I Was So Bad: Breaking Out Of Food Guilt

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and I’m working at the juice box. I’ve got a bottle of greens in my bag, Toms on my feet, and my shiftmate and I cannot move fast enough. We’ve got it down like clockwork: I’m only four days into my training at L.A’s newest healthy hotspot and I’m rattling off produce facts like a boss. I snag the juices out of the fridge, she numbers each bottle, I bag, she closes the transaction, they’re off. We’re zipping through the 20-person line like wildfire, yet spending just enough time with each customer to exchange smiles, words of wisdom, and of course, how-was-your-holiday’s.

The resounding reply makes no mention of family, gratitude, or even vacation days off.

What I hear the most is one thing: “I was so bad. I am such a pig.”

Fun fact: I worked at one of L.A’s very first juice shops, which I lovingly deemed The Juice Box, within its very first year of existence (way before green juice was a thing and there were Instagram accounts parodying the Wellness Elite). While I absolutely loved imparting fun facts about our juices’ ingredients and learning about the customers’ lives, I took the most pride in empowering them to make decisions not out of guilt or a search for a quick fix, but out of self respect and self acceptance.

Still, it broke my heart when a beautiful young woman would insist on the most extreme cleanse possible the day after a holiday or vacation because she was “so bad” and “ate like a cow.” It wasn’t about refueling her body with liquid medicine; it was about punishing herself for what she viewed as failure. I am a big fan of mindful, proactive juice cleansing, but here’s another fun fact: the effects of cleansing only last in the long run when you cleanse from a place of self love, not self loathing. You’ve got to know you’re fabulous no matter what.

You’ve got to know you’re fabulous no matter what. Click To Tweet

food guilt

Food guilt lasts way beyond the holidays. It’s become almost expected day-to-day commentary, especially around the holidays. While all we speak of during the holiday season are the things we’re blessed to have – the trees we’re down to deck, the family and friends we get to go visit – it makes me sad that those positive sentiments get replaced by jabs at our self image not even 24 hours after our moments of gratitude have ended.

Growing up, the conversational topic of good and bad food was almost as prominent in my family’s gatherings as questions about detailed life updates. We’d starve ourselves the day of Thanksgiving to “save up” for the main event, exercise twice on Christmas Eve (because Christmas Day was just too packed), and while we’d enjoy the pies and cookies and stuffing and wine in moderation, they would all ultimately lead to complaints and comparisons afterward in the kitchen.

For some, it’s almost a way of bonding with one another; to talk about how uncomfortable they are and how guilty they feel. It becomes almost like a game of casual negativity to see who can out-guilt the other (insert Amy Schumer sketch here). And for others, it hits on a deeper level, a feeling of “ruining” days, weeks, months of healthy living and good eating.

Those feelings can stem from a place of truth, however – let’s not pretend that sometimes, especially if late nights and uncommon dishes are involved (yes, I totally count a bowl of Peppermint Bark as a “dish”), there’s not an actual morning-after effect that happens that can be super uncomfortable to experience. But instead of seeing this as our body trying to recalibrate, we instead grasp at the easier and more dramatic response: I was so bad, I’m so gross, and, yes, the vilification of the F-word. Whether we’re actually uncomfortable or just feel like we SHOULD be, the reaction is the same. When food guilt sets in, we’ve got this tendency to go to the extreme.

food guilt

Even the teeniest bit of food guilt is more than likely to arise at one point or another, especially during the holidays. To fight against food guilt and fight for the body that deserves to be loved, put these three tips to use year-round:

Actively choose not to define decisions as good or bad. Click To Tweet
Actively choose not to define decisions as good or bad. This black-and-white mentality leaves no room for the bigger picture. Every choice is just that: a choice. Just like one single day of veggies and probiotics will not clean a toxin-filled slate, one single day of out-of-the-ordinary grub won’t negate every health-conscious decision you’ve ever made. The more we can detach from the emotional hold the seemingly bad decisions have on us, the quicker we can bounce back and the less they affect us, physically and psychologically.

Exercise and eat out of love, not punishment. Click To Tweet
Exercise and eat out of love, not punishment. Gone are the days I would take hours of fitness classes to try and burn off any “bad” decisions I had made. Gone is the jumping from one extreme to the next. I find that when I make my decisions out of self-loathing, even if momentary, I always walk out of the gym or away from the table unfulfilled, anxiety-ridden and empty. Why did it not go away, I wonder furiously. Because I was bringing my negative baggage into my seemingly positive decision.

Not feeling a workout? Don’t force it! Take a walk and call a friend to catch up. Drink water because it revives dehydrated cells, sip on a green juice because it gives you energy. Maybe catch up on sleep. Maybe start to plan a cleanse during December if that sounds like something that will get you excited about taking care of your body and soul. Even if you’re feeling down, whatever you do, do it out of nurturing love.

