I spent the first 20 years of my life “feeling bad” about my thoughts. Obese me would drive by a McDonald’s and experience immense guilt for feeling hungry. Similarly, after a perfect week of dieting, the temptation to raid my fridge led to feelings of moral failure. But feelings aren’t what matter — actions do.
People who grow up overweight, like myