Guilt: The Unexpected Emotion in Weight Loss



Even the word conjures up negative connotations doesn’t it? I often hear the word “guilt” when I’m talking to people about failed weight loss experiences they have had.

When I condense their statements about feeling guilty into a few categories, I come up with these guilt-laden phrases:

  • “I felt guilty over failing to follow the diet, so I eventually quit.”
  • “I felt guilty (or was made to feel guilty) for taking time away from my family to go to the gym or workout at home.”
  • “I felt guilty spending money on healthier foods and eventually stopped and went back to buying junk.”
  • “I felt guilty when I had spent money on a program but didn’t follow it. So instead of investing good money after bad, I quit.”

It saddens me when I look back and remember how often I quit trying to lose weight in the past. I often quit because of these very reasons. Guilt over time, over money, over failures to follow a program, and other sources of guilt often made me eventually give up.

That last time, 15 years ago, when I lost 158 pounds, I did not allow guilt to overwhelm me. Instead I recognized that guilt was not a productive or motivating emotion

Guilt beat me down.  

Guilt rarely motivated me in a positive way. (Although sometimes I felt guilty over not working out and that wasn’t always a bad thing.)

Instead of feeling guilty for taking 30 to 45 minutes to walk or workout in morning, I reminded myself of how much better I felt and how much more energy I had for the kids. When I occasionally felt guilty for spending money on “expensive” produce, I remembered the times when I thought nothing of spending money on junk or fast food.

After all, a bag of chips is $3.00 and is gone in an instant, but a $5.00 bag of apples lasts much longer and is so much better for us.

Sometimes friends tried to make me feel guilty about the fact I was taking money and spending it on *gasp* new, smaller clothes for myself. Instead of feeling guilty or changing what I was doing, I simply smiled and let them stew.

I know it is not easy, but if you ever feel guilty for the positive changes you are making, I’d encourage you to recognize those guilt feelings as non-productive and even harmful to you. Even if you allow guilt over bad choices to enter your mind, I encourage you to put those feelings aside and focus on the positive changes you have and will make.

The peace I had that last time came from the assurance that I was losing weight in a healthy way, I was making positive changes, and I worked hard at not letting guilt get in my way.

What role do you think guilt plays in weight loss? Had any experience with negative or positive guilt? Diane

22 thoughts on “Guilt: The Unexpected Emotion in Weight Loss

  1. HappinessSavouredHot says:

    Guilt is a huge trap. When you don’t feel guilty from taking time away from your family to work out, you feel guilty for missing a workout (in order to be with your family).

    For that one in particular a good friend put me back in my place by telling me “You’re not taking anything away from your kids by going to the gym/for a run. You are GIVING them something: the example of a woman who takes care of herself and of her health. Don’t forget you’re the role model.” (I have 2 daughters.)

    From the examples you give, I wonder: is guilt a genuine obstacle, or more of an excuse?

  2. Jessica says:

    I agree: guilt rarely motivates in a positive way. It’s a negative force that we need to counteract, which is unfortunate, because that just expends emotional energy that could be used elsewhere.

    I always hated to spend money on a gym in the first place, and then when I didn’t go, I felt guilty about wasting the money. Now I exercise at home instead. No more guilt (for that issue, at least).

  3. blackhuff says:

    I love this post of yours. I try to teach this exact same thing to others. To stop feeling guilty in trying to better yourself. In trying to live healthier, do something great for your body.

  4. KCLAnderson (Karen) says:

    I think it’s important to distinguish between guilt (I did something bad) and shame (I AM bad). I also think it’s important to understand that guilt (or any emotion) is caused by our very own thoughts…so no one cane *make* us feel anything. I think the process of losing weight or any other considerable effort requires a lot of self-reflection, and, as Norma said, focusing on ourselves is not selfish. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the most selfless things we can do!

  5. Dr. J says:

    Always learning something here, Diane! Thank you!

    Guilt is so complicated. Keeping our heading on True North within the lines of selfish and selfless is no easy task.

  6. vickie says:

    My biggest guilt was that my family was ‘stuck’ with me (in my old ways). So, I was actually moving away from the guilt in everything I did to help myself get much better (physical health, mental health, peace of mind, richer life, calmer, happier). Dropping the fat did not address all of that. I have to drop the fat AND fix the inner stuff that had made me fat in the first place. Believe me when I say I do not feel the slightest bit guilty about all the changes I have made, because what it has brought my family is priceless.

  7. Gwen says:

    I have finally left any of that guilt behind. But there are other types of guilt involved in dieting…I’m thinking of 2 in particular; one good, one not so much.

    1. the guilt that others lay on you when you choose to eat/act healthy. In most cases, it’s because we are rocking their OWN comfort level, and in many cases, they want us to continue to indulge in unhealthy habits so THEY don’t feel so guilty about their own dietary/exercise shortcomings. I’ve learned ‘too bad, so sad’….I’m not going to eat crap just to make someone else feel less guilty when THEY do. I won’t throw it in their faces, but I won’t dance that dance with them anymore. I choose to be a quietly GOOD role model for them, not a partner in crime.

    2. the guilt when we slip up. I’ve come to realize that’s a good learning tool. It’s a barometer that I know better, and can do and be better the next time. THAT guilt, is a good thing. It’s our compass arrow pointing us back to north. 🙂

    Great thought-provoking topic, Diane!

  8. Lisa says:

    The only time I ever felt guilty was when I “slipped” and went over my calories or ate sugary treats in a big quantity. I still have that guilt sometimes. I’m trying to be better about letting go and not stressing.

  9. Losing The Rolls says:

    I feel guilty for constantly spending money on fresh produce only to throw it out at the end of the week. I will continue doing it though. I can’t eat healthy if the food is not in the house. So whether it goes in my mouth or the garbage bin, I will continue buying the healthy goods.

  10. Carolyn Ross MD says:

    Guilt is often an emotion that fuels the vicious cycle of overeating. I feel guilty, I overeat, I feel guilty… In working with my clients I have found it so important to learn to accept even the parts of ourselves that we don’t feel good about. That means accepting the person who overeats, who does things she/he is not proud of, who is guilty. To accept this part of our selves is to acknowledge that we are NOT what we eat and we are NOT our judgments.
    Once we take our attention off the thoughts, feelings, behaviors, we can ask “Who am I really?”
    The weight issue is sometimes a cover-up for not feeling we can truly express our authentic selves.

  11. Jim Wilhelm says:

    There is also something to be said about the guilt others make you feel as they nitpick your weight loss efforts. Some, instead of simply encouraging the person making positive changes, feel the need to single out things what they are doing wrong. For example: Bob says he is losing weight and exercising. He is feeling really good about the positive changes in his life. His friend, let’s call him Rick, asks him probing questions about what he is doing. Bob explains and suddenly Rick is full of unsolicited advice like, “why are you drinking diet soda, that’ll kill you.” “you shouldn’t be eating gluten’, ‘if it’s not organic it’s garbage.” Instead of applauding Bob’s small changes that are showing fruit, Rick seems intent on pointing out all the negatives. My point is that overweight people deal with enough guilt and negative thoughts on a daily basis. For those who feel the need to pick apart another’s efforts simply because they don’t see eye to eye on someone elses’ idea of “the perfect diet”,”perfect exercise plan”, or etc……keep your opinions to yourself, offer advice only when asked, and remember that if a friend is showing lasting results doing it “their” way, mind your own business if you think they should be doing it “your” way. (sorry about being on the soapbox here, but in my opinion, if someone is making positive changes in their lives; what business is it of someone else if that person is not doing it as “perfect” as someone else thinks they should.)

    • Janis says:

      I would bet you $500 that “Rick” is also out of shape, probably worse than “Bob,” and not doing anything about it. Unsolicited and obnoxious advice can come from exercise or food-rules evangelists, but an awful lot of it comes from people who aren’t doing anything at all. And it happens with anything! I cannot TELL you how many people who don’t play an instrument are full of advice about how wrong my practice or composition techniques are. o_O

      • Jim Wilhelm says:

        Amen, Janis. I can tell you’ve been the victim of a few “arm chair experts.” I’m in the same boat, my friend. I’ve just recently lost 23 pounds in 24 days. I’ve found that when I share that; I get two kinds of responses: “the well-done, we’re happy for you people” and the “you ought to try this product, program, etc kind of people.” I still can’t figure out what logic they are using. I’ve found something that works for me, makes me healthier, and shows results…..and they want me to try something different? Lol. I still laugh thinking about some of the things those particular people have suggested. 🙂 Keep strong, Janis. Don’t let anyone take away your joy of music with their unwarranted advice.

  12. Dominick Lanting says:

    Hi Diane! I also felt the same way especially when I crave for unhealthy foods. I always feel guilty when I eat during parties and other important occasions. For me, it’s harder to control my cravings for unhealthy foods rather than doing some heavy workouts daily. Fortunately, I was able to make peace with food! Right now, I don’t treat food as my enemy. I have this schedule when and what to eat at a specific time. That’s how I overcome my struggle with food cravings.

  13. Gary says:

    Yes I agree guilt is an awful word and one that I constantly change in my vocab. Having lost weight recently I feel so good about myself but I remember before the weight loss if I had a chocolate (or 2 or 3 or 4:o)) afterwards I had this awful guilt feeling and I realised one day it was this guilt feeling that led me to eat 5, 6 or 7 chocs. Once I got rid of feeling guilty and actually praising myself for the good things I did guilt fell away and funny enough so did the weight.

  14. Brian @ New Me and You says:

    Negative feelings like that hurt you twice, right? I mean it feels awful and then also prevents you from moving forward. I think to a degree we sometimes need to be able to just block stuff out. I mean it’s good to feel guilty sometimes, if you’ve done something wrong. But when it comes to being healthy there’s no reason to feel guilty.

  15. Michelle says:

    I usually feel guilt when I cheat on my diet. Then I start stressing about it, which is never good. I now let my self cheat once or twice a week, and enjoy it when I do. As long as I don’t over do it, I’ve found that this helps me stay on my diet. The good thing for me, is I do love healthy food just as much as I like the unhealthy food.

  16. Katie says:

    You articulated something that I was caught blindsided by as I progressed on my weight loss journey. When I first began to lose weight, a few family members and friends made comments like, “Oh, I prefer the old you, your face looks different.” or “You look like you are not eating well.” Well, I am healthy and happy to carry less weight. And it hurt that they would make comments like that. Reflecting on it now, I could see that I was gripped by guilt of leaving the old me. Somehow, I mustered the wherewithal to keep going. If anyone else is going through this, I encourage them to keep the faith and do what they truly believe in.

  17. Helene says:

    I agree with Katie. It is all too easy to be swayed to feel guilty about making positive changes by negative comments from family members and friends. Change that lasts requires persistence and determination to do the right thing by oneself. Guilt about upsetting other people’s perceptions of who we are is definitely something to let go of. Great post!

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