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How to Eliminate the Guilt from Being Off Track and Weight Regain

July 14, 2020

Handle Guilt From Being Off Track and Weight Regain

Beth (not her real name) has spent the past six months focused on portion control and exercising after being diagnosed with pre-diabetes. But recently she has experienced increased stress at work and home and has started to regain some of the weight she had lost. Beth noticed feeling guiltier about not making the best food choices and feels she has let her doctor and family down. She wanted to know how to eliminate guilt from being off track and weight regain that she had.

She has been thinking, “I am a failure,” and “I should be further along with my weight loss.” She notices that when she is stressed she struggles to make time to go to the gym and thinks, “What’s the point anymore? I might as well just eat whatever.”

Perhaps you can see yourself in Beth and feel you have gotten off track with your goals as well. You may wonder how to re-focus on what is important to you, including your health.

Guilt is a powerful emotion experienced when a person believes they have done something wrong, especially when they believe a rule has been broken, real, or imagined.

As part of the weight-loss journey, foods are categorized as “something I should not be eating versus something I should be eating.” This thinking creates a set of rules that one feels obligated to follow and if not followed a person tends to feel there is something wrong with them, especially with weight regain.  

A person can get lost in their guilt about the feeling of not doing something good enough that they do not see how to take the step to move forward. With any behavior change there are bound to be setbacks, so to increase your success here are some tips for dealing with guilt from being off track and weight regain and moving forward with your goals.

Tips to Deal With Guilt from Being Off Track and Weight Regain

Tip 1: Notice and Acknowledge the Emotion

Guilt, like many other negative emotions, tends to make us feel bad. Most of us try to get through these types of emotions very quickly and, unfortunately, some seek out food to cope with difficult emotions. 

You may find yourself getting stuck in the cycle of “eat something unhealthy, feel guilty, and then eat more of the unhealthy item.” 

Instead of avoiding the emotion, acknowledge it, and sit with it for a moment. You may say to yourself, “I did not make the best choice right now, but I am human and will make a different choice the next time I eat.”

Also, acknowledge that everyone has this experience at some point and all emotions are acceptable and cannot be eliminated. What is important is to notice your reaction to the emotion.

Tip 2: Adjust Your Thinking

Guilt is generally caused by a common thinking habit called “all or nothing” thinking. This is where a person believes to have only two choices, each one being an extreme. 

For example, with weight loss, a person may say, “I can’t have any cookies, or I may as well eat the entire box.” This type of thinking is so rigid it does not leave any room for the person to make mistakes. Let’s face it, no one is going to be perfect! To be successful and feel good about your progress it is important to find balance in your eating habits where flexibility is possible to help better manage feelings of guilt.

Tip 3: Eat Mindfully

Many of our eating habits happen without much thought, especially when it comes to foods that taste good and when we are stressed. Our brains become trained to think about foods high in calories and sugar more when stressed. We tend to overeat when we are not paying attention and eating mindfully to how the body feels as we eat a meal.

When we take a pause, we allow for the opportunity to notice what is happening in the body and decide to make a different choice. Slow down, notice the food you are eating and ask yourself “What do I really need right now?” or “Does eating this support my goal?” This slight change can make all the difference in our emotional experience when we stop to slow down.

Tip 4: Rethink Failure

No one likes to fail but it is a necessary part of growing as a person. Many people set themselves up for disaster by thinking failure means all the work done to this point does not amount to anything. Seeing failure as part of the path to success is key to reaching your goals. These opportunities help us to see the blind spots of the path to success.

From setbacks, we can learn what is not working well and seek out solutions to improve the outcome of accomplishing the goal. Celebrate your progress even when a setback happens. Failure helps remind us why all the hard work is so important. Remember, success depends on how much we are willing to fail.

Tip 5: Set Reasonable Expectations

Again, we tend to feel guilty when we believe we are not meeting a certain standard. Take time to evaluate the expectations you have set for yourself and think others expect of you.

It is one thing to challenge ourselves to do our best and another to try to meet an expectation no one can achieve, such as being perfect. Having reasonable expectations will help you be flexible in the way you think about your behaviors and better manage feelings of guilt.

A helpful tool to recognize an expectation is the word “should.”  If we say, “we should or ought to be” or “should not be” is a good way to identify an expectation we have set.

Take some time during the week to review your progress of the goal. Assess whether you have over or underestimated the time or effort it would take to make the goal a reality. We all love a challenge but sometimes we might not have the needed resources to reach a goal. It does not mean giving up the goal altogether, but you may need to shift focus on a smaller task more reasonable to what is available right now.

For example, maybe you cannot afford some of the healthier food options. Instead, focus on eating smaller portions as a smaller goal that can help with weight loss.

Tip 6: Be Kind to Yourself

When you are struggling, the last thing you want to do is be even harder on yourself. Think about what you would say to a loved one struggling.  

Would you say, “You really blew it, “or “Can’t you do anything right?” Of course not, but we make these unkind statements to ourselves all the time!

Give yourself the same kind of love and kindness you offer to those in your life. This is not an easy task but a skill to be learned. Your self-critic will always be there, but you can learn to believe it less over time with self-kindness. 

Create meaningful positive statements to challenge the critical voice. For example, “I am doing the best I can,” or “Today was a tough day but I got through it.”

The Take-Away to Guilt From Being Off Track and Weight Regain

Guilt is a powerful emotion especially with weight regain and being off track. However, you can handle the guilt and know that you aren't alone if you've been off track and experienced weight regain. Use the 6 tips that will support you!

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Colette DeMonte


Colette DeMonte, PsyD, earned a doctorate in psychology and her current practice specializes in bariatric surgery. As a central part of MultiCare Center for Weight Loss & Wellness, Dr. DeMonte meets with patients at the beginning of their weight-loss journeys to help them determine if bariatric surgery is right for them & helps prepare patients for surgery by providing education and resources to support them throughout the pre & post-operative periods.