A client said to me, “I was doing great, I was on-program — and then I ate a cupcake. I felt so guilty I spiraled out of control. I’m angry with myself because I let it all go.”
If I only had a nickel for all the clients who, in disgusted voices, “confessed” that they had fallen off the diet wagon. It may not have been a cupcake that sent them butt-over-bandbox off the wagon, but whatever the illicit, forbidden food, it made them feel bad enough to give up — as if they had failed themselves.
Psychology calls this kind of guilt (failed expectations of self) neurotic guilt. And since research tells us that 65% of us are overweight, that’s a whole lot of guilt and anxiety floating around.
In an interview for this column, Steven Kalas, Ph.D., MFT, explained it this way: “Neurotic guilt makes you feel stuck, when what you need most is life-giving initiative.”
He explained that guilt can bring anxiety, an endless loop tape in your head: “I shouldn’t have eaten that, I shouldn’t have eaten that, I shouldn’t have....” This type of anxiety is paralyzing. It prevents us from trying again.
Giving up is the saddest part of the story. Sometimes the greatest expression of power is not the big guy groaning while lifting heavy weights in the gym, it’s the quiet thought inside of us that says, “I’ll try again.” Our bodies are in a perpetual state of recovery and healing. When we eat well, exercise, and maintain a calm, content disposition, we are thriving. But in the day-to-day of it all, life isn’t perfect. There will be bumps along the way. How we deal with the bumps determines whether or not we can manage our weight.
Guilt comes when we violate our personal eating standards, such as “never eat this” (sugar, chocolate, soda, etc.) and “never do that” (consume too much, eat late at night, miss a workout etc.). This do-or-die mentality is destructive. The pressure is too great, the risk of failure too high. It’s just overwhelming. I suggest to my clients to break the day into thirds — morning, afternoon, evening. Make a list of what a really good morning would look like for that day of the week. The list may include:
Upon rising, count your blessings.
Drink a glass of water before breakfast.
Eat something fresh and in season, or make fresh juice.
Have a cup of herbal tea.
Have a handful of almonds.
Go for a 30-minute walk (or the gym).
And for the morning, up until noon, check as many boxes as you can, mentally or on paper. Then step back and say, “That was pretty good. I did most or all of what I intended.”
Have a similar list for afternoon. You may have on your list:
Eat a salad for lunch.
Refuse the bread that comes with it.
Avoid the co-worker who makes you feel bad about yourself.
Meditate for 10 minutes.
Drink two glasses of water.
Have a planned low-calorie, nutritious snack.
And for the afternoon, up until 5 p.m., check as many of the boxes as you can. Take a moment to feel really good about your efforts. Take a deep breath, step back and remember this is a process.
Your evening list might have:
Reduce portions at dinner.
Include steamed vegetables with dinner and add super foods when you can.
Say no to sugar.
Stop eating after 7 p.m.
Get to bed on time.
When you check in at the close of each third of your day, focus on just that section of the day. Remind yourself that your body is an amazing, intelligent network and getting better. Keep in mind that weight loss is a process, perfection would be too much to ask. When you blow it, try to understand the feelings that went along with the off-program food and where those feelings come from.
The next third is another chance to stay on track. We’re looking for a trend, rather than an instant result. The longer you can keep the thirds looking pretty good, the easier it gets. Forget about being on a diet. Instead, feel enjoyment in your life and gratitude for the chance to slim down and care for yourself. When you marvel at the gift your body is and find gratitude for all the systems that keep you up and running everyday, guilt or anger turned inward slips slowly away. Lighten up the guilt and the body does likewise.
I’ll see you soon.
Love & health,
LOA BLASUCCI lives in La Cañada and teaches courses at the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge. Her website is www.gotoloa.com.