food related guilt

The forum I frequent has a lot of talk about “feeling guilty” over food. I know this is a topic I’ve addressed, but since it seems to come up so much with people new to intuitive eating (mindful eating, hunger directed eating… etc), I thought I would do another post on it.

I have some pretty strong feelings about the role guilt has played in my dieting career. It’s a process, but I’m trying to change my belief system in regard to food, one belief at a time. Guilt is a big one for women. It’s really quite sad that we spend so much mental/emotional energy beating ourselves up over what we put into our mouths. Feelings are so fickle and when we let them dictate whether we are “good” or “bad” when it comes to food, we will find ourselves on a rollercoaster ride with frightening repercussions.

I’m trying to remove any guilt associations from food or the act of eating food. Guilt serves in regard to morality. Unless you’re stealing food or killing for food, what, when, or how much you eat shouldn’t be a moral issue. I want guilt to prompt me that being rude to someone is wrong, and I should apologize. Yes, guilt does serve a moral purpose. But, in regard to eating more or less food, this should not be a guilt related issue. Associating guilt with food is a diet/health industry tactic, and it serves that industry very well (read: “makes them wealthy”).

Now, that doesn’t mean what, when, or how much you eat it isn’t a physical issue. We most certainly should acknowledge our physical beings in regard to food. So, rather than feeling “guilty” (moral or immoral), what I’m trying to do is associate the physical feelings with my actions. If I ask myself the right questions, and make a conscious choice to eat a particular item, or continue eating for whatever reason, then I am acknowledging my capability to make these decisions. Eating is as basic to human existence as breathing. Eating is necessary. Now distinguishing between guilt (which is unwarranted with food) and discomfort (which should be acknowledged) looks like this…

How Much I Ate:

Do I feel bad about the amount of food I ate because I think it was a perceptively large amount and it seems I should not eat that amount of food in one sitting no matter how hungry I am? OR Am I really feeling poorly because my stomach physically hurts (or is mildly uncomfortable) from eating past the point of satiety?

What I Ate:

Likewise, do I feel bad because I know that a particular food is laden with things that the health experts tell me aren’t good for me? Or perhaps because it’s on the “do not eat” side of the food list of any particular diet? – OR – Am I really feeling poorly because that particular food doesn’t sit well with me physically… it makes me feel physically ill… or it makes me feel physically sluggish?

When I Ate:

Do I feel bad that I waited too late to eat breakfast, or ate past a certain time in the evening because the gurus say I should eat breakfast by X time and stop eating by X time? – OR – Do I feel ravenous because I waited past the cues my body was giving me, or have trouble sleeping because my digestive system is working overtime while I’m laying in bed?

External Prodding vs. Internal Cues

If I’m placing an external “rule” on the amount I ate (or what I ate, or when I ate)… it’s unwarranted guilt. If I’m actually noticing how eating makes me feel physically, then I am acknowledging what nourishes/benefits me and what doesn’t. When natural intuitive eaters eat past the point of satiety, and they find themselves uncomfortable, but they don’t berate themselves over it. They make a mental note that their actions hurt them physically, and they move on (remember the “Let it go” theme?). Next time that situation arises, they remember the feeling and are more aware so they can make a conscientious choice to do whatever they want in regard to that food related instance.

Of course, ideally we should strive to eliminate guilt from the food equation; However, in the meantime, there are sooo many things we can learn from each eating encounter where guilt rears its head. First, maybe it roots out some of that diet mentality that’s lurking in the shadows. Second, it gives us the opportunity to reiterate to ourselves that food should never make us feel guilty. Third, it allows us the opportunity to explore why we were so hungry… how the food made us feel physically and maybe even emotionally… why we really want to keep eating even though we’re full (is it “last supper mentality?). If we dissect what all went down, we will discover all kinds of little nuggets that can serve to equip us to handle the next eating situation.

The more I pay attention to how a food makes me physically feel (immediately and even hours later), the more I realize what does nourish me and what doesn’t. BUT, if I attach guilt to it in anyway, it drowns out the natural intuitive eater within me and tacks up a list of “man-made” rules instead. If I do happen to eat past satiety (which does happen), I just say something like, “Ok, I feel this discomfort. I don’t really like how this feels, but I will recover. It is not the end of the world. It’s part of the healing process. What can I learn from it?” Then I move on as quickly as I can. Some days those condemning thoughts come back a few minutes later and I have to reassure myself all over again. But, the more I address the thoughts and feelings, the more able I am to head them off before they even get started.

Let’s keep guilt to moral issues and stop serving it up on our plates.

discerning guilt

This morning, I woke feeling better, emotionally, than I have in a very long time. I don’t know why I felt different, but I did. I felt centered, focused… at peace. A song lyric from my childhood echoed in my mind as my eyes opened, “Start the day, forgiven. Start by trusting in the Lord.” I asked God what I should read this morning and I felt He led me to Beth Moore’s book, Praying God’s Word. Now, I’ve never read the entire thing. I’ve stuck to a few chapters, the ones I purchased the book for in the first place… Pride, Idolatry, Food-related strongholds…etc. This morning, I decided to look down the chapter list and see if something jumped out at me… and boy did it.

“Overcoming Ongoing Feelings of Guilt”

So I turned to chapter 9. Two things seemed to press upon my heart and squeeze. The first, was when Beth described a scenario where a death row inmate was pardoned, but the warden came and talked the inmate into staying in the cell because, after all, the criminal deserved the punishment. Her point being, the man had been forgiven, set free, the door stood wide-open, but he stayed. What surprised me wasn’t Beth’s words, but rather my personal reaction. I instantly thought, “well, he is guilty, he shouldn’t be free. He doesn’t deserve a pardon.” And then I thought, “How honorable of that man to accept the punishment he deserved, to pay for what he’s done rather than take the easy way out.”

As I sat, mentally condemning this imaginary person, I felt a gentle conviction from the Holy Spirit. “Yes, beloved, and you don’t ‘deserve’ forgiveness either… yet I offer it to you. You don’t deserve to have someone else pay for your sin… yet My Son did just that. You’ve been pardoned, and you sit in that pit of captivity day after day. Do you think yourself ‘honorable’ for choosing to remain captive? Do you believe you can actually pay for what you’ve done? Because I assure you, dear one, paying the price for your sin was not ‘the easy way’ for Me.” (Girl swallows hard)

The second thing relates to the first. What is my perception and relationship to this particular sin (food worship/idolatry, self-image focus/idolatry with a twist of pride)? Do I actually view it as “small” on the sin scale? I mean, no person is going to come to my house and arrest me for “using a brownie” instead of fully relying on God. I’m not going to be put on death row for longing (and striving) to be like the images I see on TV, or in magazines…etc. Do I secretly treasure them because, “it’s who I am” and I get some level of enjoyment from them? And at the same time, do I also believe that I deserve to remain captive to these behaviors since I do “cherish” these sins in a way?

Beth begs the question of whether or not we’re truly repentant. If we aren’t, then she says our guilt is actually conviction from the Holy Spirit. That’s something we do want. On the other end of the spectrum, if we are truly repentant (whether we “feel” it or not), then the guilt is the enemy’s attempt to keep us sitting in a state of captivity because if he can’t condemn us to hell (those who have been saved by the blood of Christ), then he’ll try to convince us to live like we’re condemned.

Did you process that? I feel I need to take a deep breath and do some soul searching… or better yet, let God search me and renew a right spirit within me. I want godly sorrow over my sin, and I want to live like a free person. What a waste to possess freedom but live captive.

Is the guilt actually conviction… or is it condemnation? Lord, help me to discern the truth.

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” ~ Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV)