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Experiencing Food Guilt? – Here’s How You Can Enjoy The Food You Love Without Harm

Written by: Gianluca Tognon, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Every food lover can relate to this when I say that food brings happiness and satisfaction while you have it. Unfortunately, this is not the case for every individual because some people experience “food guilt.”

Not surprisingly, the internet is full of blogs about “guilt-free” foods and dishes. However, why should you blame yourself for satisfying a basic human need?

What is food guilt, and why is it bad for you?

Food guilt usually stems from an early age when people learn to classify food into two big groups, i.e., “healthy” and “unhealthy.” The tendency to classify foods in these two categories has progressively become more intense over the years. When an individual molds their lifestyles around only eating “healthy food,” the act of consuming foods that are not classified as such can arouse a sense of strong guilt.

Food guilt affects you in several ways. Blaming yourself about what you eat creates a negative impact on your mental well-being, as well as your physical health. You cannot enjoy your meals to the fullest and spend relaxing time with your friends and family over a meal.

Food guilt can also spark anxiety whenever you think about eating a simple dessert, like ice cream or a slice of cake. It is then difficult to control the obsessive thoughts triggered by this innocent act.

Experiencing too much anxiety related to your eating habits can induce you to perceive yourself as more overweight than you are and develop unhealthy eating disorders. People with an eating disorder or disordered eating behaviors describe a negative voice inside them that gives rise to negative thoughts about food.

Not surprisingly, food guilt is common among athletes since they must be highly cautious about their bodies. One study conducted in Iceland with 755 athletes representing 20 different sports reports a high prevalence of disordered eating among athletes, particularly those who practice aesthetic sports, such as dancing.

Let’s have a look at the numbers

Another research conducted in the US reported that almost one-third of Americans feel guilty about the food they eat. In addition, a survey conducted by OnePoll consisting of 2000 Americans concluded that the awareness of food being unhealthy primarily causes food guilt.

Studies have also shown that more women suffer from food guilt than men. The latter is likely a consequence of the fact that media tend to portray women’s bodies as perfect. Western societies often equate women’s beauty with slim figures and glowing skins, and many women are afraid their food choices can have a strong negative impact on their body shape.

It seems that food guilt is a common problem that robs us of one of the best pleasures of our life: eating our favorite food! Of course, too much of some foods (e.g., high-sugar foods) is not suitable for your health. How can you regain a healthy relationship with the food you love without feeling guilty but without indulging to the point of causing harm to your body shape and health?

How to get rid of food guilt?

Food is not inherently evil, and neither is to indulge in some comfort food or treats from time to time. However, the guilt connected with eating can feel like a trap for many people. Here are a few steps to reconquer a healthy relationship with the food you eat.

Verify whether your feeling of food guilt is excessive: You should know that as a human, you deserve to have a positive bond with food instead of stressing over it. However, it’s normal to experience some guilt when you have exaggerated. Identify your patterns of food guilt and acknowledge the fact with an open mind that this guilt is not healthy for your physical and mental wellness. Take note of every time you experience food guilt and figure out the “when” and “whys” behind it. Is it justified? Once you have done this, you will know what foods or situations are causing the guilt in the first place, and it will be easier to proceed further.

Break the identified patterns: You need to break the food rules you have set to eliminate toxic food guilt. I know eating something that you consider unhealthy and triggers your guilt can be an unpleasant experience, but you must do something to achieve food freedom. You just need to have firm faith in yourself to consume the food without losing control. Reframe your thoughts! Tell your mind that eating the food you view as “unsafe” will benefit your health, provided you follow some basic rules (e.g., not more than one cheat meal and 2-3 desserts per week).

Practice Mindful Eating: Although this concept might not be new to you, let me explain how I interpret it. Mindful eating involves listening to the cues your body is giving you. For example, when your stomach tells you it is full, and you should not eat any more food, it is excellent if you take note of this cue and stop eating. At the same time, you must learn to eat only when your hunger is real. Food surrounds us, and it is common to eat just because you have food available or at the first sign of appetite, which might instead be a symptom of stress or boredom. Following your natural sense of hunger (see picture below) strictly will ensure that you do not lose control of your temptations and compulsions, thus removing food guilt and allowing you to enjoy a fantastic food experience.

