Unpacking Food Guilt

Scott Littlefield MS, CN, CISSN

Do you tell someone with depression not to feel sad because life is good?

When you simply tell someone they shouldn’t feel guilty for a food choice or behavior, you tell them that their feelings are invalid. It distances them and fails to solve the problem. Instead, ask why – usually twice. I shouldn’t have eaten that. Why? It’s bad for me. Why? Now you can begin to understand their thoughts and have a discussion to address the root cause of the issue.

Alleviation of this anxiety is typically a straightforward process that is all too often ignored by athletes and inexperienced practitioners in favor of cheap sentiments that actually prevent athletes from growth.

Food guilt is the realization of a misalignment between food choices and goals. Whether valid or not, it comes from a choice that is believed to conflict with one or more goals.

If an athlete eats a big ol' cheesy, creamy burrito right before competition and then gets sick, underperforms, and lets their team down, a little food guilt might prompt them to consider making a different choice next time that is more in line with their priorities.

Frequent I shouldn’t have eaten that dialogue indicates a lack of clear priorities and/or a misunderstanding of how food can fit to achieve various goals: performance, social connection, hunger, survival, aesthetics, short-term and long-term health, joy and happiness. Why do you say you ‘shouldn’t have eaten that’? Why did you eat it?

  • Maybe the athlete needs to understand how that choice fits perfectly fine: are they considering faulty good-food/bad-food paradigms? Are those senseless labels making them feel needless guilt over choices that actually fit their priorities? Now you can draw out good-food/bad-food discrepancies and help them work toward a better framework.

  • Maybe the athlete needs to better understand their own priorities in order to accept how their choice fits: is maintaining a caloric deficit to alter aesthetics not actually that high on their priority list? Is guilt coming from holding themselves accountable to that low-priority item while not being mindful of how their choice fits higher priority items? Now you can help navigate those priorities and collaborate toward a satisfactory solution.

  • Or, maybe the athlete needs to understand how a variety of other choices could have been better in that moment. Or, maybe they need to understand how to make choices more in line with their priorities.

Elimination of food guilt follows an exploration of priorities, a clarification of goals, and a more complex understanding of how a variety of foods can flexibly fit to achieve desired results... leading to athletes who make mindful, deliberate, and self-assured choices.

Fuelogics provides an individualized framework and utilizes a food-inclusive environment so athletes can integrate all-foods-fit education into their lives.

Scott Littlefield MS, CN, CISSN

Scott co-owns a private practice - ViTL Nutrition - where he works one-on-one with athletes as well as with programs from high school to professional levels across the country. He is a founding member of Fuelogics. These days you'll likely find him testing the boundaries of strength, size, and the mile-run or the limits of human taco consumption.

Stay in the know with periodic updates on everything Fuelogics.

(We will never share your email with a third party.)