I honestly couldn’t come up with a great title for this post. This entire topic really stems from an ongoing fight I have against a lot of the predominant culture in our country. I say our country because I genuinely only see Americans struggling with this. When I was abroad in Europe, this wasn’t a problem. Australian friends I had at college didn’t struggle with this. It seems to be a truly American issue: guilt for not being good enough. As a country, we are CONSTANTLY guilty for things.
We didn’t put in enough hours at the home office this week.
We decided to have a beer on a Wednesday with friends over Zoom – that’s not in the nutrition plan.
We slept in on Friday morning and skipped a workout.
We had a bag of gummy worms at night because stress finally won and it felt like it would be comforting to eat that delicious candy.
And then, regardless of what the unplanned activity is, we feel bad about it. We beat ourselves up and we feel guilty about our actions. We vow that will be the last time – and maybe we punish ourselves with extra cardio or restrictive dieting.
You feel guilty because you’re not acting in line with your values.
This topic really came about from a conversation with a nutrition client at our gym, Nicole Trotman – or Coleytrots as we all call her. She said to me, “You’re going to judge me so hard when you read my food log for this week – Joe I had so many treats!” My response was this:
“I will never ever judge someone for what they eat. I think that judgement is you actually judging yourself because you’re acting in a way incongruent with your own values – but it’s easier to export that judgement coming from someone else than recognizing you’re actually unhappy while you eat the thing that’s meant to make you happy.”
The only reason guilt comes up when you eat something indulgent is because you know you have a goal, and you believe that action isn’t bringing you any closer to your goal. Maybe this isn’t what a nutrition coach is supposed to say – but that’s perfectly okay from time to time.
I want you to achieve your goals, but if you achieve your goals at the expense of mental health and overall happiness, what was the point? History is filled with miserable, rich-as-hell business people who found wild success in their careers – and coupled it with broken families and lost lives.
This entire guilt society thing is ridiculous. Let’s just stop.
I used to absolutely beat myself up every single time I ate something that wasn’t “on my plan,” or whatever that meant. For awhile that meant absolutely no dairy. Then it was gluten free. Then it was paleo. And in all of these things that I put so much trust and worth, I lost a little bit of my independence and sense of value. All of the sudden my plan was my value.
Sorry for the language, but that’s bullshit.
It is just food. It took me learning nutrition science and going through some real issues with my relationship to realize that the cookie wasn’t just going to automatically make me fat. All I did was give food incredible power over me. The temptation at social events was unmanageable. I’d eat one thing and go off the rails. It wasn’t healthy – even though I thought I was living my healthiest life ever.
Just focus on your values.
If you just focus on living into your values, you feel better, you drop the guilt, and in the process your decisions actually aid your goals.
It wasn’t until I made a decision to choose my values in every situation that I stopped feeling so guilty. I can’t, as a coach, tell you what your values should be. I can tell you that mine include excellence and connection – and that means sometimes living into my values means having the cake my mother-in-law spent hours making because it is a way to connect. It means having a beer with my dad on his back patio because it’s a way to connect.
Other times it means sticking to a more strict diet because I’m going to be competing and I want to feel my best.
It isn’t about “calories” and “healthy food” it’s about making choices that feel good with my values. I can make the calories fit in any plan – and you can too.
Seriously, the guilt has got to go.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for following along. This felt like a little bit of a rant, and a little bit of my own therapy – but I’m so passionate about not letting food control your life and making you feel bad about yourself. I’ve spent so many mornings regretting the cookie I ate the night before, or the drink I chose to have, and every time it has been worthless worry.
Stop beating yourself up. Figure out your values, and just live into them. You’re going to have times when you forget to do that, and that’s okay. It’s part of the process, and the more times you try to live fully in your values, the more times you’ll succeed – and in the end, the happier you’ll be. This is way bigger than a nutrition choice, or a workout. It’s your mental health and your happiness.