How to stop feeling guilty for eating or not exercising
I had a question in my DMs that I thought I’d make into an episode and that question was:
“Can you please share tactics on how to tackle feelings of guilt when not exercising or counting calories and how to ride the need to binge/purge?”
What is guilt?
According to God Google, guilt is specified as:
- The fact of having committed a specified or implied offence or crime.
- A feeling of having committed wrong or failed in an obligation.
Firstly, are you committing a crime if you eat food that you haven’t logged on MFP? (FYI – I’m changing the name to My Fitness Foe)
…I am assuming not unless you’ve literally stolen it…
Are you committing a crime if you haven’t exercised, even though you told yourself you would?
Ok, so let’s move on to the second definition of guilt “A feeling of having committed wrong or failed in an obligation.“
Have you really done something wrong if you eat food that you haven’t logged/counted/that goes over your syns/points?
Have you truly failed if you didn’t exercise when you or your eating disorder told you to?
The feeling of doing something wrong is real
I get it. I really do. Even if you can see logically that you haven’t done anything wrong or bad, the feeling is often still there.
How does guilt feel for you in your body, physically? For me, it’s like a rush of heat that starts in my chest and floods up to my face simultaneously as feeling like there’s a pit in my stomach.
The feeling is still there because even if you can consciously understand that you haven’t actually done anything wrong, your unconscious beliefs are driving the feelings of guilt.
You believe that eating without tracking, or not sticking to your diet or eating processed foods is “bad”.
You believe that not exercising when you or your ED is telling you to is a failure.
It’s your beliefs that are keeping you stuck.
Not only that but most of us believe that feeling bad about ourselves for doing something or not doing something will somehow motivate us to change and then eventually we’ll be happier. Nothing could be further from the truth.
All that ends up happening is;
- we either stay stuck in the cycle of setting ourselves rules around food and exercise, not sticking to them and then feeling awfully guilty and shitty about ourselves.
- we manage to stick to our rules but feel so petrified of breaking them and “falling off the wagon” that we stay stuck in our own prison and don’t actually live.
You were never subjected to society’s ideology of thinness and brainwashed by diet culture?
You believed that food was a neutral, delicious part of life that you simply can’t get right or wrong?
You believed that your body knows what it’s doing and if you could get out of your own way and build a relationship with your body, then it would let you know when and how to exercise and when and what to eat?
You believed that your body has its own natural set-point weight and so no matter how much willpower you conjure up, your body will always fight to stay at its happiest and healthiest set-point weight?
What would your life look like then…?
If you’re not on a wagon, you can’t fall off it…
If you’re not following any food and exercise rules, you can’t break them. Therefore there’s nothing to feel guilty or bad about.
I know it might sound like I’m chatting shit right now but trust me, there IS a life available to you that doesn’t include counting calories, points, macros, syns and or having set exercise regimes… And boy does that life feel good! More than good. So freaking free and liberating that I can’t even describe it in words.
If what I’ve said so far makes sense yet your freaking out because “how the hell can you just not have food or exercise rules?!” then again, I feel you.
Feelings are always feedback so what is this feeding back to you?
What are you so scared of?
What do you think would be the worse thing that could happen if you were to stop trying to control your food and exercise?
I can confidently say that 99.9% of you will say something along the lines of:
- I am petrified of gaining weight.
- I just can’t give up the control.
- I will never stop eating and I’ll just get fatter and fatter and be miserable forever and ultimately die alone.
That was also me in 2018. Literally all of those things. Yet here I stand. Eating whatever I want, when I want in any amount I want. Exercising because I want to and only when it feels good. Choosing foods that nourish my body and my soul. And honestly… sometimes not quite believing how happy I am and how far I’ve come from my eating disorders and body hate days.
- I am no longer scared of weight gain.
- I’m at peace and weirdly happy knowing that I can’t actually control much in my life at all apart from how I choose to respond to my thoughts and circumstances.
- I did stop eating. I didn’t keep getting fatter. I’m in a loving relationship.
And no my love, you are not the one exception. This is all available to you too.
Here come some questions for you to journal:
How has abiding by food and exercise rules been going for you?
Lost weight permanently yet?
If yes, are you happy? Do you feel free?
If no, are you ready to give up this pointless self-destructive cycle?
Do you think that you’ll “let yourself go” if you stopped trying to control yourself around food and exercise? Why or why not?
What does “let yourself go” mean to you?
How could that actually be a good thing?
Do you absoloutely know that giving up your food and exercise rules will lead to weight gain?
Why are you so scared of gaining weight?
What are you making weight gain mean?
Are you willing to be open to the possibility that you could actually be the happiest you’ve ever been at a higher weight? (like myself) Why or why not?
Poem by Nina Manolson
He said: “You’ve let yourself go”
YES. I have let myself go
I stopped wearing Spanks
I stopped counting macros, points and calories
I said no to the botox
I let the grey show
The truth is…
I did let myself go
I let myself relax
I let go of expectations
I’ve let myself be at home in my skin
I let myself have pleasure
I let myself feel and rage
I let myself listen in
I let myself
not care about what everyone else thinks
I let myself free
- Staying in your eating disorder / disordered eating knowing what your future will look like.
- Giving up all your rules and control but healing your relationship with food and your body and living in food freedom and body love for the rest of your life…?
Both are hard, but only one is worth it.
Here are some tangible tips to help you on your way to dropping the guilt when you “fall off the wagon” or don’t exercise.
#1 Get off the wagon!
Seriously. I know it’s hard but it is the only way. You can do it. Delete My Fitness Foe. Quit slimming world or weight watchers (or is it called wellness wankery, I mean wellness watchers now? Que eye roll…either way, it’s restriction and restriction doesn’t work… they have a great business model…) Get rid of all of your food and exercise rules. Yes your diet fukery ED voice will be freaking out but that’s ok. Let it freak. Remind yourself that it’s not you.
#2 Practice trusting your body
Your body really does know what she’s doing. She keeps your heart beating, she breathes you, she digests your food, she regulates your body temperature, your appetite, your metabolism and MUCH MORE. Surrender to your body’s wisdom. Eat when you’re hungry and eat what you feel like eating. Stop when you feel satisfied and safe in the knowledge knowing that you can have more later or tomorrow.
Trust that you will want what you need. Honour that.
If you’re stuck in chronic restriction such as anorexia and you have no hunger cues, follow a minimum eating guideline to ensure that you’re eating enough. I promise your hunger cues will come back soon.
When anorexic or in severe restriction and malnourishment, the body actually stops sending hunger signals. This is for a few reasons:
- The body has been sending hunger signals for so long yet it has still not received enough food. Therefore it stops using precious calories by sending hunger signals that are not acted on and instead conserves energy to keep the organs alive.
- Brain scans show that the reward system goes offline for those with anorexia so they don’t receive the same sense of reward when they eat. There is no drive to eat anymore. Methodically eating more and enough will bring this all back.
#3 Mantra up
When you drop the food and exercise rules, you’re going to feel bad when you do a behaviour that is the opposite of your old rules. This is normal. Your brain is literally physically wired that way due to years of having the belief that you’re doing something wrong, so therefore thinking and then feeling “bad” when you have broken your rules previously countless times.
You can rewire your brain!
Create some mantras to remind you that you’re no longer choosing to believe those BS beliefs that have kept you so unhappy for so long. Here are some I like:
- I want what I need.
- I trust my body to guide me with what and how much to eat.
- If I ate it then I must have needed it.
- My body is so wise and I can trust her 100%. I surrender to that truth.
- The fearful thoughts that are trying to make me feel bad are not true. They are not my thoughts. I wasn’t born with them, I learnt them from toxic culture.
- I will ask my body if she’d like to exercise today and if so, what movement she’d like to do.
- “Effort” is not the same as discipline. I am worthy of putting effort into myself if it feels right.
- I trust my body to do what is best for me.
- My job is to take care of myself and my body will be what it will be.
#4 Find evidence
Whatever your biggest fear was when I asked you “what are you scared of if you gave up your rules?” I want you to find evidence against the limiting belief underneath the fear.
For example, if your fear was:
“I am petrified of weight gain“
To find the limiting belief underneath the fear you have to ask a few questions to get to it…
Why are you petrified of weight gain?
“Because if I gain weight then I will hate the way I look.”
And what does it mean if you hate the way you look?
“That I won’t ever be happy”
Is your happiness dictated by your weight?
“Yes, I guess it is.”
Here is the limiting belief: “I cannot be happy unless I am at a certain weight.”
Is it absolutely true that you can never be happy unless you like the way you look?
“It feels absolutely true right now”
Are you willing to be wrong about that?
“I’d love to be wrong about that!”
