Food guilt | labelling food ‘good’ and ‘bad’ undermines healthy eating

Food guilt. We’ve all felt it at one time or another. After eating a third or fourth slice of pizza. Or a second piece of chocolate cake. Or a few too many ‘bite size’ Halloween treats ๐Ÿ˜‰

food guilt

Why do we feel guilty after enjoying a food we perceive as being less than healthy?

  • Is it because guilt induces behavioural change?
  • Or because feeling guilty actually makes us feel better, in a perverse, sort of way?
  • Or because we make the connection between the food we’ve eaten and how our body feels after indulging?

In my opinion? No, no and NO!

I think it’s because we’ve become a society that sees food in black and white.

‘Good’ and ‘bad’ foods. ‘Healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ foods. ‘Guilty pleasures’, ‘sinful tastes’ and ‘tempting treats’. How can we help but be overcome with food guilt when we’ve sampled something off the ‘naughty’ list?

Of course,ย some foods have more to offer us nutritionally than others. I’m not going to try to convince you that a coffee shop cinnamon bun is a healthy replacement for a home made Holy Crap Energy bar… But telling yourself that certain foods are off limits is a guaranteed way to make you crave them even more.

Food is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘naughty’ or ‘nice’. It should not induce feelings of guilt or shame. It is simply the fuel that our bodies need to function and perform efficiently. Nothing more, nothing less.

Given how quickly the holidays are approaching, I can guarantee that you’ll soon be seeing lots of newspaper headlines, magazine articles and healthy living blog posts using the words ‘sinful’, ‘decadent’, ‘tempting’ and ‘guilt-free’ to describe the tastes of the season.

Why make eating such an emotionally charged activity? There’s enough drama and stress in everyday life (particularly at family holiday gatherings…) without turning ourย kitchens into battlefields. Enjoy a varied diet, indulge in your favourite less healthy foods on occasion and join me in saying no to feelings of food guilt.

Do you ever feel guilty after eating something you think you shouldn’t?

Did those feelings of guilt propel you to make changes in your diet?




Looking for an inexpensive way to jump-start your journey to fitness and health? Join my online Bootcamp today! Get more info by clicking the image below.

Looking for an inexpensive way to jump-start your journey to fitness and health? Join my online Bootcamp today! Get more info by clicking the image below.


  1. I roll sans guilt completely and saaave that stuff (and her BFF SHAME) for when Ive done something violating my moral code.
    MIz recently posted…Misfit family yogaMy Profile

    • That’s the way it should be! Food has little to do with morality (unless you’re making small children pick it and paying them pennies to do so…)

  2. GREAT POST!!! We have to change the mindset!!! We get all up in our own mind sometimes that we are our own worst enemy.

    I can’t say that I never feel guilt but hardly ever. Only time is when I think about it & really know I don’t want it but eat it anyway – very rare & I get pissed at myself (not really guilt)) but I move on! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted…Variety is the Spice of Life! Cable Attachment Love!My Profile

    • Totally agree. It is a mindset, but it’s an all-pervasive one. Need to change it, big time!

  3. Fabulous post! I think you’re on to something with the black and white mentality. I guess I do fee guilty after indulging, but that doesn’t even seem like the right word. I get mad at myself! It’s a frustration since I’ve (in my mind) just discounted my hard work.
    Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table recently posted…Semi-Normal Eats + WIAWMy Profile

    • Thanks Laura. I don’t really feel guilty about ‘treating’ myself either, but I can tell from everything I read that a lot of others do!

  4. I definitely feel guilty for food that I eat sometimes. I think your second point of the possibility that we feel guilty because in a perverse way it makes us feel better is a really interesting one. Almost like telling someone something that we’re worried about makes us feel better about the thing we’re worried about. I think it would be very psychologically true. And you’re right, we definitely label things. I have learned more than saying NO you CAN’T have something will definitely lead me to wanting it, but at the same time I need to be better about saying NO you can’t have that RIGHT NOW. In the last few months as I’ve picked up marathon training I’ve been a lot more lenient in what I’ll put into my body. I’ve started questioning why I’m willing to work so hard to train for something but then put things into my body that have the opposite effect. Thanks for this post. It’s a good one.
    Meghan @ little girl in the big world recently posted…WIWW: Leopard in a new formMy Profile

    • I think the psychology of guilt is fascinating. My second point, feeling better because we’ve felt guilty, is all about showing others that we feel the way we’re ‘supposed’ to feel.
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts Meghan!

  5. Preach it! Semantics and wording are so key to how we perceive the world. So glad to be on the same bandwagon as you about rephrasing and reframing how we think of foods. Morality does not come into it. Judgement does.
    KymberlyFunFit recently posted…Hip Flexor Stretches: Right and Wrong Way to do a Quad StretchMy Profile

    • Agreed! But words are very powerful… I try very hard not to label foods ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in front of my children. They are like sponges and suck it all up!

  6. Because I am so conscious now of my food choices, I rarely feel guilty. Once in a while I’ll eat something of no nutritional value, but I know that and choose to have it for other reasons, such as taste. But I’m aware that I’m choosing that and feel it’s part of a diet that’s in moderation. Wonderful points you make about wording and guilt.
    AlexandraFunFit recently posted…Hip Flexor Stretches: Right and Wrong Way to do a Quad StretchMy Profile

  7. I am with Miz on this one. No guilt – make conscious decisions and do or don’t do.

    I do agree with you though about being inundated with marketing ploys and all these food messages.
    Elle recently posted…Under Armour Spine RPM Shoes GiveawayMy Profile

    • We can blame the marketers, but if there weren’t people out there who already believed what the marketers were showing them, the marketers would do something else… chicken and egg thing, no?

