Guilt, Shame And Weight Loss

Guilt, Shame And Weight Loss

Our bodies and minds seem dead set against maintaing a healthy balance. Here’s how one sedentary Lifehacker reader leveraged things we commonly avoid as a mechanism for weight loss and a healthier lifestyle.

Photo by Alan Cleaver

It was typical really. A 28 year old computer guy that was 50 pounds overweight. Days spent sedentary in front of the computer while eating my weight in sugar and complex carbs.

I was also a sugar addict. My dad is a Little Debbie delivery guy and I grew up with a truck full of cakes sitting in the driveway. Eating boxes of Honey Buns is fine when you are 17 and on the school basketball team. It’s another thing ten years later when exercise is non-existent. Now, it seemed like I couldn’t walk past a donut bin at the grocery without buying one (or three) and if I was at a party and ate one cupcake, I would eat six.

I had tried all the diets. South Beach, Atkins, Weight Watchers and many others were in my past. I would stick with them for a week or two, lose a couple of pounds and then quickly revert. You know the drill. You’ve done it too.

Finally, last year I landed on something that has allowed me to stick with a diet for over eleven months now. I learned how to leverage shame and guilt to lose over fifty pounds in less than five months and I’ve kept it off.

Here are the three steps I took.

Pick an extreme diet By “extreme” I do not mean something that is physically dangerous. I’m not suggesting any kind of major calorie restriction, binging or anything else that will cause physical harm. In fact, the majority of my diet I pulled from the book Blue Zones that is based on a study of cultures around the world that live the longest, healthiest lives.

What I mean by “extreme” is it has to be interesting to your friends and family. It has to make them say “Wow!” when they hear it.

My diet included:

  • No white/refined sugar
  • No white/refined flour
  • No unnatural food – splenda, corn syrup, etc.
  • Eat 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables every day
  • No medicine or supplements (unless in emergency. But this meant no Advil for headaches, etc)
  • No meat (except for fish)
  • Glass of wine every night

This diet wasn’t unhealthy or dangerous, but it was extreme compared to my normal lifestyle and that of my friends and family. If you go on one of the normal diets, there won’t be anything interesting about it. You won’t catch people’s attention and they won’t think much about it afterwards. You need something that people want to know more about and will ask you about later.

This is where shame shows up for the first time.

Announce your diet to the world I told everyone in my life that I was going on the diet. Friends, family, clients… anyone that would listen. I also posted it online and linked to it on Twitter. The point of this is to make sure everyone I interact with knows I’m on the diet.

This is where most people screw up. They only promise themselves that they are going to eat better. At most they’ll tell their spouse or best friend, but those people are used to seeing you fail. When you tell everyone in your life that you are going on this extreme diet, it becomes much more embarrassing if you give up. If you fall off the wagon, you know that you’re going to be stuck telling a lot of people.

That’s a lot of shame.

And that’s what kept my hand out of the cookie jar.

There were so many times that I wanted to break my diet and throw in the towel, but I kept thinking about all the people I would have to tell and how embarrassing it would be.

Even if I wanted to cheat, it would be hard to hide it. I might see someone at the grocery store or restaurant Not to mention, it was impossible to stick with my diet and not lose weight so if I started sneaking snacks it would be obvious pretty quickly.

Announcing my diet to the world made it so embarrassing to give up that I stuck with it.

Set a time limit, not a weight limit When I started my diet last year on February 15th, I committed to a year. I would stick to the diet for a full 365 days.

Most diets start with a goal of losing a specific amount of weight. The problem is it’s a moving target. When you’ve gone a week and only lost two pounds, it can get very discouraging.

By setting a time limit, it allows you to see a hard and fast goal. I don’t know how many times I thought “Only a year. Only a year. I’m 28 years old, I’ll probably live at least 75 years, I can eat healthy for at least one of those!”. This allowed me to take the focus off of the scale and keep it on the calendar. The scale is fickle and a constantly moving target, the calendar is unchanging.

