Shame & Guilt: Food Freedom Edition
Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt shameful or guilty around certain foods, eating behaviors you may have, actions you took, etc. between you and your plate?
Raise your hand if you have ever scolded yourself after eating dessert on a Tuesday when you told yourself that sweets were only for the weekend? Or if you’ve ever felt so guilty about eating a second serving that you restricted the rest of the following day?
Have you ever felt shame or guilt around food?
Unfortunately, most of us have, however, have you ever realized that there is a massive difference?
Shame is about self. Whereas, guilt is about action.
Let me explain because often times these two words are nearly interchangeable, they do not have an interchangeable impact on you and your mental health.
If you feel ashamed of something you may say things such as:
“I am so fat and ugly, why did I eat that last cookie?”
“I’m worthless, I can’t even keep to a diet plan.”
“I’m disgusting, why did I eat that much in front of them?”
See, the emphasis is on one’s self.
These statements begin with “I” and it’s very easy then to begin to correlate your ‘poor behavior around/with food’ to your identity.
Meaning you believe you are your eating disorder.
Let me give an example.
When I was struggling very heavily with anorexia, I was in a constant state of control and restrictions when it came to food. I planned my days, weeks, life around my meals and even more specifically, how small I could make them. I was always trying to eat cleaner, eat less, weigh less, etc. So, when something would change my ‘plan of action’ or when I would eat something that I had deemed as being ‘off track,’ I would beat myself up… not the action.
And there’s a difference.
I would bully myself, saying things like, “You’re so stupid, why did you eat that?” “I’m so fat, I can’t believe I ate bread.” “I told myself I wouldn’t have any soda at dinner, I have no willpower!”
It was all about me.
I began to believe these things. That I was worthless, weak, stupid, ugly, fat, whatever it was, I began to associate my poor relationship with food to ACTUALLY dictate meaning about myself.
I would be ashamed of my food actions. I would be shame around eating certain foods, eating at certain times, going ‘off track,’ and while this blog isn’t exactly about eating disorders, I actually think regular men and women do this more often than they even realize! How often do we hear someway say, “I just felt so guilty about eating all that chocolate last night?” How often do we not hear people say that? How often do people bully themselves based on their own food rules and restrictions? AND how often are they shaming themselves because the blame and negative connotation is on one’s self, not on the behavior.
Guilt is when the focus is on the actual action.
“I overate last night and want to try harder to limit my desserts when I go out because that’s not aligned with my weight-loss goals this month.”
“I had a second serving at dinner because I didn’t eat enough during the day, tomorrow I want to change that and better set myself up for success.”
“I emotionally ate and feel guilty about finishing off that family size bag of chips, maybe next time I can find another alternative for when I feel stressed.”
Guilt is based on action WHICH MEANS you can come up with another action to replace it.
When you allow food to shame you, you can’t really change who you are and you start to identify with all of these negative emotions and beliefs. You begin to identify with your poor relationship with food. You identify as a failure, someone with no willpower, whatever it may be, rather than seeing your food relationship as a simple habit you want to improve on.
A habit you can take action towards bettering.
A habit that is not you.
A habit that has nothing to do with who you are and what you mean as a person.
It’s a very different lens. In a sense, you can begin to disassociate with your food guilt. It’s not a blame game, but rather you recognize that this doesn’t mean ANYTHING about who you actually are or how much value you truly have. It’s just a simple, not serving habit that you want to improve. And we all have habits we want to change for our own self-improvement or development! Feeling shameful around food is a slippery slope and this is where most men and women find themselves in a never-ending cyclical food wheel. You emotionally eat or eat too much or eat something you’ve deemed as bad (which we all should stop doing, but that’s for another blog post), you then feel shame around the event, you beat yourself up, you believe this is who you are and who you will always be, comparison may set in, pain and not feeling like enough comes knocking on your door, and the cycle continues because you believe you are all these bad things and therefore what do bad people do, they continue to fail.
Or they continue to find ways to cope, which could also then be attributed to food.
You are a good person whether you struggle with food or not. Whether you have anxiety or you don’t. Whether you live with depression or not. And feeling guilt is not always bad when it comes to healing and improving these mental battles. Because guilt is associated with action. Therefore, if you feel guilty, you can CHOOSE to change your habits, actions, use it as ‘fuel for the fire’ so to speak.
I don’t exactly want you to feel guilty, but first, I want you to disassociate yourself with your poor food relationship. And you CANNOT do that with shame.
Guilt can serve as maybe a red flag on something we need to improve upon. If I feel guilty for eating a cookie, I can choose to recognize that this is an area I still need to work on between me and my recovery. But, eating the cookie means nothing about me! There’s no shame attached to it! Because there is no me attached to my poor food relationship. It’s just a habit I had adopted as a coping mechanism for something or another and it’s a habit I can change, so then, I eat the cookie, I feel guilty, and it’s a window into an opportunity for growth.
Why did I feel guilty?
Maybe it’s because I’ve deemed cookies as bad and they will make me fat! Will this cookie actually make me fat?
No it won’t.
Why am I scared of that outcome?
See, you can study guilt and question it and support yourself through it.
And eventually release the guilt, as well! Especially when it comes to food, there should be no guilt or shame, but at first there simply CANNOT be shame.
Because shame makes me feel out of control, makes me feel worthless, makes me feel like a failure, it makes me feel disordered.
And you are none of those things.
You are simply someone who has used food as a control mechanism to try to solve pain somewhere else in your life. It means nothing about you. In fact, it isn’t you. And you can change things that are not you.
Recognizing this difference is the first step in rewriting your food relationship.
So, let me ask you, how are you going to begin to rewrite yours?