Without Judgment

By Katie, 6:25 am

When you first start reading about and practicing Intuitive Eating, you hear a lot about honoring your cravings and eating what you want. And I can certainly attest that taking all foods off of the DO NOT EAT list has made a big difference in my relationship with food and eating. But there’s a second part to that rule of thumb, an additional guideline that sometimes gets ignored, perhaps because it is significantly more difficult to accomplish.

Eat what you want…without judgment.

I bet a lot of you are nodding your heads right now, because you know what it feels like to “give yourself permission” to eat whatever it is that you want, only to feel overwhelming guilt afterward. That’s because – in a way very similar to the notion of pseudo-dietingsaying nothing is off limits and actually living out that principle are two very different things.


But sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between the two. Sometimes we think – we truly believe – we’re not judging ourselves when deep down we still are.  :-?

I’ve definitely found myself caught in the trap of No-I’m-Not-Judging-Myself-Oh-Wait-Yes-I-Am-How-On-Earth-Did-That-Happen??? Here are some of the signs I’ve seen in my life that judgment is present – even when I’m telling myself that it’s not.

Five Signs of (Subconscious) Judgment

1. Guilt

This is probably the most obvious one. If I tell myself that I can eat “full-fat” yogurt or cheese but then feel guilty after doing so, have I really given myself permission? :-?

2. Attempting to Undo the Act

Sometimes after I’ve honored my craving for ice cream or french fries or whatever, I find myself wanting to make sure that my next meal or snack is extra-nutritious to “make up for” my indulgence. But trusting my body means not trying to “undo” the so-called “negatives” in my food intake by restricting my future choices.

3. Ruminating

When I’m being true to my Intuitive Eating principles, I can eat anything I want and then move on with my life. But when judgment is present – even on a subconscious level – I find myself dwelling on my food choices throughout the day. I go over and over what I ate in my head, even hours afterward! :-( That kind of rumination is a sure sign of judgment.

4. Eating Mindlessly

When I am genuinely giving myself permission to eat what I want, when I want it, I have no problem eating mindfully – sitting down at the table, putting the food on a plate or in a bowl, and savoring every bite. But when the back of my mind is filled with judgmental thoughts about the food, my body, my choices, etc., eating mindfully is the last thing I want to do. Instead, I want to eat while watching TV, reading a magazine, or browsing the Internet…as if I’m trying to distract myself from what I am doing. I want to pretend that it’s not happening. If judgment weren’t present, would that feel so necessary? :-|

5. Eating Secretly

This is, perhaps, the reddest red flag that I have. When I’m judging my food choices – or, more accurately, judging myself based on my food choices – I tend to eat differently in private than I do in public. Probably because when I’m judging myself, I assume others are judging me too, and that totally freaks me out. 8-O So I wait until I am alone, and then I see it as “my chance” to eat whatever I want. Again, for me that’s a sure sign that I haven’t give myself genuine permission to honor my food cravings and desires; it’s a sign that it’s time for me to re-evaluate my connection to the basic Intuitive Eating principles.

This brings up another important point. When I say that part of healing myself and my relationship with food is being able to eat what I want without judgment, I’m not just talking about self-judgment. I also needed – and still need – to feel that those around me aren’t judging me either.

And you deserve that, too. That means that if you decide – truly giving yourself permission – to eat ice cream for dinner one night, or skip the reduced fat cheese in favor of the real thing, or whatever it is in your particular situation, you should be able to enjoy your decision in plain view of your spouse or your mom or your children or whomever is around when you’re eating. You shouldn’t have to feel like a common criminal when you’re eating, you know?

Of course, this requires two important steps. 1) Having supportive people in your life, people you can trust. 2) Having an open and honest conversation with said people about your relationship with food and the Intuitive Eating journey you’re embarking on – what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what you need from them, which is, basically, non-judgmental support.

If you’re finding yourself struggling on your Intuitive Eating journey, I encourage you to look inward, to question what’s going on in the deepest parts of yourself. You might find, like I have in the past, that judgment is present – even though you’ve said and thought and truly believed it wasn’t. But recognizing that it is there is the first step in getting rid of it for good. :-)

Have you found that one of the toughest parts of giving yourself permission to eat what you want is doing so without judgment? How do you deal with those judgmental thoughts?

55 Responses to “Without Judgment”

  1. I think the toughest part for me is not having guilt. When I eat a piece of cake I just make sure I really want it and then I try not to have guilt/think about it for hours after. It’s hard, but I have pretty much gotten to place when i don’t do this anymore, but every once in awhile it creeps back in. It’s hard!