So with this limiting belief – I cannot be happy unless I am at a certain weight. – I want you to find evidence against that belief. Start off by imagining that you’re writing a school paper arguing a case against the statement – “People cannot be happy unless they are at the weight they want to be at” Take yourself out of it and see what you come up with. Then do the same again using your original statement – I cannot be happy unless I am at a certain weight.
Write a list of everything that brings you happiness and start doing them. You’ll soon have enough evidence that your limiting belief is not true. As you go through this experiment you can adapt the mantra “I can be happy regardless of whether or not I like the way my body looks.”
Then move on to the next limiting belief.
Over time you will also notice shifts. When you are living in body acceptance, you will be able to access body love and body positivity.
#5 Act as if
Act as if you already believe the new belief you want to adopt. This is a case of “faking it until you make it” but only if it isn’t going to traumatise you.
For example, if your new belief is “I feel confident in a bikini”. How would that confident version of you be thinking and acting?
Would they think: “My body doesn’t define my worth and I deserve to wear a bikini as much as the next person.”
Would they then: Put on the bikini and go about their business?
Over time this will get easier and your beliefs will change. Plus you’ll be feeling freer and more liberated each time so it makes it all worth it.
#6 Challenge any sneaky fear-based thoughts
When any sneaky fear-based thoughts pop up, lovingly challenge them. A few questions you can ask:
- Can I absolutely know that this thought is true?
- Has previously believing this thought brought me love, freedom and happiness?
- Who would I be without this thought?
- Is there any positive reason to hold onto this thought?
- How would it feel to believe the opposite of this thought?
#7 Meet yourself with compassion
Always. Hold yourself with love and kindness as you transition through these. It’s a huge deal to break free from your food and body prison. Acknowledge yourself. Celebrate yourself. Be gentle with yourself.
How to ride the need to binge/purge
Firstly, bingeing is only ever a reaction to physical or emotional deprivation. If you’re not allowing yourself to eat the food you truly want to eat and/or you’re judging your food choices, that’s restriction.
Restriction creates a reaction aka bingeing.
The obvious is to stop restricting straight away!
So really the question here is “How to ride the need to purge”… This does take mental strength but I know you’re strong enough.
#1 Challenge your purging thoughts
As I have explained previously in this episode.
#2 Delay purging behaviour
An intense urge can be overwhelming and feel everlasting. Delaying the engagement in the behaviour by five minutes can make the process seem less overwhelming. At the end of five minutes, a commitment to another five minutes may be possible, and perhaps the next time may be delayed to 20 minutes. Regardless of the amount of time, simply creating that space for a delay provides an opportunity for a different decision to be made rather than acting on autopilot.
#3 Remind yourself of the dangers and consequences of purging
Something that helped me was reading factual literature on the damage that I was doing to myself by doing purging behaviours. AND understanding that the purging doesn’t “work” as well I thought it did. I did have thoughts such as “yeah but this won’t happen to me” but something did start to sink in.
#4 Write a letter to yourself & remind yourself of your recovered vision
Writing a letter to yourself about why you don’t want to engage in the purge can be a helpful reminder. Think about writing a letter to your struggling self during strong urges. What would you need to hear, what would be helpful at that time? Often letters are comprised of validation for how difficult the current experience is, a reminder of life goals and how this behaviour interferes with achieving them, and encouragement to take some other specific actions instead. Keeping your letter close is encouraged as it can be a powerful tool to have in the throes of urges.
#5 Mantra up
As I’ve already spoken about. Create some mantras for yourself that address your fears of not purging.
#6 Reach out for support
This is where a coach, friend or loved one can step in and support you through the urge. But you first have to let them know that you need their support. Now.
#7 Distract yourself
- Write a list of 10 things you could do to distract yourself from purging so you have it on hand.
- Put yourself in an environment where you can’t do the purging behaviour.
#8 Set yourself up for support in the future
- Ask someone you live with to stay with you after meals or set up a phone date after meals if you live alone
- Don’t buy laxatives
- Cancel your gym membership or have a workout partner you trust to support you from purging through excess exercise
- If running is your purging behaviour then literally get rid of your running shoes and sports bra
#9 Keep track of the days you don’t purge, with support
The longer your streak of not purging – the more you’ll feel motivated to keep going. The person or people supporting you can celebrate your progress and encourage you to keep going.
#10 Work on your limiting beliefs
As I’ve talked about during this episode. When you change the beliefs that drive the purging behaviour, the behaviour will stop by itself.