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Food guilt - do you get it and what do you do about it?

I'm a guilty person - it's a reflex, I'll feel remorse even if I step on a mosquito or shower for half a minute longer than usual (how dare I damage the environment like that!). But worst is with food. There are so many things to feel guilty about: is it locally sourced? Is it seasonal? Is it meat? Is it healthy? Is it calorific? Even fattening? Is it processed? High salt? Is it (gasp) CARBOHYDRATES?? It's impossible to eat anything without being certain that there's something wrong about it. It's becoming vaguely tortuous. Do any other Chowhounds get chronic food guilt? Do you find it changes the choices you make about what and how you eat? And how do you manage it or even manage to avoid it, if you are a fellow sufferer?

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  1. How sad for you. It must be a great strain to cope with all those problems over something that, at one end of the scale, should be a lovely experience and, at the other end, is just fuel to live.

    It may that you'd benefit from cognitive behaviour therapy which can be pretty good at developing coping strategies. It's often used for eating disorders such as yours.

    1. I found that being on Weight Watchers has helped me make more healthy choices in what I eat, so that guilt problem solved itself.

      I was feeling guilty if I missed a Saturday Farmer's market, as I am a big proponent of shopping local. I finally got it through my thick skull that it is not my job to save the local farmers, and that they will just have to sell their produce without me now and then!

      1. Nope. No guilt. None at all. I just gobble down the good stuff and feel proud of myself for ... supporting a great restaurant... cooking, when so few people do any more... supporting a great farmer doing really good work... feeding my friends and family and making them smile... putting healthy things into my body to make it stronger and more resilient...
        I do over-tip quite egregiously when I get good service, my thinking being that I get paid very well for what I do and waiters should know that I appreciate what they do for me. And I don't do lots of stuff: don't eat veal, don't eat foie gras, don't eat unsustainable fish (mostly, at least), don't buy meat unless from places that can assure me the animals were raised healthily and kindly and killed kindly.
        So... is it bad that I don't feel guilt? ;->

        1. Yes, I get food guilt when I eat crappy food and then feel guilty because I wasted calories on THAT?!? But I can't stop eating it because if I toss it, I feel guilty about wasting food (see starving children in _____).

          3 Replies
          1. re: nutz1225

            I am like this. Love food and rarely feel guilty about eating something wonderful and tasty. But when I eat mindlessly, or eat a disappointing meal.... I get mad at myself for wasting those calories.

            If I am going to eat french fries... no problem. But they better be GREAT!

            1. re: nutz1225

              The first one, very yes! The second one is actually one of the few things I really don't feel a scrap of guilt about - ever since it really hit me that whether I eat the food or throw it in the bin, that one thing alone isn't necessary to keep me alive at that very moment and there isn't really a difference between it sitting unwanted in a bin or unwanted in the pit of my stomach, in that case - it's still kindof wasted. :P Or then you get the fun of seeing what kinds of creative alchemy you can do with the leftovers to make them into something genuinely enjoyable!

              1. re: nutz1225

                I get that. I don't feel guilty if i get a little too full, and it was a great meal, but if i overate and it wasn't good to begin with. One time in particular, went to a Furr's cafeteria where it is all you can eat. Nothing was really terrible, but nothing very good, so i'd get some of everything, maybe subconsciously searching for something good. Then when i was done, felt like ughh that totally wasn't worth the calories.
                Haven't been back to one of those in over 15 years.

              2. Eating is, or should be, a morally neutral activity. Therefore, there's no reason to feel guilt about it. If you're not enjoying this most basic (well, one of the most basic) of life's pleasures, then you should definitely seek help. There's no shame in that. Lots of people benefit from therapy.

                1. In my twenties when I was really worried about not looking like a model, I used to have that mentality. But I read some good books, which I can't remember the names of now; and basically processed the whole mindset, until I came out the other side. Dieting is the number one set up for making me crazy and thinking that there is such a thing as good food and bad food. Eat what you want when you want it, and stop when you are full. I used to have to eat all the junk food I would bring into my house because I was about to diet. Now ice cream sits around for months and I have to throw it out.

                  1. On the one hand, when I've eaten something I know is just stupidly unhealthy, I feel bad about that. And on the other hand, when I think about the suffering of the animals I eat, or that they were killed for me no matter how happy their lives were - well, like most people, I just try not to think about.

                    1. Wow, I didn't expect such intense responses! Thanks everyone for your support and reassuring comments, although perhaps my tone didn't come across right - I really don't feel this is a therapy-type issue, I was more referring to the idea that there are just so many unavoidable moral aspects to eating nowadays and I really don't think you can claim that eating is morally neutral anymore. I was wondering what people thought of the fact that there are so many different ways to assess the ethics and the consequences of what we consume, and also of the fact that there are so many media out there making judgements on what we should feel good or bad for consuming or paying for...

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: Elster

                        I think that it was when you said that it was "impossible to eat anything without being certain that there's something wrong about it" may have made us think that you werent able to eat anything without being certain that there was something wrong with it. And that when you referred to "chronic food guilt" that we concluded you felt you had chronic food guilt.

                        1. re: Elster

                          Hi Hounds, just a quick reminder that it's not always easy to convey accurate levels and nuances with just a text discussion, and comments can be misunderstood as a result. We urge plenty of slack and clarification from all sides in scenarios like this.

                          1. re: The Chowhound Team

                            Hi CH Team, so sorry about this. I thought it might be an interesting thing to chat about, but I seem to have stepped on a few too many toes. I certainly wasn't aiming for anything this personal or polemical - perhaps the thread should just be taken down if it's being misunderstood? Sorry again.

                            1. re: Elster

                              Hey, Elster

                              How about just starting a new thread with a choice of words saying what you actually wanted to discuss, rather what your original choice of words meant we've responded to?

                              1. re: Harters

                                Hi Harters, I'm sorry that my responses to this have annoyed you, I really am. In truth, I did mean everything I said in my original post, but I guess I didn't expect people to be telling me to seek help - I had always assumed this was a fairly common neurosis. It's been a bit weird to see that it isn't! I hope you can understand how that might have thrown me a little :)

                                1. re: Elster

                                  Certainly hasn't annoyed me at all.

                                  I read your OP and was concerned at what you wrote - hence my initial response. It's good to know that you are not, in fact, suffering from what I would consider to be a debilitating mental health issue.

                                  From the responses of others, they obviously had a similar concern for you and I'm sure they will be equally pleased that the words you used were not actually describing what you felt.

                        2. Food guilt? Not really. I don't eat much red meat but that's easy because I don't like it, and I try to make sustainable choices around fish and in general, but I see no reason to feel guilty about salt or carbohydrates or fat.

                          I do feel a little guilt about being in the restaurant industry, and things like how much plastic wrap I use and that I'm not really feeding people, but providing a luxury to the relatively rich. As a pastry chef, I feel guilt for spending so much energy making something no one actually needs. To assuage that, I donate 10% of the gross sales of my hobby chocolate business to local food banks. It really helps.

                          1. There are so few things that give us as much pleasure as a good bite. I have lost nearly 50 lbs in the last two years and I can honestly say, I have never once felt guilty eating anything. If I am watching what I eat for 7-8 days and someone offers me escargot, a rib eye steak and a delicious apple pie, why should I make myself suffer. One meal isn't going to kill me. How and where it's made is unimportant. Someone took the care to properly prepare it, so it's meant to be an indulgence. No Guilt when it comes to food ever

                            1. I only feel guilty food-wise about 1) when I eat too much of something so that I feel sickly full or get heartburn or 2) when I DON'T try something new and later regret ie; an unidentified seafood salad in Kyrgyzstan. It was gray and strange and I'd already eaten too many unidentified foodstuffs to try another. I still regret that to this day.

                              Now, in regards to guilt for OTHER activities, oh yes. Oh my yes, I go to bed at night chastising myself for all of my transgressions.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: JerryMe

                                Hahaha yes, I sympathise with the unidentified seafood brand of regret XD As for those other transgressions...maybe you'd like to share with the class? :P

                              2. I have to say that I don't really feel food guilt about things I've eaten. Sometimes I'm mad at myself for overdoing it (Utz classic chips, I'm looking at you..). I sometimes feel a bit paralyzed by the ethical considerations, especially when it comes to fish. I actually took the COTM to the asian supergrocery today with the aim of buying fish. Combination of crowded store and brain freeze, however, caused me to leave without any fish at all. I guess it worked out for the best - the power went out as soon as I got home and was out for 6 hours.

                                1. If you exercise a lot it takes care of the guilt thing

                                  1. Nope....not at all. As a rule I don't do guilt and I especially do not do food guilt...I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the concept.

                                    1. Elster, you lost me with "I'll feel remorse even if I step on a mosquito"...those buggers do much more harm than good. My legs are already riddled!

                                      ...but on topic...I wouldn't call my take guilt as much as irritation at the "it's bad/it's good" nonsense that winds up in print and in documentary. How do you know what to believe or follow? I have no idea! So, I don't guilt myself into listening to that stuff but rather to the response of my body. When I eat food that makes my body and brain happy--I listen to that. When those two react in a negative way, I avoid. Simple food math.

                                      1. Guilt about calories? No, never. It all balances out in the end.

                                        Guilt over cost, or the morality of consuming animals/animal products from questionable sources (from a humane viewpoint)? Yes, occasionally.

                                        1. I think about these things a lot as well. However I always try to buy the best quality (key word "try", if you're not growing/rearing it yourself you really can't be certain the conditions under which it was grown) so food I prepare at home I never feel guilty about, regardless of how much I eat.
                                          I do feel guilt at restaurants, I feel that quality has gone down and I'm always suspicious of what countries meats and veggies are sourced from. I have begun to only go to restaurants that are organic and source locally, otherwise why bother spending the money!
                                          Additionally as someone else mentioned I feel guilty about wasting plastic. I refuse to use plastic silverware and if I must use disposable cups I go for paper.
                                          The fact that ice coffee comes in plastic is really starting to weigh on my conscience, I think I may start asking for it in paper.

                                          1. I don't have the mosquito thing but totally feel like you do. I ate BUGLES the other day and God did I feel guilty about it - wrong all the way 'round - carbs, salt, fat, junk food, processed, corn subidies, health, etc. I also used to feel really guilty about not making it to the farmer's market as someone else pointed out, because then I'd end up shopping for crap food at the supermarket and feeling guilty about it. Joining a CSA has helped a lot of aspects of it because I'm eating so much more locally and am forced to eat what we have first, so it's cut down on takeout, increased healthy eating, seasonal eating, and increased produce as well.

                                            1. Sigh it's great to hear that I'm not the only one, for sure :) I just feel that it's impossible to eat the right thing these days. You can't eat rice because it ought to be wholegrain brown rice. You can't eat wholegrain brown rice because it's carbohydrates, which apparently are a direct portal to death. You can't drown your sorrows with an apple because fructose is bad for you. I think the problem with being someone interested in cooking and food issues is that the vast majority of things written about food these days are always either stigmatising particular food groups, sources etc and in actual fact it's very difficult to eat well and live up to the standards we all would ideally like to live by. Most people's budgets won't stretch to rounded meals that are also completely ethically and nutritionally sound, and I personally always happen to notice and regret the areas where I am falling short. I envy people who can just see it as fuel for life!

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: Elster

                                                Just effin' relax already and eat what you iike, not too much. Life's short enough.

                                                1. re: linguafood

                                                  Good advice, linguafood. Some of us (myself included) were born with an extra large guilt bone, and think that our eating habits can save the world from itself.

                                                  As I mentioned upthread, I instinctively feel responsible for local farmer's markets, local restaurants, my WW buddies unhealthy diets....but thinking rationally about it, I know I need to just effin' relax about it and enjoy my food. I am getting better and better about that all the time, and thanks for giving me a little poke in the side to keep me going the right direction!

