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Getting Lean with Guilt: Is it really as “useful” as we think it is?

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By Jillian Teta

Before I get started, I wanted to thank you for opening this blog and even starting to read it. This is a topic I have been wanting to write on for a long time, but had trouble organizing my thoughts – because I felt guilty – LOL, sounds a little weird, but I stressed about getting the message right, about sounding self-righteous or self-indulgent. So thank you.

Guilt is a major part of our lives. For a lot of us, we had it as a parenting style or have it still as a relationship style. When it comes to food, body change, contest prep and the psychology of change, guilt is a big, bright red button that is easily pushed.

So, I do not want to give you the impression that I am a guilt-free guilt master, but this is a concept I have been doing a lot of internal reflection on, and I wanted to run some things by you guys to see what you thought.

There is a gap between what actually happened/happens (reality) and what we thought should’ve happened (a self-generated image or concept). In this gap is where guilt lies.

Guilt is the story that we tell ourselves of what should’ve happened but didn’t.

In other words, it’s fighting reality. How crazy is it to fight something that is already done, gone, finished? (um, no judgment here, let’s just say it takes one to know one!) Yet, we do it constantly.

The other kicker? All of these “rules” we have for ourselves and others are self-generated and self imposed, often based on impossible expectations and/or insecurities.

“But wait”, you may be saying, “don’t we need guilt to stay in line, to be on our best behavior?” I am saying no, we don’t. We don’t need guilt to stay in line, we can stay in line and be perfectly happy without it. Let’s have a closer look.

We think we need guilt (something that makes us feel bad) to prevent behavior that will ultimately make us feel bad. So, we sit there, feeling bad, to prevent us from feeling bad? We already feel bad! There we are, sitting in misery!

Let me ask you two questions:

  1. Has guilt ever set you free?
  2. Does guilt actually, reliably prevent/deter behavior that you are guilty about?

It seems to me that guilt does little to prevent overeating, eating the wrong foods, eating the right foods, getting leaner, getting bigger, eating or not eating Aunt Betty’s birthday cake. Guilt doesn’t deter these behaviors, because we continue to do them. Guilt is excellent at keeping us mired in negativity and bad feelings – the things we use guilt for to try to avoid. It’s a nasty, clever cycle, and we are so good at it! How many times have you heard the expression “damned if you do and damned if you don’t?” We get to be guilty either way.

In other words, guilt is excellent at keeping us mired in our misery.

Now, guilt is different than understanding cause and effect, or understanding consequences. You know that if you eat pasta three times daily for three days, you’re gonna wake up on that 4th day and your midsection is going to have a different look than before your pasta kick. Your body responds in a predictable way. So, here, the outcome is the same. The internal environment, depending on how conscious you were when you made that choice, is totally different. You eat the pasta or you don’t.

I’ve learned that for me, in my life, the cultivation of negativity, stress and guilt only generates more negativity, stress and guilt. I cannot overcome my guilt and my issues – regarding my body and deeper heart-felt issues – by becoming more guilty. I find that paralyzes me in a way…it jerks my mind into this insane broken record.

To put out a fire – do you throw more fire on it?

Understanding where this guilt comes from – that gap of what is and what you think should’ve been – and grabbing the reins for our behavior and it’s consequences – those are the keys to self-realization and self-actualization, and that turns everything on its head, to a more positive place.

When I realized that I will never, ever win a fight against the past or “what is” (aka: reality) it was an enormous relief. By fighting what is – I mean, in my own head, generating guilt about the things I want differently, which is different than moving forward consciously to make change. Change can happen with so much less stress.

How do I know? Experience. And if it can happen for me, it can happen for you. I was the Queen of Guilt.

This has brought a measure of clarity and has helped me take those steps towards my goals with a kind of joy and excitement, which is way, waaaaaay better than walking forward in guilt, self-punishment and dread.

So I have come to see that I do not need guilt to motivate me or “keep me in line”. The kind-of opposites of guilt: curiosity, awe, innocence – are far more powerful, nourishing motivators.

And I’m willing to bet that they will produce better outcomes, too :)

PS – I was listening to Pandora radio when I was writing this. A song by Jem was the very first one on the queue, and isn’t it funny how things are always so strangely appropriate? “Who made up all the rules/ We follow them like fools/ Believe them to be true/Don’t care to think them through” I say, let’s make our own rules!

More Introspection: Resiliency

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