Food Guilt and Food Shaming Are Not Your Friend

Food Guilt and Food Shaming Are Not Your Friend

I know I’ve written about this before, but I can recall having the world’s most massive epiphany during a visit to the grocery store with my sorority sister one day. She was helping me do my grocery shopping, since I was a little lost in regards to how to eat healthy. I mean, of course I was buying the “Healthy Decision” meals or whatever… and of course she was smacking stuff out of my hand like I was picking up arsenic or something. And of course, I was threatening to throw bags of rice at her and take her down right in the middle of the beans and canned veggie aisle.

How dare you embarrass me in front of the black beans?

That’s beside the point.

She was coming from a place of love and support… trying to educate me about how to make better choices in what I brought home for my little one and I. I love her for that… though I still feel like I should throw a bag of brown rice at her just for general purposes.

Fast forward. I’m at an event with a few strangers, and word gets around that I’ve lost “a gang of weight” thus far. People are watching me – some are throwing shade (in other words, they’re trying to block my shine, they’re “hating on me”), some are wondering if I’ve had surgery, some are wondering “how I did it,” but all are watching what I eat. Everyone.

I request a drink. What it was doesn’t matter… just know that it wasn’t water. The minute I take it into my hand, the first thing I hear is, “That can’t be good for your diet, can it?”

Did you hear the record skip? I sure did.

Let’s talk about guilt and shame here, for a minute – specifically “food guilt” and “food shame.” I am not a fan of either. Why? Because, quite frankly, they’re ideologies that come from a dieter’s lifestyle. Not the lifestyle of a human being, which makes allowances for error/slip-ups/occasional indulgences. (Note: this is also why I don’t believe in “moderation.” It’s dieter’s mentality. I’m not a dieter. I don’t “moderate” my intake of food. I use common sense.)

Guilt, defined by Merriam-Webster: “a : the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously b : feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy”

Shame, defined by Merriam-Webster: “(1) a : a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety b : the susceptibility to such emotion <have you no shame?>; (2) a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute <the shame of being arrested>”

I brought up these two different situations for a reason. Did I feel a little shame in the situation with my sorority sister? Of course! No one likes to be wrong. No one likes to feel like they have a “shortcoming,” and no one like to feel like their knowledge of anything is subordinate to someone else… but the fact remains that she is someone who I love like a best friend, whose opinions I respect, and whose guidance I trust. I know she’s coming from a place of love and support, and that shines through in how she talks to me about food. It’s because of her support that I’m where I am today. So even though I did feel a little shame, I let it go because she was educating me. (And even though I get a little teary-eyed in writing that, I still plan to throw the rice at her.)

Someone else who does not know me from a can of paint, however, trying to check me – in, almost, a mocking sense – about “what’s good for my diet?” Monumental fail. Not only because I am not a dieter, but because it’s an attempt to embarrass me by putting me in my place. It’s not even about what’s being said… but what’s being left off.

“That can’t be good for your diet, can it? Y’know, ’cause you’re still kinda fat.

When I dine out with my friends, sure, I think about what I order. Sure, I think about what they order. But my friends know me. I’m not opening my mouth. Why? Because it’s not my place. It is not my place to “remind” someone – uninvited, unrequested, unsolicited – of whatever goal they have in mind, as if they’d forgotten because they’re too busy being hypnotized by food. Like I’ve mentioned the “come to fitness moment” that people have.. I say that it’s inappropriate to try to bring that out of people without their permission because you’re essentially guilting people. You’re trying to make them feel bad for doing what they do.

You know, there’s an element of “Oh, you can’t control yourself and you deserve to be shamed” here that’s especially annoying, too… because, you know, “will power is the only thing that separates the fat from the skinny” (even though we all know that’s not the case.) It relates back to that Puritanical way of thinking that Americans cling to – that “bad things happen to bad people.” And since society has deemed “fat” as a “bad thing,” clearly you must be a bad person in need of saving since, well, you are “fat.” Damn all that.

To me, shame is inevitable. If you’re in a position of learning, you will feel like that same learning – that position of being the student instead of the teacher in regards to something “that should be common sense” – is highlighting a shortcoming.. and you may feel ashamed of that. I know I did. Shame brought on by someone guilting you – and trust me, you know it’s malicious because you can’t identify the person as someone coming from a place of love – is unacceptable.

