How to Let Go of Food Guilt After the Holidays*

It happens every year. You’re invited to a Christmas party. You start nibbling on the hor d'oeuvres until, before you know it, you’ve had 10 cheese balls and too much wine. You wake up the next morning feeling ashamed for “eating bad” last night. Next weekend is the office potluck. Everyone in your office brings a dish, and you can’t help but try a little of everything that quickly overflows your plate. You leave the office feeling guilty again. Then, you arrive at your relative’s house for Christmas dinner. You haven’t eaten all day to save room for the feast. You marvel at all your favorite dishes: mashed potatoes, stuffing, and turkey smothered in gravy. Starving, you fill your plate with heaping portions. Next up is dessert. You tell yourself you’re only going to have one piece of pie. And then one piece turns into pie, two Christmas cookies, and your Aunt’s eggnog. You wake up the next morning feeling guilty. On New Year’s Eve, you declare your new year's resolution to lose weight, starting with banning all carbs from your diet. Two weeks later, you can’t resist a piece of bread, and you feel guilty again. Does this sound like you?

Every year brings the same pattern, starting around November. Winter arrives, and with it comes Starbucks holiday drinks, pumpkin pie, and mashed potatoes. Many Americans eat these heartier foods from Thanksgiving to around New Years Eve. From holiday dinners to office potlucks to Christmas parties, Americans celebrate the holidays as a season of indulgence. Then, many people end the year feeling fat and guilty for all the food we ate. Come New Years Day, we get a gym membership and start a new diet that lasts all of two weeks.

The holiday season and its aftermath often breeds food guilt, where one feels guilty after eating “bad” foods. Someone with food guilt avoids a bad food, like pizza or cookies, as their enemy and feels guilty when they give into temptation. The new year’s diet and gym wave only perpetuates the problem as we label some foods as “bad” versus good. We start elimination diets that aren’t sustainable in the long run. This unhealthy cycle morphs our perception of food as the enemy instead of nourishment and fosters a negative relationship.

Over time, food guilt can lead to an eating disorder, such as binging and purging. Evelyn Tribole, co-author of Intuitive Eating, explains, “If you tell yourself that you can’t or shouldn’t have a particular food, it can lead to intense feelings of deprivation that build into uncontrollable cravings and, often, bingeing.” Food guilt can lead to an eating disorder because it distorts one's perception of food.

Looking at Food Through a Godly Lens

Mark 6 gives us a glimpse into Jesus' perspective of food. 

And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things … And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. So they all ate and were filled.
— Mark 6:33-34, 41-42 NKJV

Before he divided the food among the people, Jesus look up and recognized God as the Provider; he thanked him and blessed the food. Jesus saw food as nourishment, a blessing, a gift from God. Food is not your enemy. It does not have to be a source of guilt or an obligation. Each meal we have God is providing substance to keep us going so we can do His will. Every single day you can buy and eat food is a blessing! Recognizing this, you eat each meal with gratitude, saying “Lord, thank you for giving me this food to nourish my body.”

The First Step: Shift Your Mindset

Food guilt is all mental, so the first step to letting go of food guilt is changing your mindset on your body and healthy eating habits. If you really want to stop feeling guilty about eating and start building a healthy relationship with food, you need to come to terms with these universal truths about body confidence:

  1. Your body will recover. One day or even one week of indulgence will not ruin your entire life. Even if you gained weight, you can lose it. So forgive yourself, for the office potluck cookies, that second Christmas dinner plate, for it all. Forgive yourself, and let it go. You cannot do anything to change the past. It’s time to focus on how to change your habits in the future.
  2. Your body is a temple. Before you roll your eyes, let me explain the scripture that inspired this common phrase. “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” (I Corinthians 6:19-20). The writer, Paul, makes an analogy between the human body and temples. God adopts those who believe as his children, saving us from sin. In being God’s child, we also house the Holy Spirit within to guide us in God’s will. So the scripture-backed phrase “your body is a temple,” gives your body greater significance. Your body isn’t just for you. God wants to use you for a greater purpose. That first requires an able, healthy body.
  3. Your body is a precious gift from God.  Your Heavenly Father crafted every fiber of your body, imperfections and all. He crafted it that way so you could fulfill his purpose for your life. For example, perhaps you were born with a chronic condition that affects your speech. With faith in Christ, you push past this condition and win a speech competition. That inspires others with your condition to not let the condition hold them back from their dreams. In this way, you are showing the marvelous work of God. See how God made you on purpose, with purpose? And you can’t do his will if you’re treating your body like trash.
  4. You owe yourself grace. Who’s influencing your eating decisions? Maybe you’re constantly taunted with negative self-talk or you may have a parent criticizing your every meal. It might feel like the world is against you, but God is for you. He doesn’t condemn you. James 4:6 says God gives greater grace. Give yourself the same grace God gives you everyday.

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“You’re not skinny enough. Don't you dare eat that piece of pie. You have no curves. You're too fat to eat that. No one will date you at that weight.”

It's time to let go of the negative self talk. No! Reject these negative thoughts as soon as they enter your head, and remind yourself of these mantras everyday: my body will recover, my body is a temple, my body is a precious gift from God, I owe myself grace. As we enter a new year, I challenge you to speak these mantras everyday in the mirror. Because food guilt, you don’t belong in our 2018.

Additional Resources

Want some practical tools on fighting food guilt at each meal? Check out some of my favorite resources on Youtube:

*I am not a medical doctor or dietician. I am not certified to give medical advice. I am speaking from personal experience and research. Please consult your doctor before changing your diet or exercise routine.

**Photography by Monika Grabkowska and Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash