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Guilt and Eating

When I think about guilt and eating, the first thing that comes to mind is feeling guilty for having something, often after but sometimes while eating. But lately I’ve been thinking about the other issue: eating because of guilt.

This can happen a lot around the holidays as we gather our family and friends for festive meals. People may spend a long time preparing their speciality, and even if it’s something you don’t like, you may feel obligated to eat it. After all, they put so much effort into it, and they’re watching you like a hawk to see if you’re going to partake of it.

If you don’t, their feelings will be hurt. If you do, you may be eating something you don’t like, which could cause you to later overeat of the foods you do like. Or if you enjoy what they brought, if you try to have just a little of it, they may say something like, “Don’t you like it?”, thus nudging you to take more than you had planned and thus overeat.

I haven’t run into this for a long time, because by now most people know my history with weight and that I try to eat mindfully. But it’s suddenly cropped up again for an unexpected reason: food allergies.

Having been recently diagnosed with, among other things, gluten, egg, dairy, and peanut allergies, I knew that social eating would be difficult, so my plan was to avoid it when possible. What I didn’t anticipate was that people would go out of their way to provide foods I could have, making me feel guilty about not eating them, even if I wasn’t hungry.

For instance, the other day I got an e-mail partway through the morning saying that lunch was going to be brought in for the office. It was pizza (a no-go for three reasons - dairy, gluten, and eggs), with a couple of salads. Unlike many earlier lunches, these salads were egg and cheese free. The only problem? I’d already eaten the lunch I had brought because I was hungry early, and I didn’t need the ham, chicken, and bacon rich salads by the time they arrived.

On top of that, the person planning the holiday office party was picking out foods I can eat - except I can’t go to the party. When I found out what she was doing, though, I felt like I should try to rearrange things so I could go, simply to eat the food, all out of guilt that she was going to such trouble.

As I’m adjusting to this new reality, I’m remembering some things I learned before. Whether I want the food or not, it’s important to thank the person for making it. It may also help to take a small amount to show I’m sampling it if nothing else, and perhaps ask to bring some home if it’s something I truly enjoy.

But also important is remembering that if I’m stressed or feeling guilty while eating, it’s not going to be enjoyable, so I should let go of that. Easier said than done, I know, but I’ll try, because I want my holiday eating - and eating in general - to be as joyful and guilt-free as possible.

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