Food and guilt
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Harriet Frew
4th March, 20150 Comments
If you are reading this, it is probable that your eating is not the free and enjoyable experience that you would like it to be. For a start, there is the conundrum of trying to stay a healthy weight without it becoming a harmful obsession. The vogue way of eating or feeding yourself seems to change continuously and it is challenging to know what to eat and which recommendations to follow. Quite often, even if you are not consciously dieting, you may still have quite a few rules and regulations around your eating such as ‘I should only eat organic; I should prepare food from scratch; I am allowed two treats per week maximum; I need to choose low fat options; it is important to eat ‘clean’. Sometimes these rules are pretty stringent and It makes it extremely easy to break a rule and for feelings of guilt and shame to creep in.
Guilt and living
If you feel guilty about food, then quite possibly this is an emotion you may be all too familiar with in other life areas, as often your relationship with food mirrors your approach to relationships, work and how you manage your feelings. If you are tightly controlled in your eating, probably other things need rigidly controlling too. Maybe not letting people get too close rendering you vulnerable? Possibly planning your routines carefully and precisely to keep order in your life. If your eating is chaotic and uncaring to your body, maybe you find it hard to truly value and take care of yourself adequately? Maybe you don’t feel you are worth it? Do people sometimes take advantage of you? Do you feel that your significant relationships sometimes feel like a rollercoaster ride that you are keen to get off? You might switch from one mode of coping to another, depending on how you are eating today.
The value of guilt
Guilt is a necessary and important emotion to have within your repertoire of feelings. However, commonly, you may experience it too frequently and inappropriately due to your own unrealistic and high expectations, coupled with a perfectionist drive to perform faultlessly. Maybe it is hard to sit down and relax because you always feel that you have to do something productive? Maybe you feel guilty for enjoying your work as you try to balance life at home with your family? Perhaps you feel that you have not achieved as much as you had hoped, at this stage of your life. This leaves you feeling at fault and ‘bad’ inside.
Inappropriate guilt might leave you feeling unworthy and inadequate. You might try to absolve your guilt by tightening your dietary rules or pushing yourself harder, so the bar is raised and expectations are heightened. You are then even more vulnerable to failing to meet these unrealistic goals and crashing down to the bottom of the well with your self-esteem.
Five ways to deal with guilt to help in your relationship with food
1. Recognise your guilt. Which is appropriate and which is inappropriate? Are you really such an evil person for eating that extra biscuit or three? Are you getting the guillotine out and coming down hard on yourself unnecessarily? Start to question your judgements.
2. Look at the expectations you have for yourself. Are you trying to be Superwoman or Superman? Yes, it might be wonderfully rewarding to tick off every single item on your ‘to do’ list, even though you recognise that you are running yourself into the ground. Learn to value relaxation and having breaks, seeing them as necessary for well-being, rather than something to feel guilty about. It is strength to be able to recognise when you need some time off the treadmill to recuperate.
3. Perfectionism is a killer. You may feel reluctant to let go of your perfectionism as you worry that things will quickly unravel and before you know it, all motivation will have gone, resulting in you giving up. In reality, perfectionism keeps you in a prison. You can become very fearful to take any risk for fear of not getting it right. Therefore, you stop taking risks and remain frustrated and down on yourself with your lack of progress.
4. Do you worry about what others think too much? Sometimes you might feel guilty if you are not pleasing ‘them’ all of the time. However, it is unrealistic to be able to please everyone consistently. How can you possibly keep everyone happy at the same time? You will not be able to do this and it sets you up for being cornered and also losing touch with what is right for you. A recipe for losing yourself.
5. Inappropriate guilt might drive you further down the restricting food route as you might have extremely severe rules that cannot be broken without punishment. The punishment will usually involve further restriction or binge eating to comfort and help dissociate from the situation. Your self-worth also becomes very dependent on the absence of guilt feelings, (not likely to happen often) leaving you vulnerable to habitually ‘feeling bad’.
Think about your own guilt and how this affects your relationship with food. Do you recognise yourself here? Have you some inappropriate guilt that you would like to explore further and feel stuck to manage alone? Sometimes, coming into therapy can be a way to explore some of these feelings in a safe, supportive and confidential setting. Do get in touch with one of the therapists on the directory if you would like to do this.
About the author
Harriet Frew is a counsellor, blogger, writer and enthusiast in supporting people with eating disorders. She has worked in the NHS; private practice and in the voluntary sector; working in the field since 1999. Harriet now works privately in Cambridge and at Weight Matters in London.
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