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Five Questions to End Food Guilt

by Elise Museles

Five Questions to End Food Guilt

Food Guilt: the uninvited guest at your dinner table. (Best definition EVER by Melissa Milne, author of The Naughty Diet.)

We’ve touched on food guilt before – where it comes from, what it looks like, and how it can affect us. But knowing that the majority of women struggle with it, it’s time to take action so that we can finally kiss that guilt goodbye. Consider this post, Food Guilt 2.0.

If you’re inclined toward food guilt, there is no shortage of reasons to feel it. You might have guilt because you deviated from your carefully conceived meal plan. Or because you “broke” a self-imposed food rule. Or because you ate until you were uncomfortably full. Or because you snacked mindlessly, standing over the stove, munching on a half-dozen freshly baked cookies while flipping through Instagram. (Been there!)

Sometimes, we feel guilty because of what we ate: sugar, processed foods, soda, too much alcohol or caffeine. Sometimes we feel guilty because of what we didn’t eat: not enough greens, not enough protein, not enough water. It all boils down to that sinking feeling that we didn’t keep our own promises to ourselves.

But no matter what the reason, guilt and food simply don’t mix. Food guilt is completely exhausting, totally counterproductive – and 100% avoidable. Ridding yourself of food guilt takes time and effort, but I promise it can be done. To get started, here are five short questions to ask yourself as you learn to release that guilt once and for all…

Question 1: Why do I feel this way?

If we let them, our innermost feelings can teach us amazing (even profound!) things and shed light on old, outdated beliefs and judgments that no longer serve us.

Maybe your food guilt is a holdover from your childhood or another formative time in your past. Perhaps someone you loved made an off-handed comment during a vulnerable moment and it permanently stuck with you. Often, guilt-riddled thought patterns are tied to a specific time – or even a single event – in our past.

When we realize where our guilt is coming from, we can release the anxiety surrounding it. By acknowledging the origins of your guilt, you can make sense of the “why” and begin to let go of the shame.

Of course, your “whys” might be buried deep, hidden beneath layers of ideas that are no longer true. You might have to ask yourself some pretty insistent questions in order to uncover your truth.

Here’s an example of a series of questions you could ask yourself to get to the source of your guilt, plus some examples of answers and how they can lead you to the source of your food guilt:

Why do you feel guilty?
I feel guilty because I ate three bowls of pasta for lunch.

Why does that make you feel guilty?
Because processed carbs aren’t good for me, and I didn’t need to eat three bowls. I wasn’t hungry after the first bowl.

When did this guilt start? Be specific.
All my girlfriends stopped eating carbs in college. It was the thing to do, so I stopped, too.

And why does that make YOU feel guilty?
Because I started treating carbs as a villain, even though I really enjoy whole grains.

Now, you try:

Why do you feel guilty?

Why does that make you feel guilty?

When did this guilt start? Be specific.

And why does that make YOU feel guilty?

Five Questions to End Food Guilt

Question 2: What is this guilt meant to teach me?

I have a client who felt guilty about eating bananas. When she realized that her guilt was based on an outdated belief, she moved past her banana hang-ups. Other clients have discovered that their guilt was tied to eating food that quite literally made them sick. Many of us continue to eat delicious foods, such as ice cream, pasta, or seafood, that don’t agree with us. If a food makes you feel bloated, exhausted, or itchy, your body is sending you a clear message. Perhaps you feel guilty for eating that sickness-inducing food because you know, instinctively, that it’s not good for your body.

Stop and ask yourself what you can learn from your discomfort. Is your body telling you that you’re gluten or lactose-intolerant, for example. Or maybe the discomfort isn’t from the food itself, but from eating too much of it. When you uncover the hidden lesson, it can help prevent you from repeating guilt-inducing behavior in the future.

Question 3: How can I release this guilt?

There are so many ways to release guilt! I like to choose and recite a mantra. Each mantra should be filled with love, just like talking to and helping a close friend. It’s all about being supportive to yourself – the same way you would be with a loved one.

Here are a few of my favorites.

“Today, I chose to eat ___________. For my next meal, I will make different choices that feel good in my body.”

“I will love my body the way I would love a toddler—with patience, tenderness, and attention.”

“Even though I ate something I wish I hadn’t, even though I feel guilty about it, I completely love and accept myself.”

Question 4: What does my body want? Get Curious.

When we really listen to our bodies, we can almost completely end food guilt. If your body is telling you that it wants a big helping of creamy coconut milk ice cream or a plate of fries, don’t be afraid to acknowledge it without judgment. Get curious and ask yourself: Is my body trying to tell me something with this craving? Maybe it’s not cake you need, but some sugar to boost your energy. Maybe you’re not really hungry, but you need a good night’s sleep to end the quick pick-me-up carb cravings that drop you just as far a few hours later.

Once you assess the root of your craving, you can decide what to do next. Perhaps there’s a healthy alternative that will satisfy it. Or maybe today it is chocolate over kale. That’s okay, too. The important thing is to go through this exercise and listen to what’s really going on with your body.

Five Questions to End Food Guilt

Question 5: What is my action plan for moving forward?

Perhaps you’ve fallen off the proverbial wagon. That’s okay! It happens to all of us. Think about the next 24 hours, and look forward to them. Rather than worrying about all the ways you could possibly “screw things up”—giving into cravings, for example, or forgetting your carefully assembled lunch and eating less-than-healthy options—think positively about the choices you’ll make and foods that you can take pleasure in.

If you’re meeting friends at a favorite restaurant with the best chocolate mousse, tell yourself that you’re going out to dinner and choosing to have dessert. When you plan your “indulgences,” you have a chance to get comfortable with them, look forward to them, and properly savor them. And you’re a lot less likely to regret them.

After that decadent dessert, focus on the next day. Think about finding movement and loading up on fruits and veggies. Schedule a power yoga class and make yourself a green smoothie—not as a punishment, but because it makes you feel good and is what your body needs. When you plan, acknowledge, and address the way you feel about food, it’s easier to step back and see the big picture.

Once you ask yourself these five questions, you can identify the origins of all those stressful thoughts. And remember, even less-than-ideal choices can have a place in a healthy lifestyle, just as long as it is not accompanied by a side of guilt. So, next time food guilt comes knocking, don’t answer!

Download your own “Five Questions to End Food Guilt” worksheet here.

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