Looking down at an empty plate, thinking to myself, “Why do I feel guilty after eating? Why do I feel bad about what I just did?” This was the mental loop I played on repeat many years ago, and I know I’m not alone.
Feeling guilty after eating not only makes us feel bad, but it also diminishes our sense of satisfaction. In fact, feeling guilty after eating can lead to a cascade of other feelings like helplessness and loss of control.
Food should not be a source of guilt. It should provide nourishment, satisfaction, and joy. Not every meal will hit the spot, but food provides an opportunity to feel like you’re taking care of yourself.
If you’re like me many years ago, constantly feeling guilty after eating, it’s time to take back your power around food. Or as I like to say, feel normal around food.
That’s the goal here with Psycho-Spiritual Wellness: a path to stopping compulsive eating through purely psychological and spiritual practices.
Why Do I Feel Guilty After Eating? Where Does It Come From?
From my experience as an eating psychology coach, we can feel guilty after eating for two different reasons: feeling like you’ve eaten “too much” or “too unhealthy.”
If you feel guilty after eating a large amount of food, it’s likely triggered by the thought of eating too much. Emphasis on the word thought — because you’d be surprised how often this is actually triggered by not eating enough.
For example, if you skipped breakfast and had a small lunch, you could be starving by the time dinner rolls around. You may eat a large meal plus dessert, and that might make you feel guilty.
However, it’s not guilt from actually eating too much food. It’s guilt from thinking you’ve eaten too much food — when in reality you’ve eaten a normal amount of food. It might even be under your basal metabolic needs: the calories you need just to maintain basic bodily functions.
Back when I was trying to lose weight, I was limiting my calories for so long that I became accustomed to eating 1,400 calories and thinking it was normal.
Then, when I ate more than 1,400 calories, I would beat down on myself and wonder “why do I feel guilty after eating?” When really, I didn’t even eat that much! It just felt like I did, and that’s what made me feel guilty.
I Feel Guilty When I Eat, Even When I Eat Enough
What if you actually have eaten enough during the day? What if you’ve hit your basal metabolic needs and still feel guilty after eating?!
Then we might be dealing with guilt from eating food that’s “too unhealthy.”
We live in a time where “clean eating” has become the norm. When taken too far, clean eating can become orthorexia, an eating disorder characterized by an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy.
For example, ordering a salad with the dressing on the side can be a personal choice made from a place of empowerment if it’s truly what you want. But when the salad comes with the dressing already mixed and this sparks heightened anxiety, that might indicate an obsession with healthy eating, which can trigger guilt after eating.
To make matters worse, “social media has almost normalized orthorexia,” says Paula Quatromoni, D.Sc., one of the country’s leading experts on eating disorders.
The Goal of Perfection Triggers Guilt and Overeating
We’ve been trained to associate salads and protein shakes with the idea of “perfect eating.” When taken too far, we end up feeling guilty after eating because we didn’t “eat perfectly” or hit the “perfect amount” of macros or calories.
You may already know this intuitively, and clinical studies can also back it up. A 2020 study showed that “high dietary restraint” fuels feelings of guilt and worry about food.
This is the vicious cycle that many of us know all too well. We eat “too much” of something that’s “too unhealthy” and then we feel guilty. In response to those pestering thoughts, “why do I feel guilty after eating?!” we attempt to regain control by restricting our diet.
We want these rules to prevent us from eating too much or too unhealthy again, but in reality they actually trigger more overeating due to the restrict-binge cycle: for every restriction, there is an equal and opposite binge.
This is the downward spiral of guilt and overeating. What can we do to effectively cope without food?
How to Stop Feeling Guilty After Eating: 5 Steps to Squash Food Guilt!
My approach to stopping overeating focuses on psychology and spirituality (Psycho-Spiritual Wellness). I’ve found that once we have our mental and spiritual house in good shape, we naturally fall into healthy patterns around food.
Although I don’t normally talk about food — because it naturally corrects itself once we get back in touch with intuition — I find that it’s an essential step when there’s a persistent feeling of guilt after eating.
Here are 5 ways that you can stop feeling bad or guilty after eating by addressing your psychology:
1. Ask Yourself, Does Eating “Too Much” or “Too Unhealthy” Trigger my Guilt?
The next time you feel guilty after eating, stop and ask yourself why. If nothing clear comes up, get specific and ask yourself if you feel guilty from eating too much or too unhealthy. The answer could even be both.
Don’t despair if you fall into both categories. Awareness alone is helpful! In fact, one of my favorite quotes is “feel it to heal it;” and I often like to expand on this quote for eating psychology by saying “see it to heal it.”
Many of us have no idea why we feel the way we feel around food. This is one of many reasons why we tend to sum it all up as: I feel crazy. Our emotions are going in hyperdrive every which way.
Fortunately, when you slow down and take the time to get curious — not to beat down on yourself, but to simply be curious when you’re wondering, why do I feel guilty after eating? — it opens up the door of awareness.
And once you step through that door, you can continue the journey towards feeling normal around food.
Quick summary: Awareness is the first step. Do you tend to feel guilty after eating too much or too unhealthy?
2. Give Up the Food Rules
We can’t develop a healthy relationship with food when we are constantly battling with ourselves about it. When we label certain foods as bad, we enter battle-mode each time we crave it.
Labeling something as bad is an instant trigger for feeling guilty after eating it. Furthermore, it’s also a delayed trigger for eating large amounts of it later. Enter: another one of my favorite sayings: “what you resist persists.”
