What to Do If Eating Out Gives You Food Guilt

Does having a 'cheat' meal or eating at restaurants make you feel guilty? Here's how to deal.

Guilt is the result of breaking a rule you’ve set for yourself. When it comes to eating, there are often so many contradicting rules in our heads that we’re bound to mess up at almost every meal. For example, if you’re restricting sugar, gluten, and dairy and trying to achieve the perfectly “balanced” life everyone is always talking about, you’ll likely fall short somewhere.

Evaluate the rules you’ve set for yourself, and consider whether they truly create an approach that suits your lifestyle and health goals. Ask yourself some questions. Are there times when eating unhealthy foods is worth it to you? Are you satisfied with eating a salad at lunch but not at dinner with friends? Are you particularly upset if you are pressured off your meal plan? Use this info and write, “I want to be a person who…” and fill in the blanks.

If you want to be a person who “eats healthy during the day but enjoys delicious meals when the food is high-quality and you’re laughing with friends,” that bigger meal out can feel more acceptable and your guilt may go down. You’ll also be able to identify times and treats that don’t feel as worth it (think: movie popcorn), which will help you curb unhealthy eating before you make choices that spur a guilt spiral.

Lynn Saladino is a clinical psychologist in New York City specializing in weight management, relationships, and life transitions.

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