  2. Candice says:

    Eating secretly is what gets me. Why do I wait until my husband is in the shower to have one more bit of PB at night? It’s an effort to hide it or just a habit, but one I need to change.

  3. Sometimes I feel like you can read my mind! It’s scary how nicely your posts align with my thoughts.

    For me the hardest part is eating secretly. I don’t really feel guilt with food and never did. I will have the “I shouldn’t eat this” thought but once I do I don’t dwell. I do, however, struggle with eating secretly because I don’t want to be judged. The other day I was putting away dishes and ducked down behind my counter to take a bite of something. I remember thinking “I don’t want my husband to see me eat this.” SO SICK! He would never judge me yet I still felt the need to duck. I quickly stood up and ate it like a human… but it bothered me that the thought was even there.

    • Katie says:

      But still, the fact that you were aware of the thought and then took steps to challenge it is HUGE in and of itself!

  4. This post is great. I think eating without judgment is something a lot of people struggle with. I know it’s something that I still battle…I think just being more aware of when you’re judging yourself is the first step to stopping that line of thinking.

  5. great post, katie – you always bring things up that make me really think about and compare it to myself and how i make choices and feel about them. i love it! i always walk away for the better.
    i especially like the point about eating differently in public. while i don’t necessarily change WHAT i eat while at work (i bring lunch…) i used to wait until everyone else was busy before enjoying my lunch so i could do so peacefully without feeling like i was being judged. i don’t know why, because it wasn’t because i was eating unhealthy. actually, it was on the contrary, and i didn’t want to be judged for that. now i don’t even care. i do go outside a lot now, but i don’t think it has anything to do with fearing judgement anymore. i just like the fresh air, lol.
    attempting to undo the act is another good one, and you mentioning it made me stop and think “do i still do that?” (i did that for each point, actually – glad the answers were mostly “not any more”!) i think i’ve also gotten a lot better about that, too. while i eat well 95% of the time because i ENJOY it more than other food – i don’t so much care if i indulge with that other 5%. who cares?! as i said on rebekah’s post on a similar subject – either way, food is fuel!

  6. totally…i’ve been through all 5 of those signs of judgment way too many times to count! i’ve basically just said to myself, “you know what? you can’t change what you just did. but you can change yourself and the way you eat and react in the future.” when i first started to understand that i actually started to live my life!

  7. Such a good post! I feel that I have issues with ALL of these judgments. But I especially feel that I am always “Attempting to undo the act” — as in me thinking “when I get hungry again, I will eat something very healthy”. And then of course, eating in secret is a big one. My friend and I were just having a conversation about how our husbands don’t care whether we eat something in front of them, no matter what it is, but sometimes you want to wait until they’re gone to do it for fear of judgment. It doesn’t make sense! They don’t even care!

    • Katie says:

      I know! My husband certainly doesn’t care one bit, and yet sometimes I’m still embarrassed to eat whatever I want in front of him. It’s totally illogical!

  8. This was a great post, and it made me realize I do sometimes suffer from my own judgemental thoughts. I love the book “Intuitive Eating,” it’s helped me a lot :)

  9. I feel like sometimes I eat in secret. Like over the last 10 days while my husband was away, I had two Dairy Queen Blizzards. As I ate them I felt like I was secretly eating these. I have included my husband in my attempt to eat healthir and better for my body, however when he tried to give positive encouragement to make good choices, it came out as critical feedback which would hurt my feelings and then frustrate him as that was not the message he was trying to convey. So for right now, we have mutually decided that he isn’t going to participate in the food aspect of my healthy lifestyle, but will continue to tell me how attractive he finds me.

    • Katie says:

      I think that sounds like a solid plan! I have definitely found that because issues of food and weight are so emotionally charged, it’s very easy for well-intentioned encouragement to come out as criticism.

  10. Being well is DEFINITELY a part of eating without judgement. I have come so far, but the biggest thing for me is still comparing my plate with others’ plates. But then I remember, who the heck cares what he/she is eating?!? I need to eat what’s right for me, whether that’s a salad or chocolate cake!! I’m healthy and deserve to be celebrated!

  11. Ooh.. I like this post. Over the past year I’ve made a lot of healthy choices that include bringing my lunch to work, snacking on fruits and veggies… etc. I get a lot of comments about how “good” I am and how I always eat so healthy, which is great, but now I feel like if I eat something less healthy, I’m letting someone down. Does that make sense?

    As far as intuitive eating goes, I went against my cravings and it landed me in the hospital! I’m good with sweets but will often crave salt (chips, cheese, etc). I gave up a lot of that and started buying reduced sodium everything and ended up passing out during a workout at home… after all my tests they ran, it turns out I need more salt in my diet! It was a big wake-up call for me to listen to my body :) Nature is amazing and if you crave a piece of cake, I say go for it. You probably need the sugar.

