So often I hear clients tell me how guilty they feel after they have eaten something they deemto be a “bad” food. Firstly I just want to say that I don’t like to categorisefood as “good” or “bad” and don’t even get me started on the term “cleaneating”!

To me food all sits on a nutritional scale – some has a higher nutritional value than others, some, in my opinion, have a negative nutritional value – e.g. those that actually add stress to the body, but the least nutritional food you can feed yourself is actually guilty thoughts and negative self-talk after you’ve eaten something. SometimesI think it can be more damaging than the food itself and here’s why…

Now I’m not a psychologist but what I do know is that the thoughts we have will affect our feelings, our behaviours and our physical symptoms. We know that biologically when we’re stressed the physiology of our body changes. This is because our body thinks our life is in danger.  To our body there is no reason to be stressed other than life or death situations- what a simple world it would be if that were true hey?!

When we’re stressed our body responds in many physical ways like increasing heart rate and shortening breath but the reactions I want to focus on is the fact that it pumps glucose into the bloodstream – to give our muscles have the energy to fight or run away – and the fact that your digestion switches off because it’s considered non-essential to digest your last meal if you’re about to die!

Let’s translate this into a “stressful” scenario with a “naughty” or less nutritious food…

You eat <insertfood of choice here>, you feel guilty about it, you might think: “I shouldn’t have eaten that… it’s going to make me fat… I’ve ruined my diet… I have no will power… etc etc”. In all likelihood, this will cause a stress response in your body because you’ve made yourself anxious about what you’ve just eaten. Cue physical response of digestion switching off and glucose pouring into the bloodstream. Stress can also make you crave sugar/carbs, so you may think: “I’ve already eaten <insert food> so I may as well finish off all the <insert food> or also eat all the <insert food> and before you know it one little indulgence becomes a full-on blow out, and your guilt and stress levels will be off the scale.

And, as we’re not in a genuine life or death situation, well not yet anyway but overeating like this on a regular basis may eventually lead to some more serious illnesses, our body doesn’t need to fight or run away, so all that glucose which is circulating in the bloodstream has nowhere to go. Our body, not sure when we’ll next need that glucose stores it in an easy and accessible way as FAT – usually around our middle.

Try this scenario instead.

You choose to eat a small portion of <insert food here> because you really fancy it. You eat it and then move on with your day. You accept that it wasn’t the most nutritious choice but it’s one little meal or snack in a whole day packed with nutritious goodness, it’s not going to undo all the good work of the other food you’ve eaten this day / this week. After all life and good health is all aboutbalance. At the next meal/snack you’ll make a more nutritious choice. There isno time or energy wasted on feeling guilty about what you’ve just eaten. Yourbody doesn’t go into a stress response, it works to digest what’s just beeneaten and takes what nutrients it can to do good around the body.

Doesn’t that sound like a better option?

The way I look at food is that as long as most of what you’re having comes from the top of the nutrition scale, is natural and unprocessed, a little of what you fancy from lower down the scale isn’t so bad for you – as long as you don’t spend the nextfew days punishing yourself for what you’ve eaten. OWN YOUR FOOD CHOICES.


Vicky · March 11, 2019 at 2:43 pm

Love this advice Bethany! My husband finally twigged recently when he told me he wanted to go on a ‘diet.’ I told him he didn’t need a diet, he just needed to make good choices. It’s a completely different mentality from restriction and feeling bad about food and denying yourself. Just make more conscious choices each time you select food for yourself. And enjoy whatever it is you’ve chosen!

    Bethany Cox · March 25, 2019 at 4:48 pm

    Absolutely Vicky – it’s about the choices you make everyday rather than a crash diet

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