When I was in North Carolina last month, I bought a notepad with this cover:
Know what I use that notepad for? My grocery list!
Yesterday on my Lynn’s Weigh Facebook page, I posted a link to this article: “Middle-aged women happier with moderate exercise.” I wrote:
“I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I do much better when I'm not killing myself with vigorous exercise and yet, I feel so guilty for not exercising like I used to.”
Reader Michelle posted this response: “I don't get the feeling guilty part. Why do something that doesn't make you feel good?”
Guilt, among other definitions, is “self-reproach for supposed inadequacy or wrongdoing.” I don’t know why guilt is easily absorbed by some and rejected by others. All I know is that I don’t remember a time when I haven’t known self-inflicted guilt. Guilt in the form of having let someone down. If I didn’t make my bed, I let my mom down. If I didn’t get an A on a test, I let my teachers down. If I hit a pop fly into right field, I let my softball team down. And whenever I gained weight, I let myself down.
Over the years, I’ve grown a thicker skin, something less porous. I can better discern those actions that are “worthy” of guilt and those that are unproductive self-flagellation. Better, but not perfected. Food and exercise are those precarious areas in which I am most vulnerable to the kind of guilt that produces feelings of “inadequacy and wrongdoing,” largely because their effects are physical. If I gain weight, I’m not only letting myself down, but also a community of people who have followed my blog over the years.
So what’s a more proper response? Michelle has me thinking that it’s probably not guilt *smile* Guilt is counter-productive and paralyzing. A better response would be….? Hmmmm…. A commitment to improvement? Mindful investigation about how a certain exercise makes me feel? An acceptance of the way things are now as opposed to what they were four years ago?
Yes, yes, and yes.
I found this quote recently: “Hard though it may be to accept, remember that guilt is sometimes a friendly internal voice reminding you that you're messing up.” I’m messing up when I don’t feed my body right and when I don’t move it the way it is capable of moving. And "capable" has changed over the years. I used to hit the cardio really hard, but my arthritic joints said, "No more!" and I had to dispense with the 90-minute workouts. Yet, despite the reduction in pain due due to more moderate exercise, the guilt remains.
Guilt is one of the hardest emotions to wrap our arms around and let go of (when appropriate).
But with a little introspection on this rainy day, the fog is lifting and I’m seeing guilt for the inappropriate response it is.
How much happier would we be if we approached our bodies with care, acceptance and wisdom rather than guilt? Mess up? Yeah, we’re gonna do that sometimes. The best solution? Self correct. Don’t dig out the knotted cords.