Guilt, however, is unnecessary… be it imposed on you by others, or by yourself. Do I occasionally screw up? Yes. The day I bought my little one some goldfish crackers and caught myself eating them faster than I could give them to her? I didn’t sit around moping about what I had done. I accepted the fact that I couldn’t control myself around them, took the positive from the situation (which is that I learned a lesson), and moved on. I didn’t dwell, I didn’t guilt myself with phrases like “You’re never going to lose weight, you’re never going to be pretty, you’re never going to matter” or whatever other crap women tell themselves. I pulled the lesson from the situation and moved on. Anything beyond that, to me, is a level of stress that I know I, personally, will not be able to handle… so I don’t.

I think too many people go through the “weight game” thinking that guilting themselves will cause them to make the appropriate decisions instead of taking their strengths and weaknesses into account, using the situation as a way to learn about new strengths and weaknesses, learning a lesson from the situation, and moving on. If you’re an emotional eater, wouldn’t guilting yourself about what you’ve eaten only continue the cycle of… emotional eating? Somewhere along the line, you have to take a stand. You have to just… make a conscious decision to stop accepting the guilt. You have to decide to stop letting the shame be something that affects your self-esteem.

How did I handle the person asking me whether or not something was “good for my diet?” I simply told her, “Diet? I’m not on a diet,” as I took a sip. When that was met with “You didn’t lose all that weight on a diet? Stop lying,” I responded with “Nope. I eat what I want,” took another sip and walked off. I figure since people are gonna talk regardless, might as well give ’em something to talk about.

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By | 2017-06-10T11:44:25+00:00 August 23rd, 2013|It's All Mental|24 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.


  1. BlackBerry Molasses October 1, 2010 at 11:13 AM - Reply

    Love this.
    That is all.

  2. ChellBellz October 1, 2010 at 11:36 AM - Reply

    i know that’s right. I can’t stand when people mind other’s business. I mean there is a good way to ask what you did. No sense in being shy if they are constantly staring in your face. One drink isn’t going to balloon your weight back on, and you are right, you do eat what you want.

    • Erika October 1, 2010 at 2:18 PM - Reply

      They’ll never know the secret so long as they don’t visit this site, huh? 🙂

  3. Streetz October 1, 2010 at 1:06 PM - Reply

    As I finish this chicken Pizza, I commend this blog post!

    • Erika October 1, 2010 at 2:17 PM - Reply

      As long as it’s baked chicken pizza and not that certain chicken joint, we good. LOL!

  4. Nicole October 1, 2010 at 1:31 PM - Reply

    Whew! I have encountered this all too many times.

    • Erika October 1, 2010 at 2:17 PM - Reply

      Don’t we all… *sigh*

  5. Kim October 1, 2010 at 2:10 PM - Reply

    Erika, you are officially a friend in my head.

    (And Streetz, I had chicken pizza for lunch, too . . . but given that I would ordinarily eat the pork-laden version, I’m kinda proud of myself. *shrug*)

    • Erika October 1, 2010 at 2:17 PM - Reply

      No shade over here… I certainly baked a pizza for dinner last night. *cough*

      Yay for new friends. 🙂

  6. Cjbrownsc October 1, 2010 at 3:32 PM - Reply

    I have coworkers that like to play that game – always analyzing what I’m eating when they really need to be looking in their own plates.

    I don’t understand it. I would never do that to anyone. If I know you’re trying lose weight I’d never ask you about what you’re eating. It’s not my business and I’m just not a hurtful person.

