You just finished eating 3-4 fun size piece of Halloween candy at your best friend’s party, but rather than enjoy the festivities and revel in the excitement, you start to hear a tiny voice in your head that belittles every single food choice you’ve just made. For many people, this is not an uncommon phenomenon, and in fact, it is something that some college students struggle with on a daily basis. This constant back-and-forth between what your body craves and what your conscience wants is most widely known as “food guilt.” What is this food guilt? Where does it come from? And why does it make it so difficult for us to enjoy sweets every once in a while.
Mainstream media and social norms are the central culprits that cultivated this all-too-familiar feeling of food guilt. Through television, magazines, and social media, pop culture constantly bombards us with images of what an “ideal” figure should look like. Considering how much we have transformed into a technology-dependent society, it is easy to see how dominant digital media can easily distort our perceptions. Once you view a commercial or see an advertisement that features skillfully Photoshopped models, you fall into a comparison trap. You find yourself frequently complaining about your figure and how you are not tall enough, thin enough, or toned enough because the media has trained you to idolize and strive for what they deem the perfect figure. Additionally, the media is slowly exerting more and more influence on the way we perceive health by labeling certain foods as “good” and others as “bad”. By categorizing foods as “good” or “bad,” the media has conditioned you to fear certain foods solely on the basis of how you will be judged if you eat that food.
So why do we do this to ourselves—conform to ideals that we may not fully support and subject our bodies to potentially harmful behaviors like dieting and excessive exercising? We have to be careful of how far we let our food guilt control our decisions. If we allow our guilt to consume our thoughts, it can lead to unhealthy eating and exercise habits that can lead to disordered eating. It is a good idea to practice healthy eating habits but not to the extent that it endangers your well-being. More than anything, food is meant to be enjoyed, not feared, and its presence at social gatherings, celebrations, and ceremonies speaks to that purpose even more.
That being said, with a few simple changes, we can eliminate that twinge of guilt and appreciate food rather than condemn it. First and foremost, refrain from labeling food as either “good” or “bad.” Just because you ate a “bad” food does not mean that your identity and character are now compromised. Our food choices are not meant to define us. Rather, they are meant to nourish our bodies and keep us healthy. Along those same lines, listen to your body the next time you sit down for a meal, and engage in mindful eating. Keeping distractions to a minimum while you are eating allows you to really be in the moment and enjoy the food that you are eating. This strategy will help you feel better about your food choices and drive away those negative feelings of food guilt.