Why Do I Feel Guilty After Eating?

Hello everyone! The discussion on the table today is “Why do I feel guilty after eating?” This is an emotional topic, that may not be easy to open up about, but a majority of us have likely experienced it. Having conditions like prediabetes or metabolic syndrome may exaggerate that guilt and leave you feeling hopeless or regretful on your journey to better health.

Of course, it is good to have “guard rails,” or guidelines, that keep us on track most of the time. However, becoming obsessive and anxious about eating options tends to do more harm than good on our journey toward optimal health. Keep in mind, that feeling guilty after we eat is generally not helpful and often leads to overeating in the long run.

We hope that this article will help you see that you can improve your relationship with food while still enjoying an indulgence every now and then. Remember that eating foods that do not meet the standards you set for yourself does not mean that you are a failure. For most individuals, almost any food can be incorporated into an overall healthy diet.


How Guilt Can Start

At some point in your life, you may have felt that you were not healthy enough or didn’t look like you should, because of your weight. You may have even believed that you were less than, or not as valued, because of society’s emphasis on being thin. Thoughts of not being good enough, or the idea that you were not where you needed to be, may have motivated you to try restrictive diets.

Unfortunately, the media, big-name companies, and popular influencers often support restrictive diets and doing whatever it takes to lose weight. They usually do not take into account the potential physical, mental, emotional, and social consequences for individuals who take their messages to heart.

In response to this diet culture, it is common for people to restrict calories, often below levels that can supply adequate nutrition. They are also likely to adopt strict diet rules regarding what, when, and why they eat.

In addition, foods that were once really enjoyed may be labeled as “bad” and forbidden. Most people can stick to a strict plan for a while, but not its not likely for the long run.

Guilt and Restrictive Diets

Imagine you are restrictive dieting and you tell yourself, “No more burgers and fries, only salads!” Then, weeks and several salads later, you experience the biggest craving for a burger and fries that you ever had in your entire life. The thought of burgers and fries takes over your mind, so finally, you stop by a local restaurant and appease the craving.

After eating what you likely thought was the most beautiful burger and fry combo you have ever seen (absence makes the heart grow fonder you know), feelings of guilt emerge and plague your mind.

Restrictive diets usually encourage you to follow rules to a “T.” If you “mess up” at any point, by giving in to cravings or pressure, you think you failed. This notion of failure easily results in feelings of guilt and shame.

You thought that you finally had a bright future ahead with fitness, weight loss, and health. In a moment of weakness, you believe you’ve squandered it all. This may be why you feel guilty after eating.

Having a health condition that is treated with a specific diet can also lead to feeling guilty after eating. For example, a person with prediabetes may feel discouraged after “giving in” and eating a piece of cake.

Although it is true that nutrition is an important part of treating many conditions, including prediabetes and metabolic syndrome, it shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing approach.

Unless you have food allergies or some other certain health issues, you don’t have to totally avoid specific food items. With mindfulness, and a little planning, all foods can fit- no guilt is necessary or helpful.

Image of a raised hand denying a burger on a plate being offered to them.

It may sound backward, but the guilt of giving in to your cravings may cause you to start emotional eating as a coping mechanism. Many of us turn to food for comfort when we don’t live up to our own, or other’s expectations. In other words, when we feel guilty after eating, we increase the chances of eating even more. It can be a viscous cycle.

If you are not being mindful about nutrition or eating but focused on calming your emotions, it is especially easy to overeat. If you are curious to know about other types of hunger that can lead to overeating, take a look at this article.

When you continue to eat in response to emotion, rather than physical hunger signals from your body, overeating may become habitual. The instability of emotions can be a path to an inconsistent diet.

Not only can this contribute to feeling guilty after eating, but it may lead to issues with your body’s blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure. This in turn can make it more difficult to manage conditions like prediabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Recognizing emotional hunger, and finding ways to cope that do not involve eating, can prevent the feelings of guilt that ultimately promote overeating.

