold, a webbing is formed between our psychological associations of feeling badly, with our physical being. Think about the body language of a dog when he is caught with his face, eyeballs deep, in still-hot pies on the kitchen table. His head sinks, his tailbone tucks under, his knees buckle, and his eyes lower. Guilt creates a folding of ones stature; an inward shrinking of positivity. This affects all other functions of the body and all other areas of our lives.
Guilt leads to self-sabotaging. We call it “negative self-talk”. You tell yourself you’re not good enough; that you should feel ashamed about the amount of food you ate today; that you are ugly, fat and giggly; that no one will ever love you. This way of speaking to yourself can lead to other ways of self-punishment: alcoholism, withdrawal, binge eating, drug use, and other self-destructive behaviours.
Guilt creates stress. Feelings of distress or unease creates a stress response within the body, shifting our nervous system into sympathetic dominance (our fight or flight reactivity mode). Although the sympathetic nervous system has its uses (running from a bear, pulling a child off the highway), it is not beneficial for the body to be operating in a low-level stress response for long periods. In fact, it is detrimental. We do not function well in this mode, creating negative effects on our brain function, metabolism, sleep cycle, and emotional being.
Guilt affects those around you. When we are burdened with guilt, we are often not functioning as our best selves. We may make outward comments about ourselves that are hurtful: “do you like my giggly belly?”, “check out my love handles”, “have you seen the size of my butt lately?”. These outward projections are not helpful or useful to you or those around you. You may indeed influence those listening to you, causing them to assess their bodies in the same manor. This is particularly noticeable in Mothers and their daughters.
What if we were to transform these feelings of food guilt into motivations of self-love? What if every moment of guilt was spent appreciating who you are now, your body, your mind, your spirit?
How to Turn Food Guilt into Power
- Acknowledge That the Guilt is Not About Food. Guilt cannot be created by food. Guilt is a feeling created by you, societally influenced; a learned reaction created by all other influences and experiences stacked up throughout your life. So, what then is this guilt? Where does it come from? Are there other areas in your life, your past, your beliefs, your relationships, that are contributing to the habitual surfacing of food related guilt? Acknowledging that food guilt has little or nothing to do with food is the first step in the direction of healing. Be curious, ask yourself where your guilt is stemming from and how you can dig a little deeper in order to recreate your patterns.
- Remind Yourself of Your Strengths. Counter-acting feelings of negativity with those of positivity may help to reinstate balance within the self. What are you good at? What do you love about yourself? What are you proud of? Start a journal. Create some headings that influence positive self-talk: I am proud of myself because, 3 things I love about myself are, what makes me feel happy is, I feel strong when….
- Ask Yourself if This is How You Would Treat Someone Else. There is a self-love practice where one woman sits across from her best friend and speaks out loud all the hurtful things she says to herself, to her friend. It is incredibly effective because it allows the negative self-talker to be witness to how hurtful and sabotaging the words are. If you would not speak the words aloud to your best friend, why would you speak them to yourself?
- Unleash Your Power. Once you have identified and acknowledged your strengths, practice them. Refer back to your journal and pick one strength and force it out. If you love that you are a supportive friend, reach out to someone who could use support right now. If you’ve identified that you are a great cook, host a dinner party. If your strength is dancing, dance. Force yourself into your power and thus, into passion. When we exercise those places of strength, we automatically nurture a positive feeling within.
- Practice Self-Love Every Day. What the heck does this mean? The words “self-love” are thrown around these days like confetti, as though we are all supposed to know what this means and if we’re not practicing it, we are not looking after ourselves. Listen, I’m not talking about soaking in an Epsom salts and lavender bath for 2 hours with a romance novel and a bucket of bonbons here. What I’m referring to is just a little time, every day, when you are focused on nurturing your self. What this looks like is different for everyone. Perhaps you prioritize sleep and turn in a half hour early; maybe you take your dog for a walk; meditate; go to yoga; sweat it up at the gym, and so on. Every day, just a few moments, that’s all.