                                                  1. re: Elster

                                                    Elster, I think you and I are food besties. I have the same thought patterns - the brown rice to white rice to carbs type thing is exactly how I think. Much of the time I just say screw it and eat what I want, but it's always a balancing act and dealing with what I "should" be eating vs. what may be available at the time when I'm hungry. Road trips are the worst. We end up packing coolers full of food for most of them because I can't deal with the bad feelings I get from eating crap road food like fast food or whatever - that's a triple combo of bad for you, big agra and wasteful packaging! :)

                                                  2. boy, having read what you suffer with, I'm thrilled to say I suffer not at all with anything you wrote.
                                                    my nationality often falls into suffering with one kind of guilt or another, but this kind evades me completely.
                                                    there are about 5-10 things that I consider true happy pleasurable gifts from God. at the top of my list is my love of eating....I adore food. I don't know anyone (ok, our little boy) who/that loves eating as much as I do.
                                                    1. is it fattening? < of course...I'll work out longer today at the gym
                                                    2. too much salt? < probably...bout love salt, I'll drink much water
                                                    3. oh gad, another favorite chocolate husband brought home for me. < we'll share it!
                                                    4. I spent $123 for just me at Susur Lee's in Toronto. What was I thinking? Who cares...I'm well worth that for a beautiful memory making evening.

                                                    guilt? HAIL noooo

                                                    1. The only food guilt I suffer from is when I waste it.

                                                      Of the many ethical issues (sourcing, sustainability, hormones, etc.) these weren't even a blimp on the radar when I started feeding myself. As I have become aware and as alternatives have become available I've figured out where I stand, one issue at a time. Perhaps that has been easier than it is for a person entering the world of food decisions at this point in time when there are so many issues and choices.

                                                      No guilt on the dietary choices. My general philosophy is moderation and balance. I enjoy many "healthy" foods so I don't feel deprived having them on my plate. I'm interested in being healthy and understanding how food affects my bodies functions. For example, I used to prefer a carb based breakfast. By paying attention to my body I learned that this was not a good choice for me - I function much better with a protein based breakfast. If I cater to a craving and have junk for dinner I don't loose sleep over it. I just try to balance out my week by making healthier choices for other meals.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: meatn3

                                                        Loose sleep can be a nightmare.

                                                        1. re: beevod


                                                          Thanks, I guess I better tuck the sheets in extra tight! Or have more caffeine before I attempt to communicate...

                                                        2. re: meatn3

                                                          I opened this thread expecting the number one reason for feeling guilty to be waste. For that I do feel guilty. Regret is what I feel when I've overeaten, but not really guilty. Shame is what I feel after I've sat down with a bag of Jalapeno Cheetohs and eaten half a bag. Last time I did that, I made myself throw away the rest and haven't allowed myself to buy another bag. Now to stop buying the Mallow Cups. Oh yeah, I feel a little guilty if I buy or make myself something that I love but hubby doesn't care for and I don't have anything special for him, unless I'm PO'd; then I don't feel guilty..much.

                                                        3. It's funny reading a blog like Foodgawker - even the little taglines for the recipes say stuff like "Fish tacos without the guilt" surprisingly often! I almost feel like emailing and asking "Sorry, should I have felt guilty about fish tacos/lasagne/frozen yoghurt up until now?" XD

                                                          1. Guilt?
                                                            What has guilt ever done for me?

                                                            Sure there are probably many people who would be quick to chime in that my food choices are inappropriate in some way.

                                                            It's not my job to live up to anyone else's expectations.
                                                            My life. My choices.

                                                            And food is such a pleasure, it's sad that hangups about food are so common.
                                                            I don't know which is more common; guilt about food or guilt about sex.
                                                            I'm not saying I have never felt guilty about food. Just that I have been there, bought the t-shirt and decided that my life was about ME, and not about other people's opinions.

                                                            Your post made me think of a quote:
                                                            "A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but an obsession about female obedience.
                                                            Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women's history, a quietly mad population is a tractable one"~~Naomi Wolf

                                                            For the sake of clarity; "tractable" means easily led or controlled.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: Sparklebright

                                                              Ok, I can see what you're saying and I totally agree with a lot of what you've argued - I do think, however, that it's important to have a conscience about things like the ethics or sustainability of food (and everything else really) simply because these things are undeniably important and it's necessary for people to be aware of the consequences that food choices make on a broader scale. If it takes feelings of guilt to encourage people to make the right choices - or even just think about their choices before they make them - then, in a way, I suppose I would rather have food guilt in my life than have none at all...

                                                              1. re: Sparklebright

                                                                Excellent post, Sparklebright.

                                                                The only food guilt here is if I eat a Big Mac, which does occasionally happen.

                                                                First world problems.