Shame After Compulsive Eating

The Guilt and Shame After Compulsive Eating

March 6, 2023

Ugh! The guilt and shame that after compulsive eating episodes can be downright debilitating. You promised yourself you wouldn’t engage in that seemingly out-of-control behavior ever again. But you did. And then the equally upsetting berating of yourself occurs. You say (or think) horribly abusive things to yourself, calling yourself derogatory names that you would hate hearing another human say about themselves. The guilt and shame following overwhelmingly compelling eating incidents are physically and emotionally draining.

Compulsive Overeating May Signify Binge Eating Disorder

Compulsive overeating may signify binge eating disorder, a complicated mental health condition that involves biological, psychological and environmental factors. There are many people who engage in overeating at times, consuming more calories than they need to maintain their health. This may be a frequent or infrequent behavior and may result in weight gain to the point that it negatively affects their health.

A diagnosis of binge eating disorder is given if there is at least one binge eating episode each week for at least three months. A binge eating episode is described as being one in which a person feels they have little control or are unable to stop eating, and if some of the following indicators are met: if food is eaten very rapidly to the point that one is physically uncomfortable, if the person eats even if they’re not feeling hungry, if they eat in secret because they are embarrassed about how much food they consume, and if they feel guilty, shameful or upset after eating.

People resist seeking treatment for compulsive eating or binge eating disorder in part because of this guilt and shame. Let’s look at the issues of guilt and shame. This may help you have more compassion for yourself and seek the type of help that can free you from this form of disordered eating.

Guilt After Compulsive Eating

We’ll start with guilt. Guilt is a painful self-conscious emotion for thinking or doing something one considers to be bad or wrong. Guilt is related to a thought or a behavior. In the case of compulsive, or binge eating, people often feel guilty engaging in this behavior, considering it to be bad or wrong.

Shame is also a painful emotion. Shame stems from a sense of being bad or there being something wrong with oneself. The difference between guilt and shame is important. If someone steals from a store, society says this behavior goes against moral behavior and is against the law. A healthy person would experience guilt about their behavior, stealing. A person who is full of shame would believe they are a bad person. (As a side not, this is the reason parents are encouraged to tell their young children that what they did (threw the ball in the house and broke a lamp) is “bad/wrong,” but that the child him or herself if not “bad.”)

Guilt, especially, can lead to learning positive lessons and toward making amends for the behavior.

Paying for the stolen item, apologizing for breaking lamps, etc. are ways to make amends and help alleviate guilt. Shame, however, can lead to feelings of being worthless, less than, not good enough, and a belief that something is inherently wrong with oneself. The American Psychological Association reports a relationship between shame and psychological issues, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and low self-esteem.

Shame After Compulsive Eating

There is also a connection between guilt and shame. Excessive or unhealthy guilt that is out of proportion to an event or behavior can increase feelings of shame. People who engage in binge eating often beat themselves up excessively with negative thoughts about themselves. This guilt leads to increased shame and low self-worth.

Overcoming guilt and shame are not easy tasks. Begin by assessing your thought patterns. If you consistently tell yourself that you are “bad, wrong, a loser, a failure,” or say, “I hate myself,” your already uphill battle will be even more difficult. Be compassionate with yourself like you would toward a friend who struggles with a serious issue. Remind yourself, “I struggled today but I will continue my efforts to make healthier choices.” Tell yourself, “This is a difficult journey; today I will take one step in a positive direction.” Remember that calling yourself names, putting yourself down and giving up on yourself will only increase your guilt and shame. Being compassionate, while holding yourself accountable for getting the support and help you need, will move you toward healing. Say to yourself, “I do many difficult things each day and today I will put effort into choosing healthy eating behaviors.” Recall the numerous times you avoided binge eating. Bring to mind the positive way you felt when overcoming the temptation to binge. Give yourself credit for every moment of progress. If you struggle to improve your thoughts or behavior, outside intervention may be necessary.

Professional Help

Without professional help, compulsive overeating/binge eating disorder is difficult to overcome. People who compulsively eat are not alone, but often feel lonely. They may isolate from others due to the heavy guilt and shame they feel. Knowing that others suffer from binge eating can provide encouragement for people to seek treatment. Engaging in online support groups can provide a sense of not being alone with this difficult issue. In these groups, sufferers of compulsive overeating can share ideas for overcoming their guilt and shame and get suggestions for improving their thoughts and behaviors. A trained therapist can help equip you with the tools you need to reduce and finally eliminate compulsive overeating.

This is your health. Your health is your responsibility. Reach out to a friend and a professional to begin the process of healing from guilt, shame and compulsive overeating.

Connie Stapleton, PhD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with nearly two decades of experience in the field of bariatric medicine.

Shame After Compulsive Eating
connie stapleton


Connie Stapleton, PhD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with nearly two decades of experience in the field of bariatric medicine. Dr. Stapleton is the author of three books, is a national and international speaker, and appears as the bariatric psychologist on three national television programs.  Read more articles by Connie Stapleton!