    • Katie says:

      It makes perfect sense. Once I got branded as “the healthy one,” I also felt like I had some type of standard to live up to. It’s silly, really, and yet that doesn’t make it any less real or challenging, you know?

      I’m so sorry you ended up in the hospital! And yet it’s a very powerful story about the importance of listening to our bodies. Thanks for sharing! :)

  12. last night i was watching A&E “obssesed” about patients with OCD.. and the cognitive behavioral therapist was saying “we can’t control our thoughts, only how we act on them” i really liked that because it relates to what you’re saying so well!

    those food thoughts that lead us to poor negative relationships around food and diet is so inundated with judgement that it feels almost impossible to pull away from it or not experience it ya know? very hard!

    xoxo <3

  13. I struggle with the judgement and guilt a lot! It’s easy to give in to a craving or something but then it’s awful when you feel guilty over it for the next 3 days. Great post!

  14. Allie says:

    I completely agree with everything you said. I judge myself 24/7 and will feel guilty for days! Sometimes it is hard to let go and enjoy myself. Thanks for advice :)

  15. Jill says:

    This is an excellent post Katie!! It’s hard to feel no judgement about certain foods when they’ve been villianized my whole life. It’s like hearing that a serial killer on Death Row is now being considered for sainthood! Can’t quite wrap my brain around it yet, but I’m getting there. :)

  16. Tina says:

    I have secretly eaten things so many times in my past it is ridiculous. That is something I have to be VERY mindful of. If I can’t openly eat it in front of my husband or friends + family then I need to really think about the reasons why. It’s amazing how we do that, huh? As always, a great post. I am certainly glad to be able to read such wonderful posts from you again now that I am back from vacay.

  17. Nicole, RD says:

    Katie, I just love your posts. How is it possible to be so insightful every day and express your thoughts so clearly in words? You are impressive! I don’t think I’ve ever thought about this, but I totttally do it! I feel really guilty with eating things that most would throw into the “bad food” category. Maybe because I’m a dietitian? While *I* know that it’s okay to splurge in moderation and I’m okay doing so solo or with my hubby, I know other judge me! Other people say things! At work just last week, someone brought in bisuits and gravy. I helped myself to one biscuit and a small portion of gravy. Breakfast. FOUR co-workers commented! “Oh, the dietitian is eating fatty food”…”Wow, you eat that?”…blah blah blah. JUDGED! I hate that because then I was judging myself. I really feel in the spot light in situations like that, and I don’t like it :(

    • NIcole–I have a team of RDs in my office, and they get that all the time! Heaven forbid they eat a piece of cake at an office celebration–the whole office descends upon them!

      It’s really predictable and pretty annoying.

    • Katie says:

      Nicole, I think your position as a dietitian brings in a whole new dimension to this conversation – one that I honestly hadn’t thought of – because I think most of us THINK we’re being judged when we’re really not. You, however, truly are being judged! Not an easy thing to deal with, I’m sure!

  18. Lisa says:

    I did that for years. I was eating what I wanted, but inside I was beating myself up for it. So outwardly, it looked like all was ok with me. But inside, it wasn’t. And that was when binging started for me–just feeling guilty about all these things that were “ok” to eat.

    Binging didn’t stop until I truly didn’t feel bad about eating cereal for breakfast etc.

  19. Interesting post, Katie. I’ve been thinking a lot about these ideas lately because I am heading to a big 4th of July party with lots of friends I haven’t seen in a while, and I am already nervous about how and what I’ll eat, and how everyone will think I look after having the baby. Exactly what you’re talking about, right? I’m sure it will give me lots to blog about.

    I have a question, though. If I should truly give myself the permission to eat whatever I want without guilt because I’m trusting my body, then what about the “high” I feel when I eat really, really well for a day? (and it truly is a high sometimes.) I wonder if that extreme is healthy, considering the other extreme (the guilt) is not. Or is the positive ok, while the negative is not. That seems to be the simple answer, but I’m not sure because that “high” is the same feeling I used to get when I deprived myself of food for days at a time.


    • Katie says:

      Gosh, that is a really interesting question, Wendy! Perhaps it depends on where the “high” is really coming from. Like you, I used to get that feeling when I would severely restrict my food intake, so in that case it was not good – the high was coming not from being “healthy,” but from satisfying my disordered eating thoughts.

      However, if the feeling is more one of pride from taking care of your body – and enjoying the physical feeling that goes along with that – then I don’t necessarily think it’s problematic.

