How to Stop Feeling Guilty About Overeating

11/03/2015 04:22 pm ET Updated Nov 03, 2016

I'm pretty sure you've experienced this.

The gnawing, unmistakable feeling that comes after you've eaten a food you weren't supposed to eat.

This feeling of guilt that washes over you after having one or more pieces of chocolate cake, scoops of ice cream or handfuls of chips, and that can stick around even after you're no longer dieting and counting calories.

You're drowning in a flood of "shouldn't haves," you're mad at yourself for having no willpower, and this pesky little voice keeps whispering to your ears: "You didn't need to eat that...cake is not healthy...you shouldn't have gone for seconds...you're gonna gain weight."

In an attempt to wash away this feeling of guilt, you promise yourself to skip lunch or just eat a salad tonight, with no dressing. A kind of punishment for a sin you didn't commit.

If this sounds familiar, here is what I want to share with you: you don't have to feel guilty, because you haven't done anything wrong.

In fact, research suggests that "shame and guilt shut you down and plunge you even deeper into emotional overeating."

Guilt is a negative emotion that's downright unhealthy.

Guilt lowers your self-esteem and makes you think you're "not enough."

Guilt is also why one piece or one serving will never be enough.

Guilt is not empowering.

It is not motivating.

It doesn't foster self-love.

By getting rid of guilt, you'll see that this box of cookies (or whatever your trigger food is) will no longer have power over you.

As one of my coaching clients put it after I helped her kick guilt out of her diet,

"After working together, I feel free! As long as I maintain the principles, I feel great and food, especially those empty foods, are simply not as exciting. Comes to something when I feel meh at a cake but look forward to a bowl of stew!"

I hear you. It's not easy.

But it's well worth it.

So here is how you can overcome guilt about overeating.

Guilt around food, most of the time, is related to "shoulds" and self-criticism.

"Shoulds" are rules you think you ought to be following. For example, that you should be eating certain foods, that you shouldn't be eating cake, that you should cook a fresh meal from scratch every day, and so on. And every time you "break your rule", you feel guilty about it.

Note that it doesn't mean you have to be totally out of control with everything, of course. It means that you can't be making rules like that because if you can't follow the rule you'll feel guilty.

"Self-criticism" is very prevalent in our society. It often seems to me that women have been brought up and conditioned to beat themselves up for whatever reason imaginable, in pretty much all areas of life.

Women often focus on tiny, irrelevant things -- such as the fact they went for seconds for Sunday lunch, that they ordered a cheesecake at the restaurant or that there's a huge pile of clothes in the laundry room.

Yet they fail to congratulate themselves for everything they do on a daily basis: learn new skills, educate the kids, earn a living, cook, exercise, take care of the house, etc...

Here is what you can do to start taking all this guilt out of your diet.

#1. Ditch the "shoulds"

Every time you catch yourself saying any sentence that has a "should" in it, reformulate in a non-guilty way.

Example: "I should drink more water and less coffee" (result: you feel guilty and nothing good can happen from this). Stop and reformulate like this: "I want to drink more water and less coffee" (result: you're out of guilt mode and you're setting a positive intention). Or reformulate like this: "I am starting today to drink more water and less coffee" (result: you're in action mode).

This will remove guilt and will put you in a place where you can really move forward in a positive, self-respectful way.

#2. Silence your inner critic

Every time you catch yourself saying something negative about you, stop and reformulate.

Example: "I'm really bad at following my eating plan, I'll never lose those ten pounds" (result: you feel guilty). Stop and switch to: "I struggle to follow my eating plan, it's normal, change is never easy. I'll be patient and I'll make it work for me" (result: you feel empowered).

Daily, mindful and compassionate practice of these 2 techniques will go a long way in helping you get rid of guilt around overeating.

You deserve to feel peace and joy around food.

Anne Ricci is dedicated to helping women eat more real food, kick their cravings and feel good in their body. You can join her tribe and get personalized tips at AnnesHealthyKitchen's Community.

Parts of this article were originally published on AnnesHealthyKitchen.com.