Guilt and Shame Halt Weight-Loss
Have you been trying to lose weight for years but can’t seem to keep it off?
Struggling with staying on track when it comes to your diet? Tired of feeling guilty and ashamed when you indulge.
While there are many factors that play into weight, a huge factor that might be deterring you from your weight-loss goals might be the feelings of shame and/or guilt.
These negative feelings of shame and guilt can negatively impact weight-loss
What is Guilt and Shame?
Guilt is the awareness that our actions have had consequences (real or imagined).
An example of feeling guilt might be a thought that goes along the lines of “I ate this donut and broke my diet that I’ve been working so hard to maintain”.
It is identifying an action and it’s consequences which then elicit feelings.
This can allow you to take corrective action, however, when it comes to dieting, research has shown it can have the opposite impact (much like shame).
Pertains to our moral character. It makes us question our perceptions of ourselves.
An example of feeling shame might be a thought that goes along the lines of “I ate this donut and now I am worthless”.
Shame is not helpful. It breaks down or self-esteem and leads us to seclude ourselves.
Research has shown that it tends to inhibit people from building improved habits.
Why People are Feeling Shame or Guilt
Negative stigma around carrying extra weight
With an increasingly obese and overweight population, it’s no wonder so many people are seeking weight-loss.
After all, being overweight and obese are two risk factors linked to chronic health problems. However, it is important to note that these are risk factors! Factors for health-professionals to use to quickly assess someone’s health. Not determine it. It’s entirely possible for you to be healthy at a BMI over 25.
Additionally, we are constantly being told by the media that skinny is good and anything bigger is bad.
This message that our weight is related to our worth is crushing. It makes people want to lose weight but for the wrong reasons.
In fact, going into a weight-loss program or plan with a negative mindset, specifically, one involving guilt and shame can spoil all of your efforts.
For instance, going on a diet and watching what you eat because you’re tired of society judging you, won’t get you far.
Trust me, I’ve been there.
Diets are inherently negative
Dieting does not influence us to be in a positive mindset.
“Eat more of this and don’t eat that”, It is full of restrictions.
It sets you up for failure. With so many restrictions, it’s almost impossible to live a fulfilling life.
Usually, we are going to end up eating what we “aren’t supposed to” and then we feel guilty.
This guilt does us no good. It has been proven to, in fact, to generally negatively impact our weight-loss goals.
Why Guilt and Shame Halt Weight-Loss
Toting foods as good and bad can impact your eating habits, and not in the way you’d think it would.
It has been known for years that positive association and reward is far more powerful than negative. The same goes for mindset and perception.
Viewing certain foods as inherently bad can negatively impact your weight loss goals. In studies looking at successful weight-loss in overweight and obese people, more often than not, it is found that those who experience guilt and shame are not as successful as those who don’t.
In a study comparing those who associate chocolate cake with celebration and those who associate it with guilt, researchers found that “participants who associated chocolate cake with celebration were on average more successful in losing weight… than were participants who associated chocolate cake with guilt” (Kuijer and Boyce 5).
Studies conducted on obese patients enduring weight-loss over 8 months found that those who felt higher levels of guilt and shame were likely to not maintain weight-loss achieved than those who felt lower levels. (Condradt 4)
Proof that mindset and perception are far more powerful than we even realize.
How to Avoid Sabotage by These Emotions
First of all, you need to love yourself.
Cheesy, I know, but it’s important.
The less you criticize and the more you love, the more likely you are to improve your habits.
This is because when you let your fear and hate creep into your life, you start to withdraw from everyday activities, making it less and less likely for you to engage in healthy habit building.
Disliking yourself plays into the vicious cycle of feeling down, indulging in a bag of chips or box of cookies and then feeling guilty because you broke your diet. Trust me I know, we’ve all been there.
Let me just be clear though, loving yourself does involve giving yourself permission to indulge and honor your cravings. It does not involve drowning yourself in guilt and shame.
