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June 17, 2019
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Mind Body and Spirit

Steven Campbell
Guilt from holiday eating
January 4, 2019

The holidays often leave us without many fond memories and some guilt. The fond memories come from the good times and the guilt comes from the weight we’ve gained.

If you’re one of these, you’re not alone.

However, Dr. Glenn Livingston suggests that you may want to let your guilty feelings go. His reason is that research suggests those who connect guilt and overeating with indulgence rather than a simple holiday celebration have a significantly harder time maintaining their weight.

More importantly, the same research also shows that guilt does not help us recover from an indulgence either. It has discovered that people who felt guilty after eating a piece of chocolate cake “did not report more positive attitudes or stronger intentions to eat healthy than did those associating chocolate cake with celebration.” 

Instead, the people feeling guilty simply felt more out of control.

Other research suggests guilt may actually increase our perceived body weight and negatively impact our body image.

That’s right! Feeling guilty makes you feel fatter...and feeling fatter may make you want to eat more.

The Institute for the Psychology of Eating even reports that guilt may actually slow down our metabolic rate, causing us to gain more weight from an equivalent amount of calories.

All things considered, excessive guilt about overeating can be very problematic.

On the other hand, when you consider the distinction between harboring guilty (which is what most overeaters do after a binge) vs. being prone to feeling guilty, it appears guilt can serve a healthy role. For example, people who are prone-to-but-do-not-necessarily-harbor guilt are more likely to be trustworthy and sensitive in their interactions with others.

And just like the physical pain of touching a hot stove is necessary for at least a brief moment lest you walk away without the awareness that you’ve damaged yourself and need to pay closer attention so it doesn’t happen again, so too is a brief moment of guilt necessary if and when you’ve broken your healthy eating plans.

But, in my experience it’s best if guilt lasts only long enough to get your attention. Once you’ve analyzed the mistake, figured out what went wrong, and made plans to correct it in the future, guilt serves no constructive purpose...at least as far as healthy eating is concerned. In fact, many of my clients report that guilt seems to prolong and fuel further overeating.

It works like this:  You eat something you consider “bad” or off your diet plan. Then you proceed to heavily berate yourself, which makes you feel “pathetic” and “weak.” Then, when you feel weak enough, there’s a little voice that jumps in and says something like “you’re obviously too pathetic and weak to resist, so let’s go get more...yum.”

When people recognize that this voice of excessive guilt is binge motivated in and itself they are often shocked.  And this piercing insight is often enough to get them to stop yelling at themselves after they’ve made a mistake.  Many then find that without guilt fueling the binge, it’s impossible keep overeating... and they start to naturally reclaim control of their food.

The last thing to consider about all this research is that if you are going to indulge, it’s much better to plan out exactly what indulgence you’re going to have, when and where you’ll have it, how much you’ll eat, and when you’re going to stop.  Yes, there are some treats for which never is a lot easier than sometimes for some people  (chocolate, for example, for me personally)... but if you are going to have it, it’s much better to plan it as a kind of celebration than to put yourself in a situation where you eat it with tremendous guilt and shame.

Being lighter on yourself with guilt doesn’t mean you don’t have clearly defined  goals and commitments though... it just means you’re more willing to recognize when you’re getting carried away with these negative feelings before they make matters a lot worse.  “Commit with perfection but forgive yourself with dignity” is the mantra I give my clients to summarize the best attitude for food goals.

Food for thought, no?

Steven Campbell is the author of “Making Your Mind Magnificent.” His seminar “Taming Your Mind, Unleashing Your Life” is now available on line at stevenrcampbell.teachable.com. For more information, call Steven Campbell at 707-480-5507.