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Food Shame

Have you ever felt ashamed about something you’ve eaten, so much so that you eat it in secret and don’t tell anyone else about it because you’re afraid of judgment?

This used to be part of my everyday life, and yet at the time I never considered that it was something other people experienced. It’s a catch-22. You’re ashamed of eating something, or eating a certain way, so you don’t talk about it and never get a chance to hear someone else share anything similar. That makes you feel even more isolated and ashamed and even less likely to talk about it.

But the sad truth is that many, many people have these feelings. Sometimes it’s how or how much we eat. Other times it’s related to categories of foods, like things with lots of fat or sugar or carbohydrates, but these days it can be just as likely to come up in relation to how the food is raised or made, such as organic vs. conventional practices. All of it can have judgment associated with it, and that’s where the shame comes in.

Yet despite this, it’s still far more common to feel alone and isolated, to think, “If other people knew how or what I ate, they would lose all respect for me.”

It took me a long, long time to learn how to let go of this feeling, because as with all types of shame, it’s counter-intuitive. Our instinct is to hide, but what we really need in order to heal and recover from that sense of stigma is to bring those secrets into the open, air them out, and own them.

Not that this is easy. I remember how worried I was to tell my high school best friend that twenty-five years ago, I snuck food when I was at her house, goodies I couldn’t get at home. I no longer worried about losing her friendship as a result, but I did worry a bit what she would think.

This is when the magic can happen, when instead of condemnation you may find compassion. My friend did not turn away or shun me for my revelation, only said how sorry she was that I had felt the need to sneak food to begin with, and sad to hear that I hadn’t been able to tell her about it then.

It was such a relief to have that out, as well as other food behaviors I thought were abnormal. By refusing to hide them anymore, they lost their hold on me and became possible to let go.

So while our society promotes judgment, it is not a given, and we can all do our best to be gentle with those who share such details, as well as with ourselves. My hope is that if we start talking more openly about how and why we eat, we will find that we are not as alone as we feared, and we can make shame around our food and eating choices a thing of the past.

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