from, I can think of a few people this is perfect for
I didn’t grow up with guilt. I should say I didn’t grow up with parents who used guilt as a means to motivate. For whatever reason, we did our homework and wanted to do well in school….because we did. As an adult, I have friends, clients and family members who “lay guilt”. I see it as a roundabout attempt to get you to do something or think something that the other person sees as important. Since all roads lead to food for me I started thinking about food and guilt. Religion aside, no arena has more references to guilt than diets and eating. My question, with food and in life, is does guilt help?
One study in the journal of Health Education and Behavior divided women into groups based on their attitude regarding food. Those who were “guilt-ridden dieters” scored the highest in measures of body fat, BMI and body weight. In this case those with the highest guilt were the most likely to be all or nothing with weight loss efforts.  Once these women ate poorly, their self-talk led them to continue this behavior. This is similar to the study on self-compassion I’ve written about before in Treat Training.
 I was drawn to why one person feels guilt over food and another may not. For all I think about food, there isn’t a sense of negativity if I veer (oh not to worry there are plenty of other unproductive emotions I have to work on). My goal, in general, is to put the best foods in my body. This comes from a good place and creates the impetus to eat wholesome foods the majority of the time. So some of this is about framing. And some guilt is good. People “who do not exhibit a sense of remorse in the face of guilt are labeled psychopaths,” says one psychology site. So guilt and a sense of right and wrong can nudge us all to do the right thing in many different situations.  Some guilt is ok. It seems overwhelming or disproportionate guilt is where people are stifled.
20/20 episode suggested an interesting comparison. “High-guilt people often do shoulds”. There was an example of the college student who never missed class, wanted to achieve and give back. The also mentioned “low-guilt people often do wants”.  I want this or I want that, they are more concerned with what they would like to do than with what is expected of them.
Experts pointed out bad parenting produces too much guilt. It’s important to separate an incident from more global assessments. Getting a bad grade or eating a cookie doesn’t make you a bad, weak or unintelligent person. Rather it makes you someone who could have studied differently or perhaps was hungry. Analyzing or troubleshooting will produce a better result, in both children and adults, than attacking.
With clients, I see where people fall on the guilt spectrum. We have an exercise called “food stalking” where Foodtrainees email their food journal daily. Some clients love this, they like the commentary and feel the accountability encourages them to eat better.  The perceived feedback leads to better eating. This is not for everyone. One client, in particular, came in for her session and said “I hated that, it make me anxious, I feel I do better when I decide when to be strict.” She joked she grew up Catholic. There are so many articles about “losing the guilt” with eating. I don’t know if it’s guilt they are referring to or the mental flogging that is associated with it.
Consider where you are on the guilt spectrum. If you’re someone who can take imperfection in stride or use it to drive you that’s good to know. If you tend to beat yourself up, have plans in place. You will mess up whether it’s at work, in your relationships or with food. We all do. It’s how you react and regroup that matters more.

What do you think about guilt and food? Do you think there’s a difference between internal guilt and feelings of guilt or “guilt trips” from others? Did you grow up in a “guilt heavy” environment? Was your family religious? Curious


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