Since this topic relates to our psychology, you might want to check out this article from Psychology Today. It can help you address what you feel when you experience emotional hunger.

Image depicting vegetable like carrots and broccoli on the left side and potato chips, cookies, and a soda can on the right side.

What Can be Done About Guilt?

Adopting mindful eating practices leads to a broader impact on overall health. When you choose an informed and balanced approach to food, you can control symptoms of prediabetes and metabolic syndrome more effectively.

Individuals who consistently practice mindful eating techniques tend to manage eating behaviors more effectively. [1]. Taking charge of what you eat, can be crucial to managing blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.

In addition, the approach of mindful eating helps you shift towards more nutritious choices and balanced meal planning. This aids in the prevention and management of several health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease, which go beyond prediabetes and metabolic syndrome.

What Mindful Eating Means

Mindful eating is a practice focused on developing a better awareness of food choices, eating habits, and the entire eating experience. It does not mean depriving or restricting yourself from your favorite foods. Instead, it encourages balanced eating and allows those who practice it to enjoy their preferred meals without the emotional weight of shame and guilt.

When you integrate mindfulness into your eating habits, you savor meals, make more conscious decisions about your food, and maintain a healthier relationship with eating.

Mindful Eating Strategies

  • Gain Awareness of Your Triggers: One of the practices of mindful eating is identifying the situations or emotions that may trigger guilt or shame around food. When you recognize these triggers, you are able to prepare yourself to manage your responses and make informed choices regarding your food.
  • Practice Gratitude: Try acknowledging the nourishment and pleasure that derives from the food that you are consuming. This can transform your relationship with food towards the positive. This simple practice encourages an optimistic outlook towards meals and detaches you from guilt in that eating experience.
  • Savor the Experience: As you are eating, try to engage all of your senses so that you can enhance the experience of eating. Take time to appreciate the appearance, flavors, textures, and aromas of food. This works to increase satisfaction and reduce the tendency to overeat.
  • Take your time: Savor each bite a little longer. When you eat more slowly, you are giving your mind more time to receive signals of satisfaction and fullness. In addition, this gives you more time to chew your food which aids in your digestion and helps you avoid choking. Just slowing down a little can help you foster a more meaningful connection with your eating process.

Couple enjoying their food at the breakfast table

Conclusion

Guilt and shame related to eating can impact the management of prediabetes, metabolic syndrome, and other health conditions. These negative emotions can lead to self-criticism, depression, and body image dissatisfaction. This may undermine the ability to self-regulate behavior and actually lead to overeating. [2].

Opting to be overly restrictive with foods is generally not a sustainable practice that often leads to feelings of guilt. On the other hand, relearning to tune into your body’s hunger cues and being intentional about nutrition can lead to better health in the long-term.

Resources:

  1. Warren, J. M., Smith, N., & Ashwell, M. (2017). A structured literature review on the role of mindfulness, mindful eating and intuitive eating in changing eating behaviours: Effectiveness and associated potential mechanisms. Nutrition Research Reviews, 30(2), 272–283. https://doi.org/10.1017/s09544224170001542. Duarte, C., Matos, M., Stubbs, R. J., Gale, C., Morris, L., Gouveia, J. P., & Gilbert, P. (2017). The impact of shame, self-criticism and social rank on eating behaviours in overweight and obese women participating in a Weight Management Programme. PLOS ONE, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0167571
  2. Duarte, C., Matos, M., Stubbs, R. J., Gale, C., Morris, L., Gouveia, J. P., & Gilbert, P. (2017). The impact of shame, self-criticism and social rank on eating behaviours in overweight and obese women participating in a Weight Management Programme. PLOS ONE, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0167571

This content was generated with the assistance of artificial intelligence (AI). The AI tool used for content generation was ChatGPT. The AI was utilized to help generate ideas and initial text, which was subsequently thoroughly reviewed, edited, and enhanced by The Gen X Dietitian to ensure accuracy, quality, and relevance to this topic.

Scroll to Top