      Still rolling this one around in my head! You’ve definitely got me thinking – just like old times in the classroom! ;)

  20. Katie — this is another great, insightful post. Not only because you bring up and clearly explain some very helpful points, but also because you connect them to your own situation so well. I think it’s admirable that you have so much self-reflection.

    It can be really hard to escape judgment for anything we do…especially when it comes to our food choices. I often catch myself judging what I eat and being nervous others are doing the same. I know that it’s not productive, but it’s also something that I need to be continually mindful of, so that I don’t slip back into bad habits.

  21. I am constantly judging myself for the food choices I make! While I’ve technically given myself “permission” to eat anything, I struggle with guilt when I choose “bad-for-me” foods. As a result, I often pick the healthier option over what I really feel like eating. However, then I become bothered by the fact that I didn’t eat what I wanted–I begin judging my failure to eat intuitively! It’s a vicious cycle!

    When I’m a bit anxious about eating a particular food, I often “deal” with it by eating mindlessly. I try to distract myself with a TV show, or even by reading blogs! haha…I don’t like munching on something and feeling tormented at the same time! But then the guilt sets in later.

    Thanks for such a GREAT post…This is helping me re-evaluate my relationship with food! And I completely agree that awareness is the best and only way to get rid of judgement for good. :-)

    • Katie says:

      I often do the exact same thing in terms of “dealing” with my food anxiety by distracting myself while eating. The key is getting myself to stop – while I still have food in front of me – and question what’s going on and challenging my thinking. Easier said than done, that’s for sure!

  22. Up until I started reading blogs a few months ago, I honestly thought I was the only person on earth that struggled with intuitive eating. Katie, you have really made me feel so much better with knowing I am not in this struggle by myself. Not that I wish this battle on others, I am just relieved to know that I can (eventually) have a healthy relationship with food.

    • Katie says:

      Yes, you really can have a healthy relationship with food! It certainly isn’t an easy journey, but it’s definitely a worthwhile one! :)

      I really appreciate you sharing this comment. One of the main reasons I write posts like this is because I know what it feels like to think you’re alone in this struggle, that everyone else can just snap their fingers and their food issues disappear. It truly is comforting to know that we’re in this together!

  23. Holly says:

    I definitely judge myself sometimes with certain foods….most often on days when I feel like I haven’t “earned” it (i.e. days when my workouts are light, or rest days). Which is so silly, I know!

    I love what you said about the importance of supportive people in our lives. SO true. I think we all focus on ourselves, we forget the power of the people around us….especially if we are sensitive and/or impressionable (I am both). :-)

    You give me hope that one day I will stop feeling guilt completely for eating certain foods!

    • Katie says:

      Holly, I am 100% certain that one day those guilty feelings will be history! It wasn’t so long ago that I truly believed I needed to “earn” certain foods. The fact that you know those kinds of thoughts are illogical just shows that you’re well on your way! :)

  24. This is such an interesting post!! I can relate to all of those points – probably the one about obsessing over what you ate for hours after, or trying to ‘make up’ for it the most. It’s such a tough thing to overcome.
    Do you know what the name is of that book on intuitive eating?

  25. *Andrea* says:

    i love this post!!!!!! i am learning mindfulness in this stress reduction program i am doing called MBSR and we did a retreat where we practiced eating a meal intuitively. it was such an amazing experience. i savored the food, enjoyed the colors, textures and smells and feelings my body felt when eating it. thoughts of “is this too processed?” or “is this bad for the environment that i am eating an animal product?” or “how many calories is in this?” simply did not exist! it was so freeing.

    anyways, what’s the name of this book? i’m super intrigued

  26. Hey Katie! Saw your comment on my blog and figured I’d comment here since you’ll definitely see it- feel free to piggy back off my post today!! I’d love to see your view/opinion! I look forward to it!

  27. I think the hardest for me is actually my job. I feel like people expect me to eat a certain way and when I fall outside that health bubble (so to say) I feel like I am failing as a nutritionist!

    • Katie says:

      You know, Nicole from Prevention RD said the same thing, and I honestly hadn’t thought about it that way. If I feel like people are judging my food choices, and I’m just a regular gal, I can’t imagine how it must be for a nutritionist!

  28. Yum Yucky says:

    I’m going to give myself permission to entire an entire bag of popcorn. It’s low cal, afterall. And for once, I don’t want to share it with my greedy child-gremlins. I want it all for me. And I’m gonna give myself permission to do that for once in my life. geesh!