When we spend energy resisting specific foods, we only give that food more energy. This is why we binge on the exact foods that we restrict. We can’t help it when we make it all completely off-limits!
This is why I’m a fan of giving up dieting and food rules altogether. Bear with me.
Quick summary: Pemission to Eat not only relieves guilt after eating, but it’s also an essential step to stop overeating long-term.
3. If You’re Afraid of Gaining Weight, Work on the Skill to Stop Compulsive Eating Long-Term
Are you afraid that you will eat everything but the kitchen sink if you lift the food rules, and then REALLY feel guilty after eating?! You’re not alone! Most people on a diet feel this way.
Don’t worry, I have tools for you. And the best tool to start with is the Stop, Drop, & Feel — particularly if you struggle with feeling guilty after eating too much.
Use this tool any time you feel the desire to eat when you’re not hungry. Stop what you’re doing, go to another room and drop into your body and feel what you’re feeling. I know this sounds overly simple, but it’s also difficult, and that’s why it works.
The first time I used this tool, I instantly started crying — and I had no idea that I was actually sad. That’s how emotionally unaware I was. (Remember the whole “feel it to heal it” thing? This is why I tack on the “see it to heal it” part!)
When we develop awareness and, more importantly, tolerance for the negative emotions that drive us towards food, we can stop overeating patterns. In turn, this helps us stop feeling guilty after eating, because we stop eating too much altogether.
Quick summary: If you’re afraid of gaining weight when you stop dieting, focus on the Stop, Drop, & Feel first and foremost.
4. Use Breakfast as Play Time
If you struggle with feeling guilty after eating foods that are too unhealthy, you might be rebelling against food rules. From personal experience, and from allllll the people that have also been there, I know how scary it can be to stop dieting. Here’s a tip to make it easier:
Make breakfast your playground!
If you are afraid of adding breads and sweets, for example, back into your diet because you’re afraid you’ll binge on them, have them for breakfast. This helps your body use food as fuel throughout the day — versus binge eating at night, where it isn’t used as fuel. (Instead your body stores it as energy in adipose tissue — aka, fat cells.)
The price of skipping breakfast is usually night eating. When you use breakfast as your playground, you are getting two birds with one stone: you get to play with the foods you think are “too unhealthy” and you also fuel our body so that you’re less likely to eat “too much” later in the day.
Quick summary: Feeling guilty after eating breads and sugars? Eat it for breakfast so that your body uses it as fuel!
5. Make Sure You’re Actually Eating Enough
If you have weight loss goals, you might skip over this section, but please don’t! It’s essential to at least consider the possibility that undereating is triggering that “why do I feel guilty after eating?” thought loop.
Those of us that want to lose weight attempt to reach our goals by dieting. This is innocent enough since every fitness magazine touts that weight loss is a matter of “less calories in than calories out!” But here’s the thing:
When we’ve been dieting for so long that we forget that we’re undereating, we begin to equate eating less with eating normally. Then, when we end up eating actually normal amounts of food (aka, your basal metabolic needs) we feel like we’ve eaten too much, and then we feel guilty! But we shouldn’t feel guilty because we’re just breaking even.
If someone you loved was a recovering shopaholic and they went shopping and stayed within their budget, you wouldn’t yell at them and make them feel guilty, would you? This is exactly what we do to ourselves when we eat normal amounts of food but feel guilty after eating.
Quick summary: Many times, we feel guilty after eating too much because we think we’re overeating — but in reality it’s still less than your basal metabolic needs.
Bonus: How to Stop Feeling Guilty After Eating Sugar
Two decades ago, everyone was afraid of dietary fat — and as a result, low-fat diets were popular. These days, everyone is afraid of sugar — and as a result, sugar-free/low-carb diets (like keto) are popular.
These diets aren’t eating psychology friendly, though. (No diet is!) When we resist sugar, we end up craving sugar and eating it anyway — often in larger quantities than if it were just allowed in the first place.
Then we blame it on the addictive properties of sugar, when really it’s the psychology of the restrict/binge pattern. This is why I created my workbook Stopping Sugar Addiction the Psycho-Spiritual Way.
It will help you address the deeper psychological triggers that push you towards sugar. While sugar addiction is indeed real, addressing your psychology is more than enough to break the habit.
Once you make peace with sugar, you’ll be able to eat normal amounts of it. For example, once I gave up dieting and stopped binge eating, I was able to have one bite of a brownie and stop. No need for willpower. Because it was allowed anytime I wanted it, I was able to stop after just one bite.
This does not mean that Permission to Eat is the end-all-be-all step though! Instead, Permission to Eat is one step in the larger ecosystem of your eating psychology. (And again, that’s why I created Psycho-Spiritual Wellness, to encapsulate everything.)
Quick summary: While sugar addiction is real, addressing your psychology is more powerful than trying to resist sugar all the time.
Why Do I Feel Guilty After Eating? Now You Know: It’s All Psychology
In order to learn how to stop feeling guilty after eating, you need to start with your psychology. Permission to Eat is crucial because what you resist persists. I know this sparks fear of weight gain, but when you pair Permission to Eat with all the other steps within Psycho-Spiritual Wellness, your weight will actually begin to regulate itself, without dieting.
If you’d like to learn more, you can dig DEEP into Psycho-Spiritual Wellness in my free ebook below, The Spiritual Seeker’s Guide to Stop Binge Eating. It’s like this blog post, but better!