Food Shame

Published: 03 Aug 2015

Food Shame

I’ve confessed before that I have a terrible habit of eavesdropping on people’s conversations – not all conversations; that would be rude, just the diet related ones. Believe me there are enough of those to keep my flapping ears busy!!

I was in a foodcourt last week and a father and son were sitting near me having a milkshake and donut. “What a lovely father-son moment” I thought, my husband often does this with our girls. I was startled from my blissful reverie as I caught their conversation.

What I heard made me really sad and a bit stabby. Dad said to the little boy, who was all of 8 “Mum wouldn’t be happy that we’re eating these donuts. We’re supposed to be quitting sugar with her.” The little boy, with a sad/guilty look on his face said “oh yeah, that’s right” there was some more discussion between them and the upshot of it was “we just won’t tell her, we’ll keep it a secret.”

It was everything I could do not to rush over to their table and scream, “no, no, no stop it, this is a really bad idea”. I didn’t but I really wish I had, because a week later this is still troubling me.

There is room for all foods in a healthy lifestyle, there really is. Occasionally enjoying a food that is less that a paragon of nutritious virtue is ok. Eating that food and feeling guilty and ashamed and being made to keep it a secret is really not ok.

This is not about the virtue of the food though. There is no argument a donut is well and truly a sometimes food, high in sugar and fat, and completely delicious. This is about teaching a child to feel guilty about eating a food they enjoy. This is also about encouraging a child to keep a eating a secret. Food should never be a “guilty secret”. Guilt and secrecy about eating is something my adult clients work very hard to overcome, it is not something we should teach our children.

Food should never be a “guilty secret”.

As parents we need to model balanced eating to our children (your body is wise!). This interaction between dad and son could have been so positive. Dad could have talked about how sweet and soft the donut was, how cool and creamy the milkshake was. He could have asked his son how much he was enjoying it, which he liked most, how the food and drink made his body feel. They could have had a sensory conversation. Dad might have been able to help his son notice when he had had enough milkshake, or conversely the son could have taught his dad about noticing fullness or satiety, as children are often better at this than we are.

They could have talked about what a treat it was to spend time together, so that value was brought to the event and not just the food consumed. Instead there was guilt, shame and secrecy and I’ll bet that tarnished the enjoyment either of them felt.


If you enjoyed reading this article, you might want to check out some of her others including, The scales. Argh. Do they fill you with dread?,The secret to eating well… The Non-Diet Diet, Your body is wise and “Don’t you know how much sugar is in that?”.