Honoring your cravings is important. Especially because when we ignore them, binging becomes increasingly more likely.
However, feeling guilty or shameful after these indulgences isn’t helpful.
Show yourself grace and accept that it happened. It happens to the best of us so keep moving forward.
Reframe your mindset
Along with loving yourself and giving yourself grace, you want to re-frame your mindset to be more positive.
This means challenging your thoughts and trying to make them more positive.
When you have a negative thought first ask yourself, is the thought related to guilt or shame? Is this thought serving you well? If the thought is related to the feeling of guilt or shame, and/or it’s not serving you well, you may want to re-frame it.
So when you’re thinking “I’m a horrible person” after eating a donut, you could challenge that thought.
Instead of letting the action of eating a donut define your character and worth, forgive yourself and move on. Change “I’m a horrible person for eating that donut” to “I notice myself noticing that I feel like I’m horrible”. This is the practice of challenging your negative mindset to be more positive, or in other words, the process of practicing self-compassion.
This might take some time and it might be challenging but the more you do it the more likely you are to be in a better place.
Remember, one action does and will not spoil your entire goal. There is always room to be better and no one is perfect.
This can be applied to all aspects of life.
As someone who suffers from general anxiety, I am constantly challenging my thoughts because if I don’t, I catastrophize. Meaning that when something happens, I jump to the worst-case scenario (my friends can attest to this).
For instance, those of you who know me, know that I have an unreasonable attachment to my car. One day I got in it, turned it on, tried to shift it into gear and it wouldn’t go. I tried everything I could to troubleshoot and ultimately, ran inside and started crying.
My transmission was shot meaning I’d have to get a new car (because my car is worth like nothing – welcome to / welcome back to the broke college student life). After phone calls with my mechanic and panicking to my friends, I finally got my car towed in and low and behold, I was just out of transmission fluid *facepalms*.
I catastrophized when I didn’t have the facts yet and stressed myself out for no reason.
If I had challenged my thoughts in that situation, I would have come to the conclusion that I don’t have all the facts, it’s not the end of the world, and everything was going to be okay.
Letting bad situations impact your entire view of yourself and life will bog you down and hold you back. Learning to accept, be more positive, and handle curveballs thrown your way can change your life.
This has been recommended on just about every nutrition and food website and I am recommending it too.
Because it’s good advice. Take the time to actually enjoy your food.
Turn off your phone, the TV, your laptop or computer, and just focus on your food.
Focus on its tastes, smells, temperature, and textures.
Listen to your body and stop eating when you’re full.
Taking away the distractions can help you feel more satisfied with your meal both physically and mentally.
This can be a huge benefit to weight-loss because it allows you to listen and honor your hunger cues without overeating or feeling dissatisfied.
It prevents you from feeling like you need more mentally but physically your body is full.
Not only that, but it gives yourself some time for you. Which is important when it comes to taking care of yourself.
Ditch the Guilt & Shame
Now that you know the havoc these negative emotions can wreak on your weight-loss goals.
Focus on doing your best and forgive yourself if you mess up.
Believe me, the power in positivity is immense.
Conradt, Matthias, et al. “Who Copes Well? Obesity-Related Coping and Its Associations with Shame, Guilt, and Weight Loss.” Journal of Clinical Psychology, vol. 64, no. 10, Oct. 2008, pp. 1129-1144. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1002/jclp.20501.
Kuijer, Roeline G. and Boyce, Jessica A. “Chocolate Cake. Guilt or Celebration? Associations with Healthy Eating Attitudes, Perceived Behavioural Control, Intentions and Weight-Loss.” Appetite, vol. 74, Mar. 2014, pp. 48-54. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.appet.2013.11.013.
Disclaimer: this is meant purely for informational purposes – as always this is not to be used instead of seeking the correct professional help. Please seek the help of a Registered Dietitian, Doctor, or Psychologist to get the right help.