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Dealing with Guilt and Secret Shame Feelings

Abstract: Should I feel guilty, when I have eaten wrongly? What can be done about feelings of guilt and shame when one has an eating disorder?

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Dealing with Guilt and Secret Shame Feelings

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Written by: Gunborg Palme, certified psychologist and certified psychotherapist, teacher and tutor in psychotherapy.
First version: 22 Jul 2008.
Latest revision: 08 Aug 2008.

Should I feel guilty, when I have eaten wrongly? What can be done about feelings of guilt and secret shame feelings when one has an eating disorder?


People with eating disorders, especially those with compulsive eating, feel guilt and shame every time. They promise never to do it again, but sooner or later they do. The anxiety which compulsive eating causes is, in a way, healthy because it indicates that something in one's diet has gone wrong and needs to be corrected. However, compulsive eating is no solution as it only reduces anxiety temporarily.

Feelings of shame are natural. No compulsive eater wants to be seen when binge-eating, vomiting and creating chaos all around.

In order to conquer these feelings of guilt and shame, it is necessary to understand that one is ill and hasn't yet got the mental ability required in order to feel, think and act in a healthy way. It is important not to think that one is a bad person, as this only makes these negative feelings worse.

Let us suppose that you can't speak French but need to be able to do so. You realize the reason is that you have never learned French; but if you study it, you will gradually be able to do so. You do not have any real guilt feelings about the problem. However, if you live in an environment where others expect you to be able to speak French, you could experience feelings of shame. Some people learn to speak French as children.

It is the same with eating disorders. Some people get such good help from their parents while they are still young, that they never come into the danger zone for developing an eating disorder. Others have not learned a sound relationship to eating, but must use several years of their adult life in order to achieve this simple ability which in some others is automatic.

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