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Food is wonderful. A sensory immersion, food sustains our ability to live life. In many ways, food is a representation of life. Food introduces us to cultures. Food gives us a lesson in history. Food can even bring us back to a time and place in the past, bringing up different emotions. Sadly, one of the emotions that can be associated with food is shame.

Shame is defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” We experience shame with food as a result of our personal experiences and as a result of the society we live in. Foods are labeled as good or bad, making bad foods shameful to eat. Our world is saturated with diets, “healthy lifestyle trends” and other restrictions that further shame the foods that we eat. Shame is a toxic and harmful emotion that can fuel maladaptive coping behaviors, causing a cycle. For example, food causes shame, then someone turns to food to cope with shame, then feels shame for turning to food once again.

Mindful explains that shame in eating might as equally be caused by restricting as it is by indulgence. “This habit may continue for many years, not because we like the experience of eating in this way (few do), but because it lets us fool ourselves into believing that we have not eaten anything ‘forbidden’.” When we abstain from “shameful” foods we might feel better about our eating patterns. If we indulge in those foods, we feel extra shame because we had abstained from shame for so long. What we don’t understand is that the two patterns are still fueled by shame.

Shame in food and eating can be caused by trauma. Eating disorders of severe deprivation and severe overindulgence alike can be developed as ways to cope with significant, life-changing events. Food is often a way for people to feel like they are maintaining some sort of control over their lives, even though that control is quickly lost. Engaging in a whole new pattern of sickness, the eating becomes a shame inducing problem that overshadows, yet chronically triggers, trauma.

If you are struggling with eating, there is help.