As we enter the New Year, we are suddenly bombarded with advertisements pushing weight loss products and filling our minds with the idea that, in order to be our “best selves” this year, we must follow some new diet and exercise regimen. For many individuals—especially those struggling with eating disorders (ED)—this time of the year can make us particularly vulnerable to feelings of guilt and shame as we are faced with increased pressure to “undo” the indulgences of the holidays.

For individuals struggling with an ED, food-related guilt and body image shame is often dealt with through self-punishing behaviours; for example, following an overly restrictive diet and excessively exercising. On the other hand, some individuals cope with body image shame by hiding under baggy clothes in an effort to avoid painful feelings of guilt and shame. However, in my practice as a therapist, I’ve found that such self-punishing and avoidance behaviours are unsustainable and ultimately perpetuate the cycle of guilt and shame.

Instead, consider these three more sustainable tips for coping with post-holiday food guilt and body image shame, none of which involve dieting or pursuing weight loss:

1.   Don’t criticize yourself: Practice self-compassion and Radical Acceptance

Instead of beating yourself up, or running away from feelings of shame (literally or figuratively), try working towards greater self-compassion. Be gentle with yourself and be reminded that shame is a fleeting feeling, not an identity; just because you are feeling bad, does not mean you are bad. Another self-compassionate approach to dealing with shame is practicing Radical Acceptance, a skill used in Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (Dimeff & Linehan, 2001). Rather than ignoring, avoiding, or wishing the situation were different, accept things exactly as they are, including the painful emotions of shame and guilt. Radical Acceptance can help you regulate feelings such as anger, guilt, and shame by approaching them with kindness and self-understanding rather than self-judgment.

2.   Ask Yourself: Whose Shame is it Really?

When working with clients who struggle with body image shame, I often ask them to reflect on who their shame really belongs to. This question is meant to facilitate differentiation, the process of recognizing the extent to which one’s body image shame has been taken on as a result of someone else’s shame. This can help you detach from and “disown” feelings of shame by identifying that perhaps your shame does not belong solely to you. Differentiation can protect you from internalizing—and thus negatively reacting to—body shame-inducing comments made by others.

3.   Swap your “Clean Eating” Plan for a Social Media Cleanse

Research shows that exposure to media promoting the “thin ideal” or “athletic/muscular ideal” increases body image dissatisfaction and can also lead to negative emotions, depression, and disordered eating (Huang et al., 2021). We now have the ability to control what shows up on our timelines, so consider unfollowing any accounts that promote diet culture and start following body-positive or body-neutral content online. Doing so will ensure such shame-inducing content no longer appears on your feed or negatively impacts your well-being this year.

Loreana La Civita (B.A.Hons) is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) working under the clinical supervision of Dr. Jean Kim (C.Psych). Loreana provides psychological services to adolescents and adults and has a special interest in treating individuals with eating disorders (e.g., Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, ARFID), body image concerns, neurodiversity (e.g., ADHD, ASD, OCD) and trauma. She integrates emotion-focused therapy (EFT), cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), and dialectical-behavioural therapy (DBT) informed techniques to support individuals struggling with concerns regarding eating, weight, and body image.  


Dimeff, L., & Linehan, M. M. (2001). Dialectical behavior therapy in a nutshell. The California Psychologist, 34(3), 10-13.

Huang, Q., Peng, W., & Ahn, S. (2021). When media become the mirror: A meta-analysis on media and body image. Media Psychology, 24(4), 437-489.

Physical vs. Emotional Hunger: How to Differentiate Between the Two?

Recognizing our hunger signals is an essential ability to ensure we are fueling our bodies properly. Without food energy, it isn’t easy to function cognitively, physically, socially, or emotionally. But have you ever noticed a difference between your physical and emotional hunger? 

Physical hunger is defined as a feeling of discomfort caused by a lack of food. Typical cues for this type of hunger include stomach growling, headache, feeling faint or weak, loss of energy, and irritability. When we recognize this physical need and tend to it with food, we’re usually satisfied and relieved. 

Emotional hunger does not stem from a need to eat. It arises from an emotion that we are not giving enough attention to. It is a sense of emptiness, a feeling that something is missing, a craving for comfort. In other words, emotional hunger does not come from the stomach; it’s derived from an unmet emotional need. 

“Emotional hunger does not come from the stomach; it’s derived from an unmet emotional need.”

According to the American Psychological Association, there is a strong connection between negative emotions and food. More than 35% of adults reveal turning to food to cope with their feelings monthly, and more specifically, seeking high-calorie and high-fat foods during periods of stress. This behavioral cycle can lead to different difficulties, including feelings of guilt and shame, heightened anxiety and lower mood, body image concerns, and disordered eating behaviors.

Being able to distinguish our physical hunger from our emotional hunger is, therefore, a valuable skill. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help meet your real needs, whether physical or emotional.

“Did my hunger come suddenly?”

Have your hunger cues developed progressively, or did they appear spontaneously? If your hunger is emerging gradually, eating a snack or a meal will be helpful. However, if the urge to eat is sudden and you are craving specific comfort food, you may be experiencing emotions that need your attention. 

“Is my hunger located in my stomach or not?” 

If you are not experiencing physical signals of hunger (e.g., stomach growling, feeling sluggish, headache), it can be worthwhile to ask yourself how you feel and what you need right now. Is it possible that you are feeling stressed, sad, or simply bored? What would help to cope with these emotions?

“Why am I still hungry after a full meal?”

If your hunger is still present after a typically satisfying portion, it may be necessary to employ coping or self-care strategies to support your emotional needs. These can include reaching out to a friend, journaling, doing breathing exercises, moving your body, or doing an activity you enjoy.

Our hunger signals can inform us on how we are feeling and what we are needing, and it can be valuable to learn how to understand them better. If you need more support to cope with difficult emotions or are experiencing overwhelming body image concerns or problematic eating behaviors, professionals at CFIR can work collaboratively with you. 

Dr. Karine Côté, D.Psy., C.Psych. is a psychologist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR). Dr. Côté provides psychological services to individual adults and couples experiencing a wide range of psychological and relationship difficulties related to mood and anxiety disorders, trauma, eating disorders, sleep disruptions, and interpersonal betrayal. She works from a humanistic approach and integrates therapeutic techniques from gestalt and object relations psychotherapies, emotion-focused therapy (EFT), and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).