Do you frequently feel guilty about eating? Are you unsure on what you should do about your feelings of guilt centered on food? To help understand what type of impact feelings of guilt about eating can have on someone’s overall life and for tips on overcoming feelings of guilt about eating, I have interviewed psychotherapist Andrew Walen, LCSW-C.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I created The Body Image Therapy Center in 2008, specializing in eating disorders, compulsive eating, body image, and preparation and aftercare for bariatric surgery patients. In addition, I’ve authored numerous articles and presented workshops on my own personal struggles and recovery from an eating disorder, as well as topics including body image disturbance, exercise addiction, bariatric surgery recovery, and how food addiction affects relationships. I currently serve on the Board of Directors for the Binge Eating Disorder Association and am a member of the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), Eating Disorders Network of Maryland, National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) and Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD).”
What type of impact can feelings of guilt about eating have on someone’s overall life?
“Feelings of guilt about eating are caused by thoughts like, ‘I’m out of control,’ ‘I’m undisciplined,’ or ‘I have no willpower.’ These thoughts build up over time and usually lead to the belief of ‘I’m a failure.’ If this is a core belief, people will find ways to reinforce it in all aspects of their life be it work, relationships, school, what have you. Depression and anxiety are the result and reinforce behaviors that then reinforce the beliefs. It becomes a vicious cycle.”
What are some tips for overcoming feelings of guilt about eating?
“First and foremost, you can’t overcome a feeling unless you identify the thought that led to it. For instance, if I say to myself ‘I shouldn’t have eaten that extra piece of cake,’ I’m going to feel guilty. I tell my clients to take all ‘should’ statements out of their vocabulary. Shoulds are just ways to shame yourself. If I can even just make a small alteration to the thought and say, ‘It would have been better if I didn’t have that extra piece of cake,’ that can lessen the intensity of the feeling. But more still, I would ask the client why it would have been better. Is it because they wouldn’t have a stomachache? Great! That’s a reasonable response. If they say, ‘then I wouldn’t be so fat,’ then we’ve got some serious work to do. It’s this fear of fat that leads to weight bias, weight cycling, eating disorders, and self-loathing. All those are ways to punish ourselves, and punishment and shame never lead to lasting change.”
What type of professional help is available for someone that has a difficult time overcoming feelings of guilt about eating?
“For those struggling with food-related guilt, it’s important to work with a psychotherapist who treats eating disorders and understands how these types of feelings and thoughts create self-destructive behaviors around eating. A therapist can also uncover other psychological underpinnings to why a person might overeat such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, OCD, PTSD, etc. and appropriately treat them as well. Working with an eating disorders dietitian is also a great idea to learn how to unlearn diet myths we’re inundated with in the media and learn how to nurture the body, listen to its internal cues for hunger and satiety, and find pleasure in eating again.”
Thank you Andrew for doing the interview on tips for overcoming feelings of guilt about eating. For more information on Andrew Walen or his work you can check out his website on www.TheBodyImageCenter.com
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