Shame Eating: Feeling Shame About What You Eat

Shame Eating: Feeling Shame About What You Eat

Shame Eating: Feeling Shame About What You Eat

Table of Contents

Written By:
Sarah Glinski, RD

Key Takeaways

There are many reasons you might feel shame; you may have received unsolicited comments about your body, or maybe something that happened at work or at home. 

Emotional eating or shame eating are common ways people cope with difficult emotions. In these moments you might have noticed you ran to the pantry to comfort eat. But shame eating can backfire, and lead to more intense feelings of shame about what you ate.

In this article, we’ll review what shame is, how it relates to eating, and tips to overcome shame eating.

What is Shame?

Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher who has studied shame extensively. She defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

In her Ted Talk about listening to shame, Brown explains the difference between shame and guilt. She explains that shame is a focus on self, while guilt is a focus on behavior. In other words, shame involves thinking “I am bad,” while guilt involves thinking “I did something bad.” 

When it comes to eating, shame can be the deep, personal sense that you’re flawed as a person because you don’t live up to the expectations you’ve set for yourself regarding weight and eating. 

What is Shame Eating?

A common way that shame is expressed is by eating certain foods quickly and in secret. Shame eating is closely tied with emotional eating. While it’s normal to sometimes turn to food for comfort in times of stress, boredom, or uncertainty, it becomes a problem when it’s the only strategy a person uses to make themselves feel better. 

Studies show that shame is also closely tied to binge eating. The study from 2017 found that when women had shame-related childhood memories, they were more likely to binge eat. This then leads to more feelings of shame, more binge eating, and a cycle that can be hard to break out of. 

What Are The Symptoms of Shame Eating?

The symptoms of shame eating are similar to the symptoms of emotional eating. They include:

·  Eating in response to negative emotions (such as shame).

·  Getting sudden, urgent cravings.

·  Craving only certain foods.

·  Overeating.

·  Feeling shame or guilt after eating.

If you’re struggling with any of these feelings, it’s a sign that shame and emotional eating may need to be addressed. 

Strategies to Reduce Shame Eating

We live in a society that is steeped in diet culture, and many people are susceptible to feeling a deep sense of shame about how and what they’re eating. Here are some steps you can take to tune into your body’s true needs and break free from shame eating. 

Be Aware of Your “Shoulds” and “Shouldn’ts”

How often do you use the phrase “I should eat this” or “I shouldn’t eat that?” Using these words can be harmful because if you don’t follow through,  you might feel shame or guilt, which can quickly spiral into shame eating.

People can have an internal monologue telling them they shouldn’t eat foods they’ve labeled as “bad.” However, these foods are also the kinds of foods people often turn to when they’re stressed. Studies show that restricting food leads to intensified cravings. Instead, try to look at food more neutrally. You may find it easier to stop turning to certain foods when you’re feeling stressed or ashamed.

Start by noting each time you use the word “should” or “shouldn’t” when it comes to food. Once you become aware of how often you use these words, you can start to question the statement's validity.

Next, try to flip the thought into something more compassionate. For example, instead of saying “I shouldn’t eat this cookie because it’s bad for me,” try to reframe it to “I’m craving this cookie, and I’m going to enjoy it,” if that’s what your body truly craves. By questioning food rules, you’ll open the doors to a more intuitive way of eating, which studies have shown reduces shame. 

Experiment with Eating Mindfully

Shame eating and emotional eating disconnect you from your body’s natural hunger, fullness, and satiety cues. Luckily, studies show that mindfulness decreases both binge eating and emotional eating. 

To restore the disconnection that shame eating promotes, slow down and focus your attention on the eating experience. Before you start eating, pause to take some deep breaths. Get in tune with your emotions and hunger levels. Are you feeling stressed? Sad? Angry?

As you start to eat, try to pay attention to the food through all your senses, such as colors, textures, and flavors. By doing so, you’ll be more likely to stop eating when you’re full, and you’ll likely feel a greater sense of pleasure and satisfaction rather than shame. 

Do a Social Media Detox

Studies show that there are higher levels of body dissatisfaction among young women who spend a lot of time on social media. Hours spent scrolling ultimately leads to the comparison of your own life to others, which can lead to feelings of shame if your body or diet doesn’t live up to what you see on social media.

Try to unfollow or mute any account that makes you feel bad about yourself and could potentially lead to shame eating. If you’re still interested in food-related content, try searching for people who use a non-diet or intuitive eating approach. They both encourage a way of eating that takes away shame and instead focuses on tuning into the body’s cues and honoring your cravings. 

Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion has been shown to reduce binge eating behaviors and improve food-related self-regulation. Self-compassion means being kind and understanding with yourself when you’re confronted with personal failings (for example, not eating or exercising the way you think you should). Studies show that higher levels of self-compassion are associated with lower levels of shame.

The next time you find yourself shaming yourself for looking or eating a certain way, try to extend the same kindness you would show to a friend in a similar situation. By extending kindness to yourself, you may reduce shame and be able to refrain from shame eating.

Nourish is Here to Help

If you’re struggling with shame eating, Nourish is here to help. Our team of registered dietitians can provide a compassionate environment for you to work through your relationship with food. Plus, they’re 100% remote and covered by insurance.

Click here to get in touch and book an appointment today. 


Brené Brown. Shame vs. Guilt. TED. Listening to shame 

Aparicio-Martinez P, Perea-Moreno AJ, Martinez-Jimenez MP, Redel-Macías MD, Pagliari C, Vaquero-Abellan M. Social Media, Thin-Ideal, Body Dissatisfaction and Disordered Eating Attitudes: An Exploratory Analysis.

Duarte C, Pinto-Gouveia J. The impact of early shame memories in Binge Eating Disorder: The mediator effect of current body image shame and cognitive fusion.

Cleveland Clinic. Health Essentials. What is Emotional Eating? 

Massey A, Hill AJ. Dieting and food craving. A descriptive, quasi-prospective study. Appetite.

Katterman SN, Kleinman BM, Hood MM, Nackers LM, Corsica JA. Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: a systematic review.

Craven MP, Fekete EM. Weight-related shame and guilt, intuitive eating, and binge eating in female college students.

Serpell L, Amey R, Kamboj SK. The role of self-compassion and self-criticism in binge eating behaviour.

Sedighimornani, N., Rimes, K. A., & Verplanken, B. (2019). Exploring the Relationships Between Mindfulness, Self-Compassion, and Shame.


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