Ask yourself some questions when you’re not enjoying your food. Is there an issue with your food that it should leave you feeling horrible? Or is there a problem with you? In most cases, this shame around eating results from what you believe the food will do to your body. In addition, shame around eating can come from messages you have internalized from childhood.

When you label food and call it junk, for instance, it makes you feel like, well, junk. Remember they say you are what you eat. Will it make me fatter? Or sick? Will I be ugly now? The mind goes overboard with this kind of judgment, only further deepening your self-loathing. To stop the shame around eating, you need to change how you relate to your food and to yourself.

Enjoy your food to reduce shame around what you eat

Eating time should be a happy time, worth looking forward to. Try to eliminate all distractions while you eat. Avoid scrolling on your phone, or watching TV. Multitasking is one of the main barriers to mindful eating. Eat slowly, enjoying the sensations that the food brings. With such mindful eating, you can easily tell when you’re full. When distracted, you can’t stop eating, and only snap back to your senses when the food is gone, wondering how you ate so much. This only reinforces the guilt and shame.

Be curious; not judgmental

We tend to have an instant negative attitude towards food once it’s labeled. I was told donuts were bad and would make me fat. Therefore, if I ate a donut, I’m obviously bad! Donuts became my fear food. Once I learned not to judge donuts as good or bad, I could enjoy donuts again without the shame.

As soon as something is deemed too sugary/oily/salty, we want to ditch it for good. Ask some people why they don’t eat this or that and they’ll tell you such foods have too many calories. Or too much cholesterol. They will say that food is bad and therefore, you’re bad if you eat that food.

Instead of judging food as good or bad, try to learn more about the food, its ingredients, and its impact on the body. You might even realize that some of these elements are not as lethal as they sound. The most important thing is to be aware of how certain foods make you feel.

If certain foods make you feel bloated or tired, that is important information to have, don’t you think? If other foods give you lasting energy and lend to a positive mood, that is equally as important to know. So instead of judging food as good or bad, ask yourself how certain foods make you feel.

Track your Physical Hunger

Sometimes we eat not because we’re hungry, but because we’re filling an emotional need. By tracking your hunger patterns, you’ll know when you need to eat because your stomach is empty, not because your spirit is low.

Emotional eating leaves you feeling powerless over food. Like the food controls you and not the other way around. So many women I work with are afraid to have certain foods in the house. If it’s there, they feel the food calls to them and they have no control over how much they eat.

Ironically, this mindset of the food having control over you only increases the shame and creates an ongoing cycle of needing more food to numb the shame of overeating. As you reach for your comfort food, the cycle just starts all over again. You can avoid all these by eating only when you’re physically hungry.

Know your emotional hunger pains

If you eat when you’re not physically hungry, then most likely it is emotional hunger you are filling. So, how do you tell if you’re emotionally hungry? Well, first check your physical hunger and if you’re not hungry and wanting to eat, you’re either bored or trying to fill an emotional pain.

Do an inventory of your day and ask yourself, what is going on emotionally for you. Do a check in and see if you’re feeling stress, anxiety, worry, or sadness to name a few common emotions. Have a list of self-care items you can turn to in case you are needing emotional comfort. I recommend walking, journaling, listening to music or calling a friend.

Knowing you’re not alone in your feelings can be incredibly helpful. Knowing you have options to care for yourself versus avoiding your feelings with food feels empowering. And here is the kicker, your feelings will not kill you so you can go ahead and stop avoiding them. Your feelings are meant to be felt and honored. Not stuffed and ignored.

Self-compassion is the antidote to shame around eating

Finally, be kind to yourself. In a world so judgmental about people’s food choices, body size and outer beauty, you can only salvage yourself. When you pick what to eat, whether in a restaurant or at home, don’t let the trolling change your decision.

Let those around you know that you’re well aware of what goes into your food choices and you’ve made a conscious decision to eat what you know you want without judgement or shame. This is by no means a justification to eat unhealthy food, but a deliberate effort to reject the shame and guilt that society has taught us to associate with food.

Lesley Goth, PsyD is a health coach offering exclusive coaching for women interested in sustainable weight loss. For more about her and her system, click here.