  8. So true – if you’ve made decision you think was unhealthy…and you know you’ve done it a lot…either make a change or move on. Guilt helps no one. ๐Ÿ™‚ And yes, I know this is easier said than done!
    Heather @ Better With Veggies recently posted…Raw Food Night at Root DownMy Profile

    • I always like to think of guilt as an emotion that’s all about the past. Nothing to do but get over it and move on! Thanks for stopping by Heather!

  9. I’ve spent all my teens and much of my 20s viewing food as good or bad. Very happy to say that I am now able to make much healthier choices, in relation to mindset. It feels so good to be able to enjoy chocolate guilt-free!!
    kirri White (@kirri_white) recently posted…Five signs you are in need of a site makeoverMy Profile

    • Absolutely! You could only use the words ‘enjoy’ and ‘guilt-free’ in the same sentence if you’re past the judgement stage!
      Good to see you Kirri!

  10. BOTH. It helps me stay away from certain unhealthy foods and it also makes me crave them. We always want what we can’t have.
    Pavement Runner recently posted…Race Weekend PhotosMy Profile

    • And we can’t always get what we wa-ant… How ’bout adding that one to next week’s Thursday playlist!

  11. For me I only feel guilty if I’ve been eating more processed foods than whole foods. So the guilt has more to do with the way I’m treating my body than the food itself.
    Carli recently posted…It’s a Navitas Naturals Day #WIAW No. 6My Profile

    • That’s a great way to ‘use’ guilt Carli! In general, though, I think guilt is not a very useful emotion….

  12. Everything in moderation ๐Ÿ™‚ Enjoy!
    Kierston recently posted…WIAW: Post-Competition Celebration Eats!My Profile

  13. Such a great reminder at this time of the year. Usually I only feel guilty when I binge and eat more than a moderate portion of “bad” stuff.

    I live my life for happiness and enjoyment…if I couldn’t have a cupcake, or cheese and wine, etc once in awhile I think I would be a super bitter person. So mine and everyone else’s sake I will keep up what I am doing. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Ashley recently posted…United.My Profile

    • Ashley, I too believe that enjoying food (healthy and not-so) is a huge part of having a happy life. Food is social glue and there’s nothing better than sharing a great tasting meal or snack with family and friends!
      Thanks for thinking of the rest of us and letting yourself indulge! LOL!

  14. Yes, I”ve been known to feel guilty for indulging but not as often anymore. The biggest thing is how it makes me feel afterward. Eating crap makes me feel like crap physically. And, then I get caught in a vicious cycle that can be hard to break. Eat bad, feel bad, eat bad again to feel better even if it’s only for that moment…repeat. I eat what I want but I’m very mindful of what I eat and I try to make sure it’s really what I want. Is it worth it?
    Jill @ Fitness, Health and Happiness recently posted…To Run or Not To Run?My Profile

    • It’s great once you get to the point where you can fast forward and remind yourself of how you’ll feel after making a poor food choice. I find that one of the hardest ‘breakthroughs’ to make with my personal training clients…

  15. This is a great post Tamara and you make a great point about how society views food and how the media then exacerbates it and makes it such an emotionally charged issue. The holidays are hard enough with all the other issues that go along with the holidays (ahem family). Why add something else on top of that? Food should be about nourishment – body and soul – and how it can be used to fuel our body to perform. Of course, easier said than done…
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted…Stir crazy boysMy Profile

    • Thanks Christine! I always have to remind myself that ‘society’ is really just a reflection of what we’re already thinking/feeling. Curious to see all of the blog posts next week about working off the Thanksgiving day binges!

  16. Thanks for writing about this! I love that you say, “telling yourself that certain foods are off imits is a guaranteed way to make you crave them even more.” This went into my little blue book of quotes tonight! I wholeheartedly agree. In my case, I think I wouldn’t have the guilt if I was able to stop at one or two, instead of it ending in an overstuffed binge.

    • I’m quote-worthy! I love it!
      Pay attention to the foods that make you lose control; those are typically your trigger foods and sometimes you just have to get them out of the house rather than start the binge-guilt cycle all over again…

  17. Hi There,

    The way I found out to control my craving is to use my mind. When my mind start to think about food I am thinking about a food good for me. After a few time my brain start to think about this food naturally, So now I am not only losing weigth but I am getting rid of it ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Let me know it you are using this trick !

    • Bernard, great trick! Imagine if we all could harness the power of our minds; the world would be such an amazing place!
      I will try this myself; chocolate cravings will be replaced by broccoli!

      • Thank you Tamara. This idea came to me a day when I was wondering why famous brands (Like Dunkin Donuts, Mc Do…) were spending so much money to advertise knowing that they are well known. In fact they want to anchor in our brain and I realized when I get hungry, it was what I saw that was coming back in my brain… That’s why each culture do not crave the same food ๐Ÿ˜‰ Hope this clarify the HOW it works (I was an Engineer ;-)). Please let me know how it goes ๐Ÿ˜‰


  1. […] a cupcake be “bad?” FitKnitChick, Food Guilt | Why Labeling Food ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Undermines Healthy Eating. We may be heading into the naughty or nice season, but Tamara explains why it’s a bad idea […]

  2. […] Yet I can’t seem to lay off “bad” foods. Over at Fit Knit Chick, Tamara recently wrote a post about how labeling foods “good” or “bad” undermines healthy eating. […]

  3. […] talking about nutrition with your children when theyโ€™re still toddlers. Avoid judgement when you talk about specific foods and ingredients. In my house, we avoid the โ€˜fโ€™ word (fat) at all costs. Focus on how making […]