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Health & Wellness Articles  ›  Emotional Health

Stop Feeling Guilty about Every Mistake

Don't Let Toxic Guilt Wipe Out Your Willpower

-- By Dean Anderson, Behavioral Psychology Expert
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Does this story sound familiar to you? You’re doing pretty well sticking within your calorie range until that box of candy shows up in the office, or all heck breaks loose and the only way to squeeze in lunch is at the local fast food joint. You give in to the candy or the double cheeseburger with fries and after that, things really go downhill. You start off feeling a little guilty, and the next thing you know, you’re eating everything in sight and telling yourself you’ll start over tomorrow, or next week, or…

So, what’s really going on here? Were you just standing in the wrong line when they were handing out will power? Not too likely. Do you have some deep, subconscious desire to not lose weight that compels you to sabotage yourself? Possibly, but probably not. Most likely, the problem is that you went on a toxic guilt trip.

The Difference Between Healthy Guilt & Toxic Guilt
Don't get me wrong here. I'm all for an appropriate level of guilt. It lets you know when you're letting yourself (or someone else) down, and reminds you that your impulses are not the most important things in the universe. But there’s guilt, and then there’s GUILT.

The main difference between healthy guilt and its toxic cousin is a matter of when you feel it. Appropriate guilt is the kind you feel before you do something you don't want to do, while things are still in the thinking-about-it stage and there is still a chance you can choose not to do the thing that makes you feel guilty.

We psychologists refer to this as having a conscience, and it is a very helpful thing. It’s so helpful that it always amazes me that you hear so little about it in discussions about weight loss.

Most of us have a good conscience when it comes to treating other people decently—we routinely expect it of ourselves and others. But when it comes to treating ourselves decently by eating well and exercising and refusing to verbally abuse ourselves when we aren’t perfect…POOF! The most powerful weapon you have in your arsenal for getting yourself to act the way you want to suddenly becomes off-limits.

This might not be such a bad thing, if it meant you could get rid of the disabling, toxic guilt that comes with having an overactive, perfectionistic conscience. But that’s not what happens. In fact, just the opposite happens.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • I needed this today. I dropped the ball just a little the last two days while hormones were raging, after a few weeks and being right on track. I've been beating myself up mercilessly about it, and being reminded that it's okay to acknowledge the slip-ups--but it's counterproductive to dwell on them and let them completely derail your efforts.

    Great timing. - 11/15/2013 4:14:17 AM
  • I agree with this article because, until recently, I thought I was impulsive, and just couldn't say no. But, of all things, I watched my daughter resisting a tempting desert; she looked at it, slightly cocked her head, then walked away. I never asked her about it, but thought maybe she learned that from me before I gained all this weight. I do hear that little voice now, and hope I have the strength to continue listening for it. 8-) - 5/19/2013 3:30:11 PM
  • Very informative - 5/17/2013 11:51:54 PM
  • I only read the first 3 so far and it is great advice. I agree that it is for all areas of our lives. Thanks. - 1/25/2013 3:24:29 PM
  • Great advice not only for weight loss but for every area of our lives. Thanks, Coach Dean! - 1/11/2013 5:17:34 PM
  • Great article! I suffer from this. I haven't for the most part over the last two weeks, but I def mindlessly gnosh and I def beat the crap out of myself after I do it. I love the advice in this article and that there is hope in retraining that small voice to become the new force to be reckoned with. I will be practing this! - 1/3/2013 3:10:54 PM
  • This is such a wonderful article. I am my own worst enemy. If I talked to others the way I talk to myself I would be a very hated person. Thank you for helping me. - 8/23/2012 12:50:15 PM
  • A very good article - its healthier to try to learn from our mistakes and then move on. - 4/22/2012 5:00:52 PM
  • Excellent article. The key as Dean says, is to "stay grounded in the moment." - 4/5/2012 9:55:53 AM
  • Dean Anderson has a GREAT way with words! Love reading his articles! - 9/14/2011 11:13:49 AM
  • Incredible how this article put words thoughts that have rumbled about in my brain without direction or definition. Knowledge is power - thank you!! - 8/18/2011 2:35:42 PM
  • The sort of things that were described in this article happened to me often. Instead of purging myself or wallowing in self pity about it, I take responsibility for it and move on. I have done this several times and I know I can always get back on track. I don't even feel guilty about the occasional binge anymore. When I binge, I enjoy it and say to myself "I will get back on track tomorrow". And guess what? I have ALWAYS got back on track. It may not always be the next day, but I always get back on track. All it takes is for me to start planning my meals again and maybe compensating for a few days. Even with the occasional binging, I still lost/losing weight. Look at me now, I have lost almost 16kg and I am only 0.5kg from reaching my goal weight. It may have slowed down my progress, but I don't care. I'm in this for the long haul. :D - 5/21/2011 11:41:23 PM
  • We all need to change our mindset from "I deserve this calorific food" to "this is not healthy for me, I should have something else. I did this myself the other day when I sat down with a bag of potato chips, I got up and got myself a banana and some natural yogurt instead. We all have it in us to make better choices. We just need to think what makes us healthy!!

    :D :D :D - 5/3/2011 11:24:27 PM
  • Thanks, I really needed this reminder. I CONTROL ME.

    rumbamel - 5/3/2011 2:18:22 PM
  • MELTING01
    I love this article. The need to think longer before you make the decision to put it in the mouth. That works for other area of life, the need to use thinking ability, discernment and then act with wisdom based on accurate knowledge and being moderate in all things. - 5/3/2011 2:14:46 PM