Use positive affirmations: Positive affirmations are one of the best techniques you can use to change any kind of behavior you want. They work like magic! Come up with a set of positive self-affirmations and remind yourself how superbly you are traveling on the road to killing food guilt and eating a healthy diet.

Use phrases like:

  • I am doing a fantastic job!

  • This has been working out great for me so far!

  • Food, you cannot control my life anymore!

  • I am in total power over my food choices.

  • I can eat whatever I want and whenever I want without overdoing it.

Rewiring the toxic mindset that society has fed you early can be a challenging task that will consume most of your energy, efforts, and time. Nevertheless, you can make the journey more pleasant for your mind by using positive affirmations, as it requires constant reminders to get on the right track. Hanging sticky notes around your house can also be a brilliant way to remind yourself of your food achievements.

Never be judgmental of yourself: Deep self-reflection and understanding your personality and character are essential to changing your old habits. To get rid of food guilt, you should never judge your actions in a negative light. If you ate too many unhealthy fats today, no problem, try to control it tomorrow. Do not go like, “Oh no, I can’t do this because I lost control over my behavior.” Instead, tell yourself that you overdid today, and that’s okay because you will make sure that it does not happen again. You are on the road to unlearning toxic eating behaviors, which requires patience and time.

If you begin to negatively judge yourself during the unlearning and learning process, then it would not take a lot of time before you decide to give up on your decision to say goodbye to food guilt.

Comfort food options you can enjoy without feeling guilty

We all love comfort food. It provides us with peace and joy after a hectic day. Comfort food also serves as our favorite partner in sorrow and happiness. Therefore, why not make a list of healthy comfort food options to enjoy without getting tortured by any sense of guilt? Here are some ideas:

  • Light Rosti with Mushrooms and Onions

  • Roasted vegetables

  • Herbed Kale Salad with Persimmon, Pomegranate and Maple-Cumin Syrup

  • Pumpkin Chicken Chilli

  • Pineapple cucumber smoothie (unusual combo but very refreshing)

  • Roasted Mushroom and Romaine Salad

  • Coconut Cashew Protein Smoothie

  • Butternut Squash Risotto

  • Sweet Potato Gnocchi

  • Raspberry Pistachio Cream Smoothie

  • Fruit salad with honey and lime dressing

  • Plum salad with ginger rhubarb dressing

Is it true that food guilt can make your weight go up?

It is a hundred percent true that food guilt can make you weigh more! The food guilt you experience can trigger a stress mechanism in your body. Stress increases the level of cortisol (stress hormone) in your body. Consequently, your appetite will increase, causing further weight gain.

All the guilt you feel after eating the food you consider “unclean and unhealthy” can make you conscious of your body and weight. As a result, your mind makes you believe that you are overweight and need to lose more body weight even when it is entirely within the normal range.

Food guilt will sabotage your weight loss goals, and you will feel like you can never actually attain them.

To wrap up, I would want you to get out of your comfort zone and take charge of your life from tomorrow onwards. Make positive changes to conquer food guilt and throw it out of your life for good!

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Gianluca Tognon, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Gianluca Tognon is an associate professor in public health at the University of Skövde (Sweden) and the founder of the consulting company “The Food Scientist.” He is an expert in public health, nutrition, and food science. As a trained biologist with a Ph.D. in nutrition, Gianluca spent more than 15 years researching public health and nutritional epidemiology to understand the problems connected to unhealthy diets. He has also worked with the Choices Programme, which has set criteria for reformulating food products to better impact consumers’ health. He is now primarily focused on helping companies in the food and health industry improve their products, brand, and presence. Gianluca has consulted private companies, schools, organizations, and hundreds of private individuals who needed help with diet and health. He has presented at several conferences and events in Europe and the USA. More information about Gianluca is available on his website:



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