Through the years that I have been in fitness, I have found one of the biggest impediments to staying on track and achieving fitness goals is guilt. We feel guilty when we eat too much or when we stray from our diet, when we skip the gym or interrupt our fitness routines. After the holidays, after vacations or major life events, we tend to look at our diversion off course and criticize ourselves for choices we have made. From this place of negative, critical thinking, we cannot possibly make better choices or even stop the backward slide. Realizing some important truths can help arrest the negative thinking and the resulting unhealthy behaviors and allow us to get back on track faster.
First, we must accept that everyone has days of eating off the plan. The pan of brownies or the World’s Finest Chocolate bar pulls a little too strongly and our resistance falters. Against our better judgment, we indulge in sweets or in an extra large helping of lasagna. We may continue the behavior for days or even weeks. When that happens, it is common to “punish” ourselves with starvation or liquid diets. We skip meals or drastically reduce calories to somehow alleviate the guilt. The fact is, starving ourselves is never the solution to poor diet choices, and most often results in stronger cravings, binges and even more guilt. The only real solution is to make better diet choices at the next available meal. Properly nourishing the body feels wonderful, both physically and emotionally.
Another area where we experience guilt is when we do not adhere to our exercise routines. A few days of vacation, illness, or injury can break even the strongest person’s momentum. We begin to feel lethargic and depressed about what we perceive as our lack of discipline. Unfortunately at this point, some people participate in exercise binges to relieve the guilt and to feel better. Exercise should never be viewed as a punishment for poor lifestyle choices, and one-time 3-hour cardio binge does not erase past mistakes or produce speedier fitness results. In fact, it reinforces negative attitudes about our fitness that can have lasting effects. The best solution is simply to return to the established weekly exercise routine as soon as possible.
Guilt produces counterproductive thoughts and behaviors in our lives. Philosopher Alan Watts wrote, “No work or love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.” Rather than wallowing in regret for past mistakes, we can realize that every single day is a new opportunity to redefine ourselves and start fresh. Personally, I don’t view exercise and healthy nutrition choices as punishment. I don’t even view them as a means to attain a level of fitness. To me, exercising and nourishing my body is a celebration of life, fitness and health. I run, and I CrossFit, and I eat whole, fresh foods, because I can. That is worth celebrating!
Every Decision Counts