Why do I feel guilty after eating? It’s more common than you’d think.
The rules we’re taught about diet and nutrition as we grow up and interact with the world dictate what we think we “should” and “shouldn’t” consume. Though we might enjoy a delicious slice of cake after a meal, many of us also believe we should always have a special occasion to eat this type of treat. If we can’t justify our eating habits, we begin to feel guilty about what we ate.
Approximately one third of all the food Americans eat on a daily basis leaves them feeling guilty, whether it’s an afternoon snack or a takeout burger. While this food guilt is relatively normal, particularly if we know we’re eating something that’s bad for us, it can also be disruptive.
Left unaddressed, food guilt can lead to disordered eating behaviors, as well eating disorders such as bulimia, and even phobias of certain foods. Food guilt can control every meal choice you make, and destroy your self-esteem. Understanding the answer to the question, Why do I feel guilty after eating? could be the first step to developing a much healthier relationship with food. So, if you’re wondering exactly why you feel guilty after eating, and wanting to learn what to do about it, let’s continue:
Why Do I Feel Guilty After Eating? The Science Behind Food Guilt
People aren’t born associating specific foods with feelings of guilt. We learn which items we should define as “good” or “bad” foods over time. During our childhood, we learn which foods are healthy and nutritious, and which might be bad for our health in larger doses.
On their own, these lessons aren’t necessarily problematic. Knowing which foods you should be including in your diet regularly means you can improve your nutrition, manage your weight, and avoid various food-related ailments. However, when our perceptions of good and bad food become too extreme, they can lead to various unhealthy and disordered eating behaviors, and additional problems.
The issues we have with defining food as good or bad are further heightened by our social experiences, and what we see in the media. We’re surrounded by constant reminders that being thinner and healthier is desirable in any society.
This often leads us to connect our self-worth to what we eat.
If you eat food you feel guilty about, this could have a significant impact on your self-esteem.
When the goal of “healthy eating” is taken to the extreme, we start to feel overwhelming guilt whenever we’re exposed to a certain type of food, which can lead to phobias and stress. What’s more, defining foods as “bad” can often entice us to eat them more during times of stress. Studies indicate that those who associate indulgent foods with guilt are more likely to eat those foods when they’re experiencing emotional difficulties.
Common Reasons for Feeling Guilty After Eating
There are a number of potential answers to the question, Why do I feel guilty after eating? Some are related to your upbringing and habits, while others are connected to your own dietary goals and planning. In some cases, your feelings of guilt may be more extreme.
For instance, studies have revealed that people with restrictive eating habits can feel guilty when just thinking of certain foods.
The most common reasons for guilt after eating include:
1.Eating Excess Calories
Calorie counting can be a good way to track your food intake, and manage your weight, but it can also lead to guilt when you eat more than your designated allotment each day. Most of us know we should be consuming a specific number of calories to maintain or reduce our weight. If you want to reduce your weight, you’ll need to cut a certain number of calories per day.
However, it’s important to remember calories aren’t the only factor affecting your weight loss or weight gain. If you eat additional calories one day, you may be able to balance this by engaging in extra physical activity or exercise.
2.Negating Workout Results
Maintaining or losing weight requires us to adhere to a strict schedule of eating a certain number of calories, and exercising to shed excess pounds. If you’ve recently finished a big workout and you then eat a large meal, or something you’d consider to be high in fat and calories, then you may feel as though you’ve negated all of your hard work.
Notably, this isn’t always the case. Even after a workout, you can continue to burn excess calories as part of the “afterburn” effect. This could mean you don’t necessarily add all of the calories you eat back to your body. In some cases, extra calories are even crucial to fuelling your body and helping you to recover when you’re done exercising.
3.Eating “Bad” or Unhealthy Foods
We know some foods are healthy, and others aren’t. Eating a meal rich in vegetables and fruits is less likely to make you feel guilty than consuming a large piece of chocolate cake. Eating junk foods regularly can lead to a number of problems, including excess weight gain, and a higher chance of various diseases, including diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
However, we don’t necessarily need to avoid “junk” food completely. In fact, strict dieting is more likely to cause disordered eating, depression, and anxiety. The more you refuse yourself the foods you really want, the more likely it is you’ll over-eat when you have a chance to enjoy those products. With this in mind, it’s best to eat junk foods in moderation, rather than not at all.
Social norms and the behaviors of our peers can also influence how we feel about what we eat. Studies have shown people are more likely to eat larger portions of food when they see their friends eating more, but they may feel bad about this excessive eating later.
Similarly, if we join our friends for meals, and see them eating salads and healthy foods, we’re more likely to feel guilty for eating unhealthy alternatives, because we naturally want to fit in. If social pressure is causing you to feel guilty after eating, it might be worth being more mindful about your own nutritional needs. Remember everyone is different and has unique eating habits. Your friends might be eating less at lunch because they’ve already had a huge breakfast.