  29. Elle says:

    I’m really struggling not so much with feeling guilty over the food choices themselves, but more feeling guilty about not honoring my hunger signals. I eat when I’m not hungry and then I will also continue to eat when I’m full. I definitely feel guilty about these things and I try to keep reminding myself I am retraining myself after years of doing it the wrong way, but I still feeling like I’m getting an F in that department (and my tight clothes don’t really help much).

    • Katie says:

      Elle, I totally get what you’re saying! When I first began my intuitive eating journey (and let’s be honest, sometimes this is still the case) I found that I turned IE into a sort of “diet” in and of itself in that I felt compelled to follow the “rules” exactly, and felt extreme guilt when I didn’t.

      It’s certainly not an easy thing to deal with, but the best I can say is to try to remember that intuitive eating isn’t about doing anything perfectly, not even listening to your hunger signals. It’s about going with the flow in a way that dieting/restricting simply doesn’t allow.

  30. I’ve learned that if I have a craving, typically it is better if I just feed the craving or I’m gonna eat everything else in the kitchen till I finally get what I want. Therefore, this is why I just go ahead and give myself permission to eat what I want, really it’s less calories in the long run! However, I make sure to paractice moderation!

  31. homecookedem says:

    Great post!! I have totally been there on the eating in private thing. I can’t stand when people judge what I eat, so in the past I’ve eaten a salad or whatever in front of them and then eaten 20 cookies later on by myself. If I had just eaten some before without caring what anyone thought I’d probably have only had 1 or 2. Now I could care LESS about what anyone thinks about my portions/food choices. I eat what I want and I am more balanced than I’ve ever been before in my life. YAY! :)

  32. homecookedem says:

    I guess I should have written “I couldn’t stand when people judge what I ate” – in the past tense… b/c now I really don’t care! ;)

  33. Katie says:

    Loved this post!

  34. Katie says:

    Really liked this post.

  35. Wonderful post. I just LOVE your blog. I have been dealing with this a lot too. A lot of secret and emotional and mindless eating that led to a significant weight gain in the last few months just because of stress and me not handling it appropriately… but I realize how much that my own guilt and judgement is exacerbating the problem. Need to pay more attention and love myself more, as it seems.

  36. Hayley says:

    Wow Katie – I can relate very well to every single one of these…I am ashamed and saddened to admit that, especially since the one about “eating mindlessly” is something I did yesterday. I was totally numbing out with food (most likely from boredom, exhaustion and loneliness) and at one point when I went to rinse out my bowl I thought, “I don’t even remember what I just ate.” That was an extremely eye-opening thought.

    I’ve also experienced guilt and a LOT of secret-eating. I fear my husband will judge me and when I lived with my parents I definitely hid from them, too. I know if any of them saw me going back for more food (changing food each time) time after time after time they’d say something. One time I didn’t do it in secret and my husband said, “Are you still hungry?” I was so angry, probably as a way to cover up my shamefulness..

    This is definitely all a work in progress for me! I so appreciate you bringing awareness to the subject..

  37. Elina says:

    Sorry, I’m so late with commenting on this post but it’s a good one! I definitely catch myself doing the same thing but to be honest, I never judge myself if it’s mindful eating, it’s the stuff your face, eat 20 cookies (because that’s what i have on hand) when the judgment kicks in. So that’s probably well deserved. Plus, it’s not like I’m really giving myself “permission” to eat that and then judge myself. I never even want to do it in the first place. I just eat for completely different reasons.
    I remember when I first started reading the IE book, I was almost hyperventilating. I wanted to be those “after” people so bad. It didn’t seem like I could get there one day but I think I’ve made a lot of progress. Step 1 (the only way you may ever get “cured”) – except your body the way it is today. If in the back of your mind you are trying to lose weight, then you will be judging yourself. I’ve definitely gained a few pounds recently. I know I’ll lose them once things calm down (the past few days have been great!). And no, if I eat “whatever I want” I will not be 128lbs which was my goal my entire adult life but even though I’m nowhere even remotely close to it (or even T my personal lower range) I don’t care anymore. Stopping chasing that stupid dream was the biggest thing I’ve done for myself. Now I just want to have fun while I work out, cook interesting/healthy meals and eat out whenever I feel like it for the rest.
    Thanks for letting me reflect here, Katie. :)

  38. Katie says:

    Thanks for this wonderful comment, Elina! I love how real and honest you are – it is so refreshing!

  39. Trisha says:

    Thank you so much for posting your personal struggles with intuitive eating! I know this post is old but I am reading your blog from the beginning :) I really want to have a normal relationship with food and I KNOW I can get there… I have trouble with emotional eating. Thank you so much for writing this blog, it’s beautiful!

    • Katie says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Trisha! It IS possible to have a normal, healthy relationship with food and with our bodies – you will get there, I know it! :)

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