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If You Cheat on Your Diet, Forgive Yourself

07/26/2015 10:34 EDT | Updated 07/30/2016 05:59 EDT
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I think we have all had this experience: You make a less than optimal nutritional choice in the heat of the moment. This may lead to a few other choices you may not have otherwise made and before you even realize it, you seem to have thrown your nutrition plan out the window. This is when the cycle of blaming and shaming yourself begins, the consequences of which are often way worse than the original poor choice.

This is the issue that needs to be addressed in your nutrition plans. We are all human; we all make choices that are both beneficial and not-quite-as-beneficial. We all make mistakes. Beating ourselves up about them is often way more detrimental than the original transgression.

Not forgiving yourself does not allow you to move on and create long-term strategies to keep you on track. Carl Jung said "Shame is a soul-eating emotion." I couldn't agree more. If you allow it, shame will tear your efforts to achieve a healthy, fulfilled, happy life apart.

The fundamental root of shame lies in how you determine your worth. Are you valuable because of what you do and how you act, or are you valuable simply because of who you are?

If you fundamentally associate your worth with what you DO, then it becomes difficult to do enough, or do it well enough. You will find it difficult to be perfect enough for yourself and struggle to do enough to feel truly valuable.

Being valued simple because of WHO you are means that no action, or lack thereof can diminish, belittle or devalue you in any way.

This I believe wholeheartedly. Each individual is important, special, unique and valuable just for being. Every individual makes choices, and some of them may not be ideal, but the choice has no implication on the value. Their value has no correlation to their actions.

Your health conditions, eating plan, bodily functions and size do not define who you are. Your past actions (and let's be clear here, everything you do is almost immediately in the past) have no implications on your worth and value as a human. The lesson is to learn to let it go, to move on, to regroup and commit to taking the next step forward -- however that may show up for you.

Overcoming personal shaming is a monumental task, easier said than done.

The best strategy for overcoming shame is to practice regulating your emotions. You have an inordinate amount of control over your emotions and this ability is an acquired skill. Studies show that shame can be mitigated by skillful emotional regulation. These are the skills you already use when you make yourself feel better, or more anxious about a situation. You can learn to be better at it.

Emotions lead to thoughts, and your thoughts lead to behaviors. This can become a vicious cycle. To break free of shame and guilt it is up to you to consciously break this cycle.

If you are shaming yourself, or being particularly hard on yourself for your lapse in judgment, I have a few tried and tested suggestions:

1. Reframe the situation

You ate that brownie. Looking at it from one point of view, you failed! This is also an opportunity to examine why you felt you needed it -- was it replacing something emotional you felt you weren't getting? Or were you celebrating in a social situation and wanted to partake? Neither is a flaw in your character, you just ate a brownie, and this does not determine your worth as a human. Try looking at your perceived misdeed from another angle to be more understanding and a little kinder to yourself, as you would to a loved one.

2. Do the opposite

Determine how you react as you begin shaming and blaming yourself. Do you hide and isolate from others? Do you force yourself into unwanted activities? Whatever it may be, a positive, reinforcing emotional regulation strategy is to try the exact opposite. Try reaching out to a friend or loved one if you tend to withdraw, use kind and gentle words if you tend to verbally abuse or berate yourself or engage in a supportive, caring activity rather than punish yourself with an overly-gruelling work out.

3. Sit with it

Learning to sit with uncomfortable emotions is a tough, but helpful practice. We are conditioned to avoid painful emotions at all costs which often results in us veering off track in the first place! An easy way to begin is giving yourself a timer -- postpone the consequential behaviour for just a few minutes. Let the feelings slowly begin to dissipate. As you get more practiced, allowing emotions surrounding your less than perfect choices on your nutrition plan to dissolve will become easier and the consequences and negative self-talk less dire and impactful.

4. Turn it off

Shame often manifests as a broken record in your head, repeating the same negative messages over and over again. If you find yourself in that situation, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and visualize yourself stopping the playback. Literally picture yourself turning yourself off, pressing pause. Telling yourself to stop or having a visual cue to trigger cessation of the thought pattern can help in toning down the volume of the shame rhetoric.

5. Focus on the positive.

2015-07-25-1437867940-6861034-Depositphotos_23477727_original.jpg Participate in activities you find enjoyable and pleasurable that do not necessarily involve food. This is a positive and easy way to begin to increase your ability to self-regulate your emotions. Furthermore, the result of these activities builds resilience to deal with less than ideal or negative situations. They are going to happen and ensuring you have the emotional stores to deal with them is key. Emotional eating becomes less of a need as a consequence. Learn to take time for you, each day, every day. Enjoy a healthy, pleasurable distraction for yourself daily and allow yourself the time and space to participate fully.

Above all, the most important thing you can do for yourself, and your health is to forgive yourself and move on. The past cannot be changed and only you can create your best future. Especially when it comes to your food, forgive yourself for any past transgressions, then move forward with a clean slate!

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