I hope you had a great Easter! I don’t know about you but I love Easter, it’s one of my favourite holidays. The weather is still warm, you get a few days off with your family (without all the pressure that come with Christmas when there are a million presents to buy and big extravagant lunches to cook). Oh, and of course there’s the chocolate!

Any holiday that gives you license to eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch and dinner (if you so choose) is a winner in my book! For the record I didn’t (I’m sure at least one of those meals was chocolate-free) but I could have if I’d wanted to. And I wouldn’t have felt the slightest bit guilty about it either. But I’ve realised that I’m probably in the minority in that regard. As much as we all love chocolate, judging by the conversations at training the past few days, a lot of people (particularly women) really struggle with a guilty conscience after indulging in it.

Guilt is an emotion I’ve worked hard to banish over the years. If I choose to do something that’s pleasurable, I don’t let myself feel guilty about it. Especially when it comes to food.

But for a lot of women, food and guilt are inextricably linked. We think of different foods as “good” or “bad”; if we have dessert we’re being “naughty”; and we all have our “guilty pleasures” (eating peanut butter out of a jar anyone? Or is that just me!).

It stands to reason that holidays are occasions when we eat or drink a little more than usual and so our feelings of guilt are often heightened at these times. Take Easter as an example – do you feel guilty about the amount of chocolate you ate over the weekend? Or maybe it was all those hot cross buns slathered in butter… Do you feel anxious about the amount of chocolate still left over from your Easter extravaganza – because you know that if it’s in the house, you’ll be tempted to eat it and you’ll have to battle those guilty feelings all over again? If you do, you’re certainly not alone.

I ate some chocolate over Easter (I eat chocolate most days in fact, so it was no big deal, but I definitely had more than my usual quota). I didn’t go overboard, but I suspect that’s because I don’t think of chocolate as taboo or off-limits. So, did I feel guilty after eating it? Definitely not. If I’m going to eat something that’s considered a treat, I’m going to make sure I enjoy every last mouthful! I’m not going to waste energy and spoil the experience by feeling guilty about it.

I didn’t always feel like this – I spent a lot of years battling with feelings of guilt around food, so it took a concerted effort to get to where I am now. To be able to eat what I want without ever feeling guilty. Which doesn’t mean I use that as an excuse to eat crap. Quite the opposite. Once I stopped feeling guilty about eating “treats”, fooddidn’t have the same hold over me so I don’t obsess over it any more.

And it turns out that ditching the guilt (not surprisingly) is good for your health. Studies into the effects of guilt have found that the self-criticism that follows (e.g. what’s wrong with me, why did I eat all that chocolate, why do I have no self-control?) is associated with less motivation and worse self-control. So in other words, if you feel guilty about doing something you’re MORE likely, not less, to do it again in the future.

Conversely, forgiveness increases accountability. So if you take a self-compassionate point of view – and forgive yourself for eating so much chocolate instead of cursing your lack of self-control – then you’re more likely to take responsibility and not repeat the same behaviours again.

The worst part is that guilt is often associated with things that are pleasurable, so that can lead to us associating guilt with pleasure. In other words, guilt can make you more attracted to behaviours (such as eating too much chocolate) that will make you feel guilty.

So what can we do? First of all, enjoy that chocolate, or dessert, or whatever it is. Enjoy it in moderation, safe in the knowledge that you can have it again at another time (it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing mentality that often leads to over-indulging/ bingeing).

But also, take a moment to assess how you’re feeling before you eat something. If you already feel guilty at the thought of eating it, then it’s probably not worth it. You’re not going to enjoy something if it’s going to spark feelings of guilt and self-loathing.

And if you did go a little overboard on the Easter chocolates and you’re already battling those guilty feelings, then take a self-compassionate stance. You’re human after all, you make mistakes. Forgive yourself and move on. It’s only chocolate.

Hope to see you all at training!

Amy XX

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