Food guilt is something very common, in fact, we’ve probably all felt it at one point or another. We tell ourselves that we shouldn’t be eating this or that because it’s not healthy, and then when we do we feel ashamed. This can result in an endless cycle of overeating foods you love and then restricting yourself again, which can affect you physically and mentally. Whether it’s overeating, eating junk foods or sweets, or even having a healthy meal that is not quite as nutritious as others - it happens. That doesn’t mean that you have to give up and forget about all the progress you’ve made! Letting food and food rules control your life can be really harmful to you, and if you struggle with body image or if you’re trying to attain certain fitness goals like weight loss it could even develop into an eating disorder.
With the holiday season upon us this feeling of food guilt is probably at an all-time high for a lot of people! If you’re struggling with food guilt because of the holidays, or if this is something you struggle with all the time, we want to help you shake that feeling of guilt away and give you tips on how to get back on track in a healthy and safe manner. That way you can overcome food guilt and fight through it so that you can land on your feet next time like a champ!
What is food guilt?
It's a negative emotion you feel that is related to a decision or behavior around food. To understand food guilt better, picture this: You started a new healthy diet and you’re on a roll. A bowl full of fruits and oatmeal in the morning, a tasty avocado and chicken wrap for lunch… But for dinner, you choose to order a cheeseburger since you’re craving it. You start taking bites, and perhaps while you’re eating it or right after you’re finished you start feeling really bad for eating that instead of a nice plate of steamed veggies. You feel guilty because you chose fast food over a healthy meal. That’s food guilt, and this feeling often happens because we tend to categorize foods as either good or bad and try to absolutely stay away from those bad foods. And while some foods often do contain lots of calories, extra carbs, added sugars, and other stuff that your body is better off without, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t eat them ever again. Indulging yourself is actually very important in order to lead a healthy lifestyle, and restraining yourself from eating foods and snacks that you love once in a while just because they’re not 100% healthy is actually harmful and could end up discouraging you from eating healthy food in the first place.
Of course, these feelings of guilt usually come from a good place. You just want to stay on track and make good and healthy food choices, and if you struggle to live up to your expectations, you end up shaming yourself and spiraling out of control. But we’re here to help you reframe that mindset so you can develop a positive relationship with food.
How to overcome it and develop a positive relationship with food
The main thing that you need to do is make peace with yourself - we’re all humans after all! No one makes the healthiest choices all the time, so you should give yourself a break when you find yourself choosing the less healthy option. As we previously mentioned, indulging yourself is important too, as long as you do it in moderation, and balancing nutritious food with your favorite sweets and snacks is the best way to go in order to develop a positive relationship with food. So don’t force yourself to follow a specific diet, but instead try to eat the foods that you want to eat while keeping a good balance of nutrients on your plate, and treat yourself when you feel like it!
Forgiving yourself for eating a piece of chocolate cake or a cupcake and understanding that it doesn’t mean that you’ve made a mistake and that you’ve lost all your progress will help you move on quicker and get back on track. And remember that craving something, like a sweet snack, doesn’t mean that you need to go through the less healthy route to tackle that craving. In our blog about how to deal with food cravings, we give you some tips for clever swaps! Like blending frozen fruits with plant-based milk instead of eating regular ice-cream, or grabbing a homemade trail mix instead of a bag of chips. Having healthy, delicious food options like these can help you create a better relationship with food by showing you that healthy food can be good. This will help you choose better options before going the unhealthy route, but in case you do go that route and end up binging on your favorite foods, here’s what you can do after to help you get back on track...
Ways to get back on track
We’ve already talked about why forgiving yourself is the first and most important step in this process. Changing your mindset and keeping away the negative thoughts about yourself will get you very far, but that’s only the beginning. You can’t do anything about what you just ate, but you can decide what to do afterward in order to help your body and mind to reset, so here are a few ways to get back on track:
Water is going to be your best friend after overeating! It is the best way to flush toxins out of your system, so when you eat junk food or a lot of sweets and are left feeling bloated, water will help you digest everything in order to feel better sooner. Additionally, staying hydrated will boost your energy, helping you in the process of getting back on track faster and more determined.
As an extra tip, consider drinking apple cider vinegar (1-2 tablespoons) mixed with warm water and a touch of sea salt. Warm water is easier on digestion and ACV will help regulate insulin levels, and the touch of salt will help replenish electrolytes. ACV is an acquired taste, so another way to ease digestion is by drinking warm tea. Try turmeric, ginger, or peppermint, these teas are known to help relax digestion and ease nausea.
Beware of spiraling
This is an important one. After you’ve slipped up and eaten half a bag of chips, what do you do now? You may feel bad for doing that, but it doesn’t mean that the damage is done and that you should just keep snacking for the rest of the day, week, or month. A healthy body isn’t built in a day, so why would your progress be undone in one? Going off track often results in a loss of motivation, but don’t let it get into your head, think of it as a break and take the time to stop and appreciate all the effort you’ve put in and the progress you’ve made so far - and take action afterward! Which takes us to the next point…
Act and react
Ate some donuts instead of having a healthy breakfast? Make sure that you get plenty of nutrients and water for the rest of the day. Ordered pizza for dinner? Don’t save the leftovers, but instead give them to someone else and have a light breakfast the next day. Reacting after acting is key, because if you wait longer to do something about it then you’re allowing yourself to get off track, and it will get harder for you to go back to your routine. Taking action doesn’t always mean eating something healthy afterward - it could be anything! Taking a nap to restore your energy, going out on a walk to breathe some fresh air, waking up early the next day to workout… It’s your choice! Just try to take that positive step and your body and mind will feel better in no time, plus reacting in a positive manner will push you to continue making better decisions after your slip up!
Don’t skip meals
Oftentimes, especially after a food binge, people skip meals to compensate for all the food they’ve eaten… But that’s the last thing you want to do! Your body needs those nutrients to stay on track, even after a bit of snacking. Don’t punish yourself by skipping meals, it can start a harmful cycle of undereating nutritious foods and overeating down the line since your body will be hungry for nutrients. So if you’re hungry later on after a slip up or wake up hungry the next morning, eat a nutritious meal or snack.
What exactly should you eat? We can’t tell you exactly what you should eat after a slip-up, but we suggest eating a meal with a good balance of protein and carbs (think vegetables) to fill your body up with the nutrients it’s craving. Try to choose foods that are rich in vitamin D, B, and C, like leafy greens, mushrooms, meat, eggs, and more. These vitamins aid in detoxification and restore blood sugar stasis. And finish your meal with the best healthy dessert… Berries! Blueberries, acai berries, raspberries, strawberries, are packed with antioxidants that help restore a compromised immune system, and they’ll help satisfy sweet cravings you might have after overindulging.
Practice intuitive and mindful eating
While mindful eating is all about truly experiencing and enjoying your food without distractions, intuitive eating is about eating when you feel hungry, stopping when you feel full, and listening to your body's cues in general. For a long time, we’ve been led to believe that dieting is the best thing out there, but diet culture can be harmful if approached incorrectly. We already talked about how restricting yourself to certain foods and limiting your diet is not good for you, instead, practice intuitive eating and make peace with food. It’s not your enemy, so why treat it like one? Pair that up with mindful eating to actually start enjoying and looking forward to your next meal!
So there you have it! Follow these simple tips and you’ll be back on track in no time, just remember to be kind to yourself and to put your health and wellness first. Healthy eating doesn’t mean strictly following inflexible meal plans and food rules, but instead developing balanced eating habits that involve healthy food choices and guilt-free snacks so that you can live your best life while enjoying all kinds of foods!