Guilt, according to the Source of All Knowledge, AKA Wikipedia, is defined as a “cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that violation.” There are other definitions related to the law; this is the emotion we are discussing here.

Its also the emotion of the day over at  Who Ate My Blog?a remarkable story of a formerly six hundred pound man working to reach a new low. Stephen lost three hundred pounds, had an injury and extended recovery period, and after regaining some weight he’s struggling. As he posted, “I sit here feeling guilty about all of the binging I’ve done over the holidays. I’m also feeling guilty because I have a flight Friday (and a week from Friday), and I dread them so much. I have a fear of someone saying something or shaming me in public. It’s a fear that I felt frequently when I weighed over 600 lbs. I used to avoid booths at restaurants and chairs with arms.”

I’ve been there too. So have been many, many super obese people. But it doesn’t seem to me guilt is so much the problem as the baggage that usually comes with it. Shame and punishment are the feelings that overwhelmed me when I ate badly or skipped exercising or had a bad weigh in result. Guilt can help you, because it reminds you that you DO have a standard to observe and uphold. Shame doesn’t. It just wants to hurt you. And when you consider that many super obese people use food as a drug or as an escape from pain, you can see how the binge eating feeds itself – you feel ashamed for eating too much so to dull the pain you eat too much. Away from the emotion it doesn’t make sense but emotions don’t make sense. 

Breaking the cycle is tough. The key I’ve found is to forget shame and punishment and simply forgive myself. If I overeat, yes, its a problem, but I’m not a horrible man for having done so. I’m human, just like everyone else in the room. I forgive myself, tell myself I’ll do better, and work to do better. But I don’t beat myself up mentally, or feel shame. No one was ever shamed into weight loss. But many people forgave themselves into a healthier life.