Guilt is a powerful contributor to the failure of many people to lose weight. It is a key component to the yo-yo dieting that is so prevalent in our society today. I see guilt’s destructive effects in my patients all the time. It plays out as follows:
You make a decision to do something about your weight. Maybe it is Weight Watchers, cutting back on carbohydrates, bariatric surgery, going to the gym, or some other strategy. You start out highly motivated and hopeful that this time your plan will work. For the first few weeks everything is going beautifully. You are sticking to your plan and the weight is coming off. Then something changes. You can’t make it to the gym one day, or a holiday or party calls for you to veer off your diet “just this one time.” Perhaps your walking partner can’t join you anymore, or something stressful happens in your life and you just need a little comfort food to get through the situation. Whatever the cause, when you fall off the wagon and the scale starts creeping back up, intense guilt sets in. It is natural to feel guilty when your actions hurt someone, even if that someone is yourself.
People feel guilty because they had so much hope that this time would be different and then they watch their progress slowly slip away. They have no one to blame but themselves. They may look to shift the blame onto their circumstances (like a family member, finances, or job demands for time), but they know deep down that they are responsible for not sticking to their plan. They feel ashamed and like a failure. They beat themselves up with guilt and fill their minds with negative thoughts of hopelessness.
Once guilt finishes making them feel so badly, they wouldn’t dare try again to lose weight. Why would they? Just to go through those same feeling of guilt, shame, and failure all over again. It may take a while for those scars to heal, and then months or years later they may try again.
But what if people could forgive themselves sooner in this process? With forgiveness, there would not be the delay in getting up and trying again. Guilt would no longer be there telling people “don’t bother.” Their would be no shame in going back to the gym, a nutritionist, their doctor, or a support group. These are the kinds of places people should turn to for weight loss, not avoiding them.
We are all human and we make mistakes. If you ever stumble in your weight loss journey, forgive yourself quickly and get back on the wagon.
Carl Lowe, Jr., MD