Monday, January 28, 2013

When it comes to food, does guilt help?

from knockknockstuff.com, 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

26 comments:

  1. My family was religious and I consider myself religious. My upbringing and current life is a mix of evangelical and Catholic. Guilt is what I have when I do something I know is wrong (that God says is wrong) and anything else is a lie. That is to say if you make me feel guilty because you don't like what I did, that may feel like guilt, but it's fake. It is you manipulating me. If I overeat, I may feel dismayed, but not guilty. It seems to me guilt is a gift for identifying sin. Any other use for it ultimately backfires and is not appropriate motivation for anything or anyone.

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  2. Hmn, where I can see that those brought up more religious could have more of a sense of guilt (Jewish, Catholic come to mind). I don't see guilt as something only reserved for sins according to religion. I also think once people identify with guilt learned via religion or their parents it is applied to other arenas. They "go there" because they were taught to. I think guilt can keep us from wrongdoing but also think it can encourage "rightdoing" as I feel in my life. Complex topic.

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  3. This is an interesting post, Lauren. I think at one point in my life I was a VERY high guilt person. I was a "do shoulder"...haha. But now I am not. I've switched. Maybe it's because I have heard so many clients be destryoed by their guilt, and I know how feeling guilty also backfires with me and my own goals. I hope I can teach my own children to have a healthy balance....

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  4. good point Gina, I think you can learn to reduce guilt and have it more in its place. I think it's such a tricky line between boosting kids up and still infusing them with a sense of taking responsibility. Can't say we're perfect but we're big discussers.

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  5. UG! I always feel guilt and not just when it comes to food! If I don't spend enough time with my Dad or grandparents, if I get angry at my husband for no reason, if I sit and read blogs vs clean the house. I used to feel IMMENSE guilt whenever I ate "bad" foods. When I got rid of the concept of "good vs bad" foods though, the guilt started to decrease. I still have moments where I regret eating a little too much of this or that, but I don't let it get to me like it used to. I'm a better person because of it. Too many feelings of guilt can't be healthy for you.

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  6. Such an interesting topic! In my personal life, I have basically zero tolerance for food guilt and body shaming, which are maddeningly intertwined in my family—at least the Catholic side. We're all going to have those times where we wish we'd made a different choice, but rather than dwell on it, why not just focus on making a choice that feels good the next time or do something else to offset that twitchy not-good feeling? However, I think guilt can be effective motivator for some people. I met someone once who'd lost 50+ pounds following a "good boy/bad boy" diet. Whatever works, I guess.

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  7. I'm not saying we don't feel guilt outside of sin. I'm saying that guilt falsely applied is damaging. I grew up quite religious without feeling like I have to do this and that or I should feel guilty. But as you say, it is a complex topic and difficult for me to explain my point in a brief comment.

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  8. and there's no right or wrong it's how we each perceive it and hopefully channel properly or take steps to assuage.

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  9. I like this post, very thought provoking. I think I have improved my eating a lot by letting go of much of my food guilt. I am working on not judging myself harshly when it comes to food--and other things in life. I find when I'm feeling guilty about what I ate and judging myself for it, I actually eat more to soothe myself. Tough cycle, glad I've improved my ability to stay out of it as I've grown older.

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  10. I'm glad you went there about the porn title so I didn't have to. It was so hard for me not to make a joke about whip-cracking I definitely agree with you about men & food wagers/contests/penalty systems.

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  11. I think guilt is something we learn. Especially guilt with regards to food. But that's just my experience. I learned from my mom that there are "good" and "bad" foods and that eating more "good" foods gave you the physical results you wanted while eating too many "bad" foods result in weight gain. I suffer from IMMENSE food guilt. It comes and goes, there are times I am less attached to this but ultimately it is my life struggle. I am working really hard to heal from this. It is a prison to live with constant guilt, like I am always having to "fix" something I broke. In my opinion food guilt is the impetus for most eating disorders. Not a good place to go! Avoid!

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  12. I certainly agree that a "diety" food environment can incite guilt around food. I have also seen though food guilt arise even in seemingly normal food environments growing up. The common tread is often some degree of criticism. I also think guilt and ED can arise from change/trauma and the desire to control things and of course feel intense emotions when you do not. Finally, food guilt can be tied to perfectionism. It's a sticky topic. I wonder what's operating when you feel less guilt, less imprisioned versus not. Love your comments always. Are you a married lady yet? Blogging?

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  13. It's funny, I think in general i'm pretty low-stress about eating when left to my own devices, but something about external forces (i.e. adding other people and their actions and opinons into the mix) can totally get me feeling guilty/question myself. In my experience, people i've known who suffered from a lot of food guilt always felt the stakes were really high for each meal/snack etc. and were almost overwhelmed by each opportunity. As you mentioned in a comment earlier, I totally agree for whatever reason I think we judge ourselves less as time goes on, maybe we just have more perspective to look back on and realize the little things didn't kill us/make us gain a million pounds anyway.

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  14. I never really feel guilt when it comes to food but when it comes to parenting, being a wife, volunteering, working, etc.? I feel guilty 99% of my day. But my parents were masters at making us feel guilty so it's really no surprise...

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  15. definitely seems parental guilt leads to guilt in children. I have issues in the areas you mentioned but where does wanting to always do better and guilt overlap?

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  16. great insight. Our food journals, for clients, are a week at a glance for that precise reason. If we focus on each choice we can be critical. If you look at week easier to see all the things you do/did correctly. Ah perspective.

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  17. Andrea@WellnessNotesJanuary 29, 2013 at 5:08 AM

    I used to feel some guilt around food (and other things) but not anymore. Guilt is such a "useless" emotion. Rather than feeling guilty, I try to focus on how I can change things in the future to make them work better for me and my life at this point.

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  18. Analyzing or troubleshooting will produce a better result, in
    both children and adults, than attacking....I agree your words. It's all about choices. Guilt is not healthy. :)

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  19. Love this topic Lauren and interesting study about women with food guilt being heavier than those without. I am certainly not guilt-free in my overall life, but definitely feel no guilt around eating, and want to instill the same thing in my kids. Curious to hear what your suggestions are regarding helping clients break away from their own food guilt.

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  20. I think planning can do a lot to minimize/eliminate guilt. If you decide ahead of time to eat something then if feels organized. There's a great book coming out early 2014 on this topic...wink wink

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  21. guilt just doesn't improve anything if it festers. Behaving to avoid guilt I get. I always love your words Ayala, glad mine are ok now and then :)

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  22. Sam @ Mom At The BarreJanuary 29, 2013 at 1:21 PM

    Luckily guilt was never an issue as far as food, when I was growing up. Religion is a different story-guilt played a major role there!

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  23. another great post I try to avoid guilt great you looked up studies

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  24. your words are always good ;)

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  25. yes, ha we do consult the research from time to time.

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  26. have a theory that we all have a "guilt place" or source. Seems food or religion or parenting or work but not usually all. To much guilt, too little time?

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