    I do love your “I’m not on a diet. I eat what I want” response, Erika! I’m stealing it and will be using it the next time somebody has their nose in my plate!! LOL

  7. Cyndi October 2, 2010 at 10:31 AM - Reply

    Well, Its been quite over here, but Ericka lets begin with thanking God for your struggle cause in the end you have a story, for all who want to listen, why is good health a debate, to those who dont give a damn ( sorry) but really the guilt thing is currently happening to me and thanks for your opinion on handling it, Rewind…Ericka me and you began chatting in nov/dec 2009 maybe, I spoke to you( crying) about going to walk and couldnt complete 2 miles, we chated about my lupus and even my sudden news of cervical cancer and a hysto at 39..And the over night ( weight gain ) lol, but not once did you give up on me as I tried to do myself, well your e-mails keep coming and I keep reading.My rude pcp would say you know “your overweight”, “ummm with you being so over weight”, not ,Im glad your still alive lets work on getting you back to a healthy weight . Nope but you did(Ericka)…So heres a report I am cancer free 11-months from surgery and treatment, my lupus is active but not serverly out of control ,I am off the steroids, CLEAN EATING : July 2010 198lbs, Oct 1 2010 178lbs, ( thank God , Ericka and me for not being a quiter)To get back to 145-148 when this all began is still my goal, with the silly ppl “are you on a diet” in my rear view mirrior. Thanks Again and yes I have been using some of the recipes keep them coming as well. ( crying) God has done a wonderful job with you.With a lov hug and a bag of brown rice flying across the room ~Cyndi

  8. akilah October 3, 2010 at 1:40 PM - Reply

    I am struggling with this now with my Mother. I eat what I want without guilt or a care because I monitor my calories and portion size so much so that it’s second nature.

    My mother has a problem with seeing me enjoy servings of chocolate\ice cream\pizza whatever, since she knows I am working to get back to 140(that’s pre-baby, he’s 13 now lol.) I am down to 175 and looking forward to that 140 again but my audience can’t understand why I don’t cut out everything.

    Thanks for further inspiration

  9. Nik May 19, 2011 at 12:03 PM - Reply

    I deal with this a lot. A co-worker (who also happens to be the bosses son) consistently feels inclined to examine my food choices.

    One time, I had some nachos and he said, “well, you certainly didn’t loose all that weight from eating stuff like that” and “aren’t you on a special diet”. I was totally floored. I couldn’t believe he had the audacity to mind my business in such a manner and to be so utterly disrespectful too. I told him “No” I am not on a “special diet” and I left it at that. I was so angry that I needed to limit my words. Especially because, like I said, he is the bosses son…

    But even outside of work I experience this a lot too. It’s like people are invested in being all up in my business about food. If I eat something someone considers less than 200% healthy then it’s like they take pleasure in pointing it out, as loudly as possible as if I’d been “caught” doing something I shouldn’t have been doing. Can they please find some other means of esteeming themselves? Thanks.

    Some people feel inclined to ask “Do you really need that?” Or they say “You don’t need that” if I decide to indulge in a sweet treat. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “like OMG, can I please mind my own business while you mind yours? Kthnxbai!”

    Or when I eat something someone considers “too healthy” I get accused of favoring tasteless “tree bark”, “rabbit food” or “food that food eats” (that last remark is a stab because I’m a vegetarian).

    Oh yeah, then there’s the group of people who feel so inclined to “justify” or “explain” their bad food choices to me as if I inquired or have enough interest or time to care. The justification and explanations are generally followed up by tentative goals and empty promises to do a better job next time. Um, so what, thanks!

    I’d love to go about my business without consistently getting dumped on about food choices … rant done.

    • Alicia June 7, 2011 at 11:53 AM - Reply

      Have you ever had the opposite effect? Like, my mom will ask me what I’m eating for dinner, I’ll say “a salad,” and she’ll respond, “Aren’t you ever gonna eat some real food?” Or comments like, “You need to eat more,” etc, even though I eat a good amount of food. Those comments bother me too, because my meals can be just as filling as the next person’s, except that that person considers a “real” meal to be a burger and fries from McDonalds. Then on top of that, I give myself the WORST guilt trips over indulgences. Days later I will still harp over times when I ate out at restaurants or ate big desserts. I’m going to try to work on that aspect of things, but I still get annoyed when people try to tell me that I NEED to eat unhealthy food. =/

  10. Bannef January 24, 2012 at 4:31 PM - Reply

    Thanks for explaining what you thought in the goldfish example. Those are the kind of brain-patterns I’m trying to get myself into in many areas of life (food definitely included) and hearing how you do it really helps.

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