Why do you feel guilty eating something you like?

guilty eating
Ilona Madden - RightFood4U - Nutrition Programmes - Bray Wicklow Dublin

Written by Ilona Madden

February 27, 2022

Recently, while we were having our picnic in the woods during a hike, someone had a chocolate bar and said to me something along the lines that he feels guilty eating it while I’m watching.

Apparently, I make some people feel “guilty” when they eat something that they “shouldn’t” be eating or that they know isn’t good for them.

Sometimes we read things like “Guilt-free chocolate” – now how can chocolate be guilty or guilt-free?

It made me think a little bit about “guilt”, and I looked up the official definition.

  1. (noun) the fact of having committed a specified or implied offence or crime.
  2. (verb) make (someone) feel guilty, especially in order to induce them to do something.

Eating chocolate is most certainly not an offence or a crime, no matter how you look at it!

Even if you know that eating chocolate might not be good for your health in the long run, it still does not make it an offence or a crime.

Even if you want to follow a specific nutrition plan and you fall off the wagon, you are breaking some rules but it’s still not an offence or a crime.

The second part made me think though, did that person who felt guilty think that I “guilted” him in order to “induce him to do something”?

To me, this is completely incomprehensible. Yes, I do love to give advice, recommendations and suggestions for healthy eating. I like to explain the reasoning behind it so that I can help empower others to live healthier lives – but it has never ever been or will it ever be my intention to make anybody feel “guilty”.

But it seems that I make some people feel “guilty” simply because I say “no” to a piece of cake that is offered to me. If I say “no” it’s not because I’m restricting myself or because I want to be better than anybody else – I say “no” because I don’t feel hungry, or because I simply don’t fancy eating a cake at that moment and time.

Would I ever feel guilty? Of course. When I was young and my father or a teacher asked the question “Who did that???” – I would often go red in my face feeling guilty even though I hadn’t done anything at all, or could in any way be blamed for it. But I don’t remember ever feeling guilt around food.

There must be something else around “guilt” that is rooted much deeper than the actual act of eating chocolate?

I came across some great quotes around “guilt” and chose the following 3 to interpret feeling guilty around eating.

“Guilt is anger directed at ourselves — at what we did or did not do.”
Peter McWilliams

This makes total sense, you feel angry with yourself because you didn’t stick to what you know is good for your health and your body. You know you had that piece of cake even though you said you want to lose weight. You are angry at yourself because you also really wanted to say “no”.

You are simply angry with yourself.

What can you do?

Feel that anger and frustration and understand that you are feeling angry at yourself. It’s not someone else who “made” you feel guilty. Once you acknowledge that feeling, it might be easier the next time you make that decision “to do or not to do”.

This quote by Anthony de Mello says the same in even stronger words: “When you are guilty, it is not your sins you hate but yourself.”

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you enjoy something, there’s nothing guilty about it.”
Busy Philipps

I totally agree with this one. When you fully enjoy whatever you are eating, there’s nothing to be guilty about. If you understand that it might not be the healthiest option for you and you consciously decide to do it anyway, there still is nothing to be guilty about. Acknowledge it, and move on!

Eat your food mindfully, enjoy it fully – regardless of what it is. Most over-eating comes from mindlessly eating foods, unaware of what it does to your health and overall wellbeing. I often ask my clients to practise mindful eating and often they come back to me saying “You know, when I ate these biscuits mindfully, I realised for the first time in years, that I actually don’t even like them!”

“There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.”

―Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

This is a bit like someone telling me “Look, I know I shouldn’t be eating this” to make sure that I’m not going to say anything! And you know what, unless someone asks me for advice, I wouldn’t anyway! I do not judge what people eat. I don’t actually care what people eat – unless they are my clients and they came to ask me for help and support.

I think recognising that “feeling of guilt” can be a positive one – if converted into action. If you don’t like that feeling of guilt, use it to catalyse it and start doing what you feel or know is right.

However, looking at Oscar Wilde’s quote, it seems that often the feeling of guilt is used to explain someone’s inaction to do something. Admitting to knowing “I should really be doing…” seems like nearly an excuse or apology for not actually doing it.

When it comes to healthy eating, stop feeling guilty and start acting. Many people might not be aware of what is good for them or not, and then you can’t blame them. But if you already know and feel guilty – then you have no excuse but to take action.

And if you feel you can’t do it on your own or you need a little bit of support, ask for help!

This could be the only thing, you could feel guilty about: Not looking for help and support. Believing there’s nothing you can do. Doing nothing.

There’s plenty of help out there. There are plenty of people like me who want to support others live their best possible lives, whether it is through what I do – Nutritional Therapy, or whether it’s a personal fitness coach or life coach, or acupuncturist or hypnotherapist or whatever. Seek help, seek support and become accountable. You will feel much much better about yourself than feeling guilty. Guilty is a sense of powerlessness – turn it into a feeling of being empowered.

But this feeling of being in control and empowered only comes from action. Motivation comes from productivity.

And last but not least, feeling guilty is also a choice. I love this experiment by Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto really interesting:

“He showed the words “chocolate cake” to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. “Guilt” was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: “celebration.”

When it comes to my food, I’ve never ever felt “guilty”. Yes, I do have certain rules when it comes to what I eat. I go through phases where I challenge myself to stay sugar-free or alcohol-free for a few weeks. I usually don’t eat things that I know aren’t doing me any good, but if I do, I immediately take responsibility for it. I accept that it is because of my own doing that I feel tired, exhausted or bloated as a direct consequence of not sticking to what I should have done. I might be “guilty” for not following the best possible advice or even seeking the best possible advice but by acknowledging and accepting it, I can’t actually feel guilty about it.

To summarise: Stop feeling guilty, use that “feeling of guilt” to take action!


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