Why food guilt is doing you more harm than good


Once you’ve left the world of dieting behind, you really start to notice the food talk of others.  A few months back I was listening to a conversation around the office around cake.

Someone in the office had just celebrated an amazing success and a delicious, fudgey chocolate mud cake was brought in for afternoon tea as a celebratory treat. It was beautifully iced and decorated, and had a yummy chocolate buttercream layer through the middle. It tasted AMAZING!

Afterwards I happened to notice some of the comments around the office.

“I’ve just finished a wholesome healthy lunch and now I’m ruining it by having this cake. I shouldn’t have any but I will.”

“Arg I just ate that cake and now I feel sick”

“Did you see the cake in the kitchen?  I just had some, damn it!”

Pretty much ALL the comments were emotionally loaded and focused around guilt.

And you know what, I felt kind of sad!   From an experience that should have been celebratory and pleasurable, people were feeling guilty.

I can understand why.  Once I would have been exactly the same.  I would have eaten the cake, felt terribly guilty and gone on to figure out ways of how I could burn off those extra calories by eating less or exercising more and those thoughts probably would have consumed me.   If it was a really bad day, I might jump into the mindset of “stuff it, the weeks ruined, I’m going to have another piece, and maybe I’ll buy some chocolate for later too.  May as well get it out of the way and start again tomorrow”.

Do you know what?

None of these thoughts are helpful.   In fact, they’re more likely to be harmful.

Funnily enough, not long after this, I read an article about how someone feels about eating cake can predict how healthy their behaviours are and how likely they are to maintain or lose weight (if weight loss was a goal).

Researchers here in NZ looked at the diet, lifestyles and views of almost 300 adults to see if they associated eating chocolate cake with  either ‘guilt’ or ‘celebration’ was related to differences in healthy eating behaviours, perceived behavioural control and intentions in relation to healthy eating. They also looked at whether the guilty vs celebratory mindset was related to weight change over 18 months.

Those who felt guilty about eating cake were more likely to have unhealthy eating behaviours and also they felt they had less control around food than those who saw cake as a celebration food.   At Eat Well NZ, we’re not into focusing on weight loss, we focus on wellness and intuitive eating.   But this study also found that on follow up 18 months later, feeling guilty about the cake was related to a weight gain of 2.4kg compared to just 0.4kg in those who saw cake as a celebratory treat.  Just goes to show that feeling bad about what you eat doesn’t mean you’ll lose weight either

You can read more about this study in a write up here too.

So what does all this mean?

Feeling guilty about food is not useful.   Having a healthy relationship with food means enjoying food,  finding balance and learning to respond to your hunger, fullness and satiety cues.    Ditch the guilt and start working towards finding a healthier relationship with food.


Cake shouldn't make you feel guilty!

Cake shouldn’t make you feel guilty!








2 Responses to Why food guilt is doing you more harm than good

  1. annaliese March 6, 2017 at 5:31 pm #

    Thank you so much this is just what I needed to read right now encourages me to be kinder to myself and have a healthy relationship with food is for it is so much better in the long run!

  2. Nicola March 28, 2017 at 9:39 pm #

    Hey Annaliese, I’m glad you found this useful 🙂 Definitely be kind to yourself – and yup a healthy relationship with food is key for long term wellbeing x

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