This is also how I leveraged guilt to lose weight.

Besides the shame of telling my friends, I would feel extremely bad if I could not stick with something for such a short period of time. Again, making it about the time limit removes any pressure to lose weight and allows you to focus on the final goal.

Set a time limit of a least 90 days and then see what can happen in that short period of time.

I had tried all the diets and none of them worked for me. I used to think it was because I was lazy and lacked will power. What I realised is that everyone is lazy and lacks will power. The trick is to leverage things like guilt and shame to keep you focused on the end goal and lose that weight.

Tim Grahl runs Out:think, a firm that helps authors sell a lot of books. His clients include bestselling authors like Daniel Pink, Tim Sanders, Dan Ariely and Hugh MacLeod. Visit his website to learn how you can make your book a bestseller.


    • There is a big flaw with this approach: it assumes that the person dieting cares about what other people think to the point that he/she would feel embarrassed if not following through. This for once would not work for me or anyone with a personality similar to mine, because simply put, i could not care less for what other “non-relevant” people may think about myself or the choices I make.

      The way I see it, the commitment must be made to yourself, as in not letting yourself down…

      My two cents.

  • Reverse the polarity of your thinking. Why not gain as much weight as you can via going to the gym and eating healthy foods (as much as you can take) like steaks, roast chickens, veges, etc.

    I’m now one of the rare ‘meathead’ software engineers, who always look forward to gain another 5lbs of hard muscle.

  • Lifehacker reader for 5, no 6 years – first time commenter.

    I was 25kg over weight for my BMI – haha, too many days spent playing video games! I still spend just as much time but I do a 6km run every day before I hit the console. Diets don’t work, you just need to do 1 thing to lose weight…

    Expend more energy than you consume.

    After all the fad diets and years of being a fat turd – I just listened to some dude who made it very clear that it’s all about the maths.

    I’m now 25kgs lighter and actually enjoy my run each day. I eat most things, but know that I need to exercise… FOR LIFE!

    • My kids were watching an episode of teh JAckie Chan animated series (whatever it was) and at the end Jackie Chan (the real one, not the animated one) was saying his favourite food is ice cream (as he was eating a tub of it.
      He said he can sit and eat a whole tub of it.
      But, what he said Ive always remembered and I always say to others.
      “Kids, you can eat whatever you want. Anything you want. So long as you do the exercise to burn it off.”

      Most people are lazy though, they wont do any exercise or they cant do enough. So they just have to stop putting so much food in their mouth.

      For 80% of my job Im sitting at my desk. Because of that I started to eat less. I wasnt moving enough to burn off the food.
      I go to the gym five times a week which is great, but I only eat two meals a day now.
      Big breakfast. Then Ill either have lunch or dinner depending on when Im hungry.

    • you say diets don’t work, but then you say “Expend more energy than you consume.”

      By changing your diet to consume less energy also works.

      My ex has lost 10 kilos already and she is not doing exercise. She is on the Coenn’s Diet (food based on genetic profiling or some such).

  • I actually started my health kick on the 5th and used told everyone at home the office and my social circle. I also told my colleagues to give me slack if they see me drinking iced coffees/cokes (diet coke is okay though they still give me slack), or eating biscuits or other non-healthy stuff.

    And for me it works fairly well. Knowing that other people with know I did not have the will power to resist has helped keep me on track, although I have slipped.

    I find the best tip is to PLAN what you are going to eat in advance. It is when you are hungry and have nothing ready that it is easiest to eat that bag of chips from the vending machine or something else with way to many kilojoules.
    It’s also a good idea to have back up meals at the ready. Some pre-cooked frozen meals work a treat.


    Don’t follow fad diets… they don’t work!

    I was 105kg and after 9 months work I have dropped down to 82kg and going to gym 5 days a week. All I did was start eating small portions and more frequent meals (5-6) times a day. I actually enjoy my morning jogs and lifting weights.

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