Remind yourself that you have felt this way before and come out okay on the other side. Click To Tweet
Remind yourself that you have felt this way before and come out okay on the other side. Remind yourself over and over again that it’s fleeting. Chant this in your mind. Brand it onto your heart. You have most likely felt this way before. You have been through highs and lows – stretches of glorious body confidence and punctured (or prolonged) instances of your skin just not feeling like your own. As clean as your diet may be, as active and self-loving your lifestyle, these moments will always ebb and flow…and I promise you will come out okay on the other side. No shame, no guilt, no name calling or bad mouthing.

I don’t know when food became something to shame instead of savour. I don’t know when it became us against our plate, our bodies against our kitchens. But I do know this: as long as you’re making decisions out of self-love and not self-loathing, it’s pretty hard to “be bad.” You are fabulous – no matter what.


In the comments, I’d love to hear about your experiences with food guilt. Do you ever struggle with it? Are you able to let it go? What do you do, which one of the points listed is the most useful to you already…or, which one sparked an a-ha! moment you’ll carry with you from now on?

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  1. Leslie

    Thank you for posting this when you did. This was such a helpful reminder BEFORE the holidays and BEFORE the food guilt creeps in (even though it already has!). Self love is hard to remember after indulgence and alas discomfort but I vow to remember over these next few weeks. Thanks, Katie!

    • Katie

      Oh I’m so glad it was, Leslie – that’s what I was hoping 🙂 Thank you for reading and commenting. Happy Holidays (and tail end of 2015)!

  2. Jen

    I needed to read this, thank you so much. I’ve been struggling lately with my food choices. I’m hesitant to even post this online because I’m fearful of backlash, but here goes anyway. I had been a committed ethical vegan for 7 years, and had no trouble with my diet and lifestyle. My husband died unexpectedly in May from a drug overdose, which obviously put my entire world into a tailspin. I didn’t know who I was anymore, and I was feeling like my diet was too strict. So, I “took a break” from veganism and decided to incorporate dairy and eggs into my diet. I have struggled with guilt and even more self-loathing ever since, not to mention the actual foods made me feel physically (and mentally) unwell. I’ve since returned to my vegan diet and lifestyle, but I’m tempted by cheese and feel guilty about that. I feel like an awful vegan and like I need to do penance for my errors. This isn’t pressure I’m feeling from the vegan community, it’s coming from within. I originally went vegan out of love and compassion for all living creatures, but I can’t extend that self-love to myself. I’m seeing a counselor and working on it, but it’s a loooong road.

    • Katie

      Thank you so much for sharing a little bit of yourself here, Jen. I feel you – while I’m not vegan per se (about 90% of the time though, personal and environmental footprint reasons), there’s so much pressure surrounding food and identity no matter what kind of lifestyle you choose when it comes to your plate. And I know MANY vegans, vegetarians, strict Paleo followers, etc who have felt the exact same way you have. Heck, I have MANY a time. It’s a process and a long road for sure. But you’re on it, you’re moving forward, and that’s what matters.

      And, by the way, know that you are ALWAYS in a safe space here on WANT. My first priority on here is this community, and any hurtful commentary directed towards other commenters will be promptly addressed. Always. Healthy discourse is cool, but angry backlash is not. I have yours – and everyone else’s – back 🙂 Happy happy holiday season to you and yours. xo, kt

  3. Rebekah Tobin

    What a beautiful post. So true, potinent and profound. Jacki Carr led me to your site last year when it launched. This post captures the perverbial “pink elephant” in the room during the holidays for most, women and men, young and old. We (including myself here) have demonized food. Good, bad, right, wrong = shame, shame and more shame. I shared this with all my sisters and will read it again Christmas morning! Thank you again!

    • Katie

      Any friend of Jacki’s is a friend of mine, Rebekah! I’m so honored you shared with your family. That’s one of the biggest compliments in my book, and one of the reasons I started WANT: to help facilitate change for the better in the circles that matter most to us. Merry everything to you!

  4. Albena Radszuhn

    Described excellent and precise! Really found my altered ego in it?
    So many years of Professional cooking- even very healthy- made me lose my food loving..that was years ago the reason for starting this Business: I loved to eat!!!??
    My daughter gone this way- like all women obviously do (Shit!) but she took the right decision by the way and luckily long Time ago: eating by loving herself, feeding her body with healthy Food made with love❤️❤️
    So proud of her, she’s my role model now!!
    And now at the age of 50
    After this transformation there in Thailand I appreciate my body and feed him with lovefood.
    I Love to eat again!!
    The lyrics by Patty Smith come:” Eat, Eat..!!” And the lines from one of My favourite Books ever: Agnes Desarthe “Mein Hungriges Herz”
    Now I know me again

    • Katie

      Wow, Albena – what a special relationship you and your daughter have. I love reading these words: “so proud of her, she’s my role model now!!” As I am sure you are hers as well 🙂 To know yourself and love yourself is the best thing in the world. Wishing you (and your lovely daughter!) a wonderful end of the year!



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