Why Do I Feel Guilty After Eating? 5 Steps to Stop
You just finished a warm, fudgey, delicious brownie.
You should feel content and satisfied… but you don’t. Because (right on schedule) those all too familiar feelings creep in: overwhelming guilt. Regret. Shame. You wish you didn’t eat that. You wish you’d stopped at one bite. You’re going to have to start over tomorrow again.
Feeling guilty about eating is common, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. And it also doesn’t mean it’s a feeling you have to live with forever.
In this article, we’re talking all about food guilt. Why you feel guilty after eating, why it’s standing in the way of your health goals, and 5 clear steps to stop.
And hey, I’m Miranda–a registered dietitian with a passion for helping women transform their health without sacrificing their relationship with food. If you want realistic advice and meal ideas to make healthy eating enjoyable–learn more or try an easy recipe.
What is food guilt?
Food guilt is a feeling of regret or remorse after eating.
It’s a sense like you did something wrong for eating a certain food or a certain amount of food. And often, food guilt is associated with feeling like something is wrong with you for making a certain eating decision. It’s usually accompanied by intense shame too.
Food guilt is different for everyone, but it might sound like:
- I wish I didn’t eat that cookie.
- Ugh, I wish I didn’t eat that many fries.
- I’m so bad for giving into my cravings for candy.
Why feeling guilty after eating isn’t helping you
If you’ve ever felt guilty for eating, you know it’s not fun. It has the potential to seriously damage your mental health and sense of self worth, but the dangers of food guilt don’t stop there.
Food guilt is incredibly unproductive too, because it prevents you from doing the reflection you need to actually make progress.
When you’re overwhelmed with regret, you’re not getting curious about why your food choices aren’t aligning with your intentions. And you’re definitely not learning how to be more consistent with food.
Whether it’s mindset, habits or mindfulness standing in your way, you can’t overcome food guilt without first understanding it.
Why you feel guilty after eating
Here’s the secret you might not know about food guilt:
You’re not feeling guilty after you eat because you’re bad or the food is bad, or whatever other hurtful thing you’re telling yourself. You’re feeling guilty about food because of diet culture and what you think it means to be healthy and ‘good’.
Here are some common reasons you might feel guilty after eating:
Unhelpful food rules. You know how you tell yourself you can’t have bread twice in a day or you’re failing if you eat past 8 pm? That’s not true! These food rules aren’t actually serving your body (or mindset) and they can worsen food guilt and shame.
Not eating enough. Small meals or skipped snacks are a recipe for feeling HANGRY and making food choices that don’t align with how you want to be eating.
Perfectionism. If you break a food rule (oops, I ate sugar before noon) it can make you feel like you failed (oops, I’m a horrible person for eating that).
Mindlessness. When your mind is elsewhere while you’re eating, it’s easy to blow past cues of fullness and satisfaction, and end your meal feeling overly full and bursting with regret.
Food choices out of alignment. More often than not, food guilt happens when your eating habits and food choices aren’t aligned with how you want to eat.
5 Steps to Stop Food Guilt
1) Honour your hunger
The most impactful thing you can do to overcome food guilt is to eat when you need to.
When you ignore hunger or skip meals, you’re more likely to eat with urgency. This can make you less likely to be mindful, and it might lead you to eat more than you intended by accident. And this can seriously make a gal feel guilty.
To avoid this, eat when you first notice hunger. Don’t talk yourself out of it or delay it because of when you think you ‘should’ eat next.
Tip: Pack balanced snacks for work or school so that you always have fuel ready when you need it.
2) Ditch the food rules
A healthy diet is a flexible diet.
So that means ditching the rigid food rules and learning to better adapt to your needs day-to-day. And it means learning to forgive yourself for the mishaps too.
Because here’s the thing: it’s normal for hunger to vary, it’s normal to eat fun foods sometimes, and it’s even normal to eat beyond comfortable fullness on occasion. When you can accept that healthy eating is imperfect, the guilt truly melts away.
Tip: Write down the food rules that are making you feel guilty and challenge them.
3) Press mute on unhelpful influencers
Comparison truly is the thief of joy; and, it’s a major driver of food guilt too.
If anyone you follow makes you feel bad about your food choices or journey with eating, it might be time for a serious social media overhaul.
Unfollow any influencers or friends making your food guilt or body image worse–or if you’re worried about hurting people’s feelings, don’t be afraid to hit mute!
Tip: Follow evidence-based dietitians and therapists who understand the importance of a healthy and flexible relationship with food.
4) Give yourself permission to let go of guilt
Sometimes, we just need the reminder that food guilt isn’t serving us, and the permission to finally let it go. In fact, it might actually be standing in the way of the health and happiness you’re striving for.
When you notice yourself feeling guilty after eating, acknowledge the thought and let it go. Remember: you always have the opportunity to nourish yourself better the next time you’re hungry.
Tip: Instead of feeling guilty about that bowl of chips, move to an activity that brings you joy like playing with your pet or watching your favorite comfort TV show.
5) Get curious, drop judgement
I’m going to be honest with you: everyone eats cake. Or chips. Or has a few too many cocktails on holiday.
Even the healthiest and most consistent people in the world make imperfect eating choices sometimes. Because we’re human! We are designed to crave and enjoy food, and real life will always stand in the way of perfection.
So next time your eating doesn’t go to plan, get curious instead of getting upset with yourself. When you feel guilty after eating, ask yourself: was that food choice out of alignment, and why? Is there something I can do differently next time to prevent it?
And then… move forward! When you’re focused on regret, it’s difficult to improve and grow.
Tip: Take a moment to identify patterns with your food guilt. Can you identify any common triggers (environment, people, emotions)?
If not food guilt… then what?
You can’t guilt your way into healthy eating habits. I hope by now we can all agree on that!
So what should you do if you want to improve your health with nutrition, but you’re done feeling guilty about everything you eat? Try these 3 impactful tips to eat healthier without obsession, guilt or shame:
- Eat more plants. One of the best things you can do for your health is eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts. Plant foods have fiber and beneficial phytochemicals that help you feel full and reduce your risk for many diseases! And the great news is, you don’t need to give up animal products to benefit from eating more plants.
- Try nutrition by addition. You don’t have to give up the foods you love to improve your diet. When you feel like eating something a little more fun like chips or chocolate, find ways to add nutrition by pairing them with a nutrient-dense food. Bonus points if that addition has some fiber, color or protein!
- Learn your best eating schedule. Your body loves routine–it can help improve digestion, keep your energy levels stable, and reduce cravings. Start by eating every 3-4 hours and experiment to find a (flexible) eating schedule that feels good to you.
If you are experiencing intense food guilt or struggling with your relationship with food, please consult your physician or call the NEDIC hotline. These feelings can be a sign of an eating disorder or disordered habits around food, and professional guidance can help!
Feeling guilty after eating is so common, but it doesn’t have to be your normal.
By following the 5 steps discussed in this article, you can overcome food guilt and feel good about your eating habits. You can finally make progress toward your health without overwhelm.
Just remember: change takes time. So take it slow, give yourself plenty of self compassion, and be flexible. Real health makes room for real life.
If you’re ready to transform your relationship with food and let go of food guilt forever, start with my free guide.