Does your eating often make you feel guilty?
Whenever you experience guilt from eating, it’s often a sign you have a “food rule” you need to let go of.
A food rule is a thought or belief regarding what is or isn’t allowed when it comes to your eating. Here are some common ones:
- No eating after 7 p.m.
- I can only eat a specific number of carbs, calories or points a day.
- No snacking between meals.
- High-carb foods are off limits (e.g., greens are good; bread and pasta are bad).
- Every meal must contain a certain number of protein grams.
- I’m allowed one cheat day a week.
- Foods made with white flour, added sugars, etc. are forbidden.
- Gluten is a no-no (even though I don’t have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance).
- No sweets.
- No seconds.
Although often well-intentioned, there are many problems with food rules. For example, they…
- Disregard your body’s wisdom and needs, including its internal cues of hunger and fullness.
- Dictate your food choices regardless of how your body feels.
- Dismiss your food preferences and desires.
- Generate feelings of deprivation, which often results in intense cravings, overeating and binge eating.
- Provoke a make-up mentality (e.g., I must compensate for eating dessert by skipping breakfast or exercising longer tomorrow).
- Cultivate a mistrustful relationship with yourself, your body and food.
- Inject misplaced morality into your relationship with food (e.g., I'm good if I eat this, bad if I eat that).
- Create an eating environment that breeds feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety, fear, frustration, disappointment, anger, confusion and helplessness.
- Lead to social anxiety and isolation.
- Consume headspace, time and energy that could be devoted to more fulfilling, meaningful, productive and pleasurable thoughts and actions.
- Decrease self-esteem and self-confidence.
- Cause A LOT of unnecessary suffering.
Challenge Your Rules
As you can see, it’s well worth challenging your food rules and examining how they are impacting you.
With a curious, nonjudgmental mind, ask yourself: Where did this rule come from? Is it true? Is it really serving me? Is it based on my own direct experience or an external “authority?” Is it truly honoring, respecting and being kind to my body? Is it reasonable, sustainable, pleasurable and satisfying? Is it flexible enough for my life?
Some of your rules may be top of mind and others may be buried deeper, like lingering rules from past diets or your childhood home you aren’t aware you’re still adhering to.
If you’re unsure if you have food rules, pay attention to emotions like guilt or shame or “should” or “shouldn’t” thoughts that arise from eating. They will point you toward your rules.
If you have trouble identifying or releasing your food rules, yet know you would benefit from doing so, I encourage you to seek support.
Keep in mind, there is no need for food rules—or cause for guilt—when you let your body’s natural wisdom guide you.