5.Failing to Achieve your Goals
When trying to lose weight, most people set specific goals for what they want to accomplish within a certain time frame. You may tell yourself you want to lose a certain number of pounds within a given week with the keto diet, or you want to restrict yourself to a specific number of calories per day. Having these goals is a helpful way to guide your dieting process.
However, when we fail to achieve our goals, we often feel guilty, and less happy with ourselves. If you find you haven’t lost the right amount of weight in a set time, you could feel you’ve failed. The important thing to remember here is that losing weight is rarely as straightforward as it seems. Just because you don’t achieve your goals one week doesn’t mean you won’t the next. The key is to learn from your eating behaviors, and adapt when you can.
6. Cheating on a Diet
If you’re trying to lose weight, you may also follow the guidelines of a specific diet. For instance, if you choose a low-carb diet, you’ll need to cut out as many carbohydrates as possible from your meals. The trouble with diets is they’re often heavily restrictive, and focus on removing entire food groups from your meal plan. This leaves you with cravings you may not be able to satisfy.
The more restrictive the diet, the more likely you are to “fall off the wagon” and eat something you know you shouldn’t. This leads to an overwhelming feeling of guilt because you believe you’ve “broken the rules” of your eating plan. The easiest way to avoid this problem is to choose a diet that isn’t restrictive. Opt for something which allows you to eat a balanced range of foods in moderation.
7. Eating Foods You Know are Problematic
Sometimes we feel guilty not because we’ve eaten “unhealthy” foods, but because we’ve consumed something we know will have a negative effect on our body. It’s not uncommon for people with lactose intolerance to indulge in small amounts of dairy, and feel the side effects later.
If you’re asking, “Why do I feel guilty after eating?” and you know the foods you choose have a negative impact on your body, it might be a good idea to start looking at alternatives. If your body responds negatively to dairy, look at dairy-free substitutes for the foods you enjoy.
How to Stop Feeling Guilty After Eating
Guilt after eating is a relatively commonplace experience for people from all walks of life. It’s a result of our personal beliefs, upbringing, and the information we’re exposed to each day. Sometimes, a little guilt can be a good thing, to keep us motivated to eat healthy. It helps keep us on track with our diets, and pushes us to stay away from the foods we know are problematic, because we know we’ll feel guilty.
However, if you’re constantly asking, “Why do I feel guilty after eating?” there’s a risk you could be placing undue pressure on yourself to follow certain rules. For most people, there’s no room for food guilt in a balanced diet. Eating a truly balanced selection of foods means you can consume a range of different items, from fruits and vegetables to sweets and cakes.
So, how do you overcome the problem? The best solution is to start working on your relationship with food, via mindful eating.
Whenever you start feeling guilty after eating certain foods, ask yourself why you’re feeling this way, and whether it’s reasonable. There’s nothing wrong with eating a little junk food from time to time, but if you’re eating too much of it, in excess, you can start thinking of ways to change your eating habits.
For example, if you’re an emotional eater, you can try to reduce your stress in other ways aside from comfort foods.
Do You Suffer from Food Guilt?
If you ask the question “Why do I feel guilty after eating?” regularly, the best thing you can do is learn more about your body and your relationship with food. Remember, a balanced diet allows you to eat a little of everything. Even the healthiest diets need a little extra fat and carbs from time to time.
Use your CircleDNA test to learn more about the types of foods your body needs more of, based on your genetic makeup. This DNA test will also tell you your body’s likely responses to certain foods, and give you insight into possible food sensitivities.
With a CircleDNA test, you’ll be able to identify possible food intolerances, find out which foods are most likely to lead to weight gain, find out if you have a genetically lower appetite control or a genetically higher sweet tooth, and create a diet plan based on your genetic needs.
If you stray from your healthier plan from time to time, don’t beat yourself up, ask yourself why you made the decision to eat a certain food, and what you can do.
Sometimes, simply making different choices, such as eating a low-fat non-dairy ice cream over a high-fat alternative, can help you enjoy the occasional treat, without the guilt.
- NYPost: Americans feel guilty about almost a third of the food they eat. https://nypost.com/2019/03/13/americans-feel-guilty-about-almost-a-third-of-the-food-they-eat
- NCBI: Associating a prototypical forbidden food item with guilt or celebration: relationships with indicators of (un)healthy eating and the moderating role of stress and depressive symptoms. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25186250/
- NCBI: Guilty displeasures: How imagined guilt dampens consumer enjoyment. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32109524/
- NCBI: Rigid vs. flexible dieting: association with eating disorder symptoms in nonobese women. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11883916
- NCBI: College Students and Eating Habits: A Study Using An Ecological Model for Healthy Behavior. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6315356/