When the holidays roll around, you can count on spending plenty of time with family and (probably) eating tons of food. It’s common to experience food guilt around the holidays, especially if you take care to eat a balanced diet. In fact, a 2020 study found 63% of Americans experienced food guilt during the holiday season.
This holiday season, give yourself grace when it comes to sharing meals with family and friends. Here’s what you need to know about food guilt so you can have a happy holiday season.
What is food guilt?
Food guilt is when you feel bad about something you’ve eaten, like you’re feeling guilty for what you’ve chosen to consume. Food guilt can quickly spiral into deeper feelings of shame, especially for people with disordered eating.
If you’re especially hard on yourself with eating nutritious foods, you may end up feeling food guilt if you eat something you view as unhealthy.
Why do we feel food guilt?
Food guilt is often linked to your relationship with food. If you keep yourself on a rigorous diet and “slip,” you might be inclined to feel guilty about what you’ve eaten. This can be a result of too much pressure on yourself to eat in a certain way.
7 tips for dealing with food guilt during the holidays
The holidays can be especially tough with food guilt. This time of year brings its own brand of stress — between family and finances, there’s a lot to deal with. Plus, you might be sitting down for meals that are outside your nutritional comfort zone, so it’s important to go into the season equipped with tips for managing food guilt.
1. View eating less nutritious foods as part of a balanced diet
The US Department of Health and Human Services outlines a “healthy” diet for people to stick to, breaking down how much protein, carbs and various nutrients you need to eat in a day. It’s important to balance “healthy” foods and “unhealthy” foods, because in moderation, there’s nothing wrong with eating stereotypically less nutrient-rich foods. When you completely cut out foods — especially fun treats like ice cream or potato chips — you might find that you crave them even more. If you allow yourself to eat these treats once in a while in moderate amounts, eating the nutritious foods the rest of the time doesn’t feel quite so bad.
2. Practice mindful eating
Mindful eating is the act of paying attention to what you eat and appreciating every bite. With this practice, you’re able to spend more time and energy considering your food, according to Harvard’s School of Public Health. This includes chewing thoroughly and eating slowly so you can experience every bite of food. Research around eating mindfully has shown that it can decrease anxiety related to eating, as well as overeating.
3. Focus on how you feel after eating certain foods
Sometimes food guilt is unavoidable, but what you can do when it happens is identify that it’s happening. This way, you can really consider why you’re feeling that way. Sometimes people don’t even realize that the guilty feeling is tied to a certain food or meal and why it’s happening. If you’ve started a food journal (which we’ll get to shortly), you can also write down these feelings so you can see if there are patterns tied to what feelings are occurring and when.
4. Start a food journal
Keeping a food journal can have a positive effect on how you eat. According to Harvard Medical School, a food journal can help keep track of what you’re eating, how much you’re eating and how you feel after. If you’re looking to improve your relationship with food, you can also include why you’re eating. However, it’s important not to become too caught up in monitoring every single thing you’re eating, as this can turn into obsessive behavior and even disordered eating. Some research has also shown that when people grow tired of keeping a food journal, they give it up and go back to prior food habits.
5. Avoid getting too caught up in nutritional mandates
In the same way that keeping a rigorous food journal can turn negative, focusing too much on what makes a “healthy” diet, on fad diets and on anything related to these strict eating plans can also have a negative effect on you. Diets such as keto or Atkins, aren’t necessarily diets that can be maintained in the long run — unless recommended otherwise by your doctor. And while counting calories or macros can help you lose weight, if that’s what you’re aiming for, doing this for a prolonged period of time can trigger disordered eating, according to Duke Health. Paying too much attention to these numbers can certainly make you feel guilty if you “go over” what you believe to be the ideal, which can push you further into feeling guilty about what you’re eating.
6. Honor your hunger
Your body sends signals to your brain when it feels hungry, and you feel those pangs when your body needs food. It’s important to listen to your body. When it tells you it’s hungry, you should feed it. When it tells you it’s full, you should stop eating. Listening to what your body is telling you is key for knowing when and how much to eat.
7. Accept that you deserve to eat without punishing yourself after
Give yourself grace when you feel like you’ve “slipped” because when it comes to a balanced diet, you haven’t actually slipped at all. You deserve to have treats when you want them and when it makes you happy — and that doesn’t mean you need to go to the gym for 2 hours or skip a meal later. Each day is a new day, and as long as you’re eating a nutritious diet most of the time, having a few snacks and fun meals is absolutely fine. If you aren’t happy with what you ate today, remind yourself that you can eat something else tomorrow — there’s no need to feel guilty.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.