If tortilla chips can be guilt-free, then what the heck is my problem??
The other day I was driving in my car and over the radio there was an advertisement for a new “guilt-free” snack. I seriously hate this phrase. Placing a moral judgment on food is just plain ridiculous. What makes a snack guilt-free anyways? What are the criteria?
Is the snack under a certain amount of calories, fat grams, sugar grams, carbohydrate grams, ect….? Is there a board of food directors that decides when a food has surpassed the guilt-free level and can no longer be labeled as such? (If there is such a board I bet you Jillian Michaels is the president)
In the end ONLY YOU can decide if a snack will burden you with guilt and shame. Only you can decide how an inanimate object like a snack food will make you feel.
Wait- go back and read that last sentence. Hmmmm… kind of silly when you think about that. A snack dictating our emotion state? Come on now! That is just plain silly.
But we see it and hear it everywhere and everyday! So why the heck do we allow food to have this level of power over our emotions? Allowing a snack or any food item to make us feel guilty really puts us in a powerless position when you think about it.
And yet we have all been there. Feeling guilty for the extra glass of wine, the piece (or pieces) of chocolate we snuck in after the kids went to bed (yes, this is a personal example), the indulgent dinner we had over the weekend, ect. There is really no one I know of personally or professionally (myself included) that has not felt guilty at one point or another for a food decision. It is something we are taught as we grow up and it is drilled into us over and over by our society and the American culture. So I guess we should just blame our culture/society right? Nah, too easy and that doesn’t really solve anything anyway. So my question is this:
What purpose does guilt serve in your life?
Not just in your relationship with food choices and exercise habits but things like spending time with your family or making your well being a priority. Does guilt motivate us to be a healthier and more responsible human being? There are many articles written about guilt and how to banish or “deal” with guilt but this is how I have come to define guilt in my own life:
**Guilt is an emotion resulting from an action or non-action we believe goes against our core values or what we believe are society’s values.**
Here is an example I think most of us can relate to:
If I decide to hit the snooze button instead of getting up for a 6AM spin class, I feel guilty about it later. I feel guilty because I tell myself that my sleeping in was bad and that getting my butt into a spin class at the crack of dawn is good. I feel guilty all day about sleeping in and decide that I will go in tomorrow morning at 6 AM for the same spin class and hope that the guilt I am feeling will motivate me to get out of bed next time.
Trainer confession – Guilt as a motivator NEVER works! At least not in the long run. It only leads to feelings of resentment and remorse and never leads to permanent habit changes or lifestyle alterations.
Anything you are doing in your life to avoid feeling guilty is NOT WORTH DOING. It puts you in a powerless position. It allows fear to run the show and making decisions out of fear never worked out well for anybody.
So how can you stop feeling guilty about the decisions you make no matter how big or small the decision may be?
Here are 3 questions you can ask yourself when faced with a decision you think might make you feel guilty later.
1. Will I physically and mentally feel better about myself if I (fill in the blank)?
Going back to the spin class example- this all depends on events leading up to the alarm going off for the spin class. If I had a late night last night because my child would not go to bed and I stayed up to complete a project and I need my rest because I have a really busy day ahead of me then yes I am going to sleep in and skip the spin class! I am going to practice self-care and know that I made the best decision for myself by getting rest.
On the other hand, if this is a the third morning in a row that I have decided to skip on the class, I have gotten my optimal amount of sleep, I have promised myself over and over that I will get exercise into my routine because I know I will feel better and yet I cannot get myself out of bed then I might need to ask myself some other questions. Are early morning workouts just not right for me? Is there a different type of exercise I might want to try because spinning just sounds horrible?
Be honest with yourself. Avoid labeling yourself or your behavior as “good” or “bad”. Honor your body and do what you know is best. Sometimes recovery and rest are truly the best option.
2. Will I feel guilty with this decision I am about to make based on my own standards/values or somebody else’s?
Going back to the “guilt-free” tortilla chips. It was Trader Joe’s decision to label the bag as “reduced guilt” not mine. Same thing goes for all the health and fitness magazines decisions to label certain foods as bad or good. Most of the guilt we feel in any given day is usually based on standards or rules that have been decided by some outside source. I personally struggle with guilt when I stay at work to finish a blog like this or email back clients before returning home to my 2-year-old son. I should want to go home and spend time with him, right? I shouldn’t want to be away from him! What a horrible mother I am. But are these my own personal standards and values or the ones I’ve seen in Pamper’s Diapers commercials?
If and when a decision you are struggling with brings about guilt and shame, take time to figure out where the value or belief you are going against really came from.
3. Is the amount of discomfort I will feel for making this decision tolerable if I know deep down it is the right decision?
“The quality of one’s life is directly related to the amount of uncertainty one can comfortably live with”
This is a favorite quote of mine from Tony Robbins although I like to swap out the word uncertainty and substitute in discomfort when making tough decisions. Guilt is one of the most discomforting feelings especially when we make our well being the first priority. But is the discomfort you feel from making a decision less than the discomfort you would feel from not making the decision? Being able to temporarily sit in guilt and discomfort is crazy difficult. It can make your stomach turn and make you feel like crawling out of your own skin. But remember that it only temporary.
The biggest NO-NO I can say about guilt is to try avoiding it. If you are breathing you are going to feel guilty at some point in your life. Be strong and make those tough decisions. You will find yourself in a much more powerful position than if you try to avoid them. Sit with the guilt and breathe through it. This too shall pass.
So the next time you are out shopping for chips and you see a bag labeled as “guilt free” or “reduced guilt” step back and reach for the regular old chips. This life is too short to give your power away to a bag of chips! Only you can decide who or what will allow you to feel guilty.