What Is Food Regret?
Food regret is related to our sense of morality based on what we ate or didn’t eat. We aren't talking about regretting your choice to eat questionable sushi that caused food poisoning. We are referring to eating food and feeling shame, guilt, or regret afterward.
Food is often labeled as “good” or “bad” in Western culture. This mindset transfers to your feelings about yourself. If I ate “badly,” I am a “bad” person and should feel guilty. Guess what? This is not true!
Let’s dive in a little deeper on why you feel regret after eating, and learn solutions to help you let go of food regret. Remember, food is not moral and does not pass on morality to us after eating. Our worth and value are not found in what we eat.
Why Do I Have Food Regret?
Morality regarding food has existed for a very long time. Today, “you are what you eat” is consciously and subconsciously applied to oneself and others.1 This promotes the idea that if you eat “bad” foods, you are a bad person. Or if you eat “good foods” you are a good, or better person.
It’s hard to keep up with labels and food rules. Researchers have found that shame and guilt are common feelings after perceived failures related to eating, more often in women.1 Trying to follow unrealistic and unhealthy diets can lead you to feel like a failure, when in reality, the diet itself was a failure.
Overeating or choosing foods you have categorized as “off-limits” may lead to food regret. Diet culture can increase your feelings of regret. The next time this happens, think about why you are feeling food regret. It could be caused by following unrealistic food rules that were over-restricting your food choices. Or, maybe that twinge of regret indicates a different problem unrelated to food.
Food regret can be a symptom of a larger problem. Feeling regret after eating certain foods could be a sign of something off-balance in your daily life. It could be related to relationship problems, work, or stress.
Stress can affect your eating in two ways: under or overeating. Research shows that chronic life stress is associated with consuming energy-dense and nutrient-dense foods, especially those high in sugar and fat.2 So you may feel regret after eating, but view that feeling as a “check engine” light for your life. Take some time to dig into the source of the stress and food regret.
4 Solutions for Letting Go of Food Regret
Following fad diets that restrict calories and nutrients causes you to have intense hunger, which makes it harder to listen to your fullness cues (we’ll dive deeper into this in the next section).3 Fad diets are notorious for labeling many foods as “bad’ and can lead to increased food regret when you “break the rules.”
Instead, focus on eating balanced meals with foods you enjoy. Try to incorporate lean protein, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables (which are a great source of fiber), and some fat. Balancing your macronutrients fuels your body with energy and leaves space for you to enjoy all types of food.
Listen to Your Body and Hunger Cues
If you have been listening to an internal or external voice telling you to restrict certain foods for a long time, you probably aren’t listening to your body telling you when it is hungry and full. Taking time to assess your body’s needs will help you to let go of food regret and fuel properly.
Rating your hunger before eating can help you decide what to eat and how much. You can try this easy technique the next time you sit down to eat; rank your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10. If you arrive at your meal famished, with hunger pangs, and feeling dizzy, you waited too long to eat!
After you are done eating, rank yourself again for fullness. Stay in the five to eight range to prevent excessive fullness. A score of ten signifies you are beyond full.You are stuffed to the brim, feeling sluggish, and also feeling ill.
Being in tune with your hunger and fullness rating will help you understand why you sometimes need to eat more than a fad diet says is ok. It’s possible you were close to a 2 or 3 on the hunger scale after working hard outside in your yard. You are going to need more fuel (aka food) to replenish. You should not regret a larger portion.
Unlearning food regret takes time, but try not to dwell! Make adjustments for the future and move on. Mulling in your feelings of food regret is not helpful. Consider moving on by taking a quick walk to clear your head and take positive steps into the future. Research shows that physical activity can help you transition to positive thoughts.4
Enjoy Your Food and the People You Share It With
Nutrition is vital for preventing disease and managing health conditions.
Remember that one meal or even a whole weekend of off meals doesn’t negate your other meals in the past week. A few steps off the path does not mean you are lost in the woods.
Food is more than just energy. Food brings people together to celebrate, support each other, and create memories. Remember to enjoy your food and the people you share it with.
Nourish is Here to Help
Navigating healthy eating behaviors can be overwhelming. Changing your relationship with food and feelings of regret and shame can take time and expert help.
A registered dietitian (RD) is a trained health professional who can help you identify the root cause of your food regret and help you adopt healthy eating and thought processes to move forward.
Nourish can connect you with a specialized RD today. Our services are covered by insurance and 100% remote. Click here to get in touch and book an appointment today!
- Schei, T. S., Sheikh, S., & Schnall, S. (2019). Atoning Past Indulgences: Oral Consumption and Moral Compensation. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 2103. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02103
- Torres, S. J., & Nowson, C. A. (2007). Relationship between stress, eating behavior, and obesity. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 23(11-12), 887–894. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2007.08.008
- Tahreem, A., Rakha, A., Rabail, R., Nazir, A., Socol, C. T., Maerescu, C. M., & Aadil, R. M. (2022). Fad Diets: Facts and Fiction. Frontiers in nutrition, 9, 960922. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2022.960922
- Mikkelsen, K., Stojanovska, L., Polenakovic, M., Bosevski, M., & Apostolopoulos, V. (2017). Exercise and mental health. Maturitas, 106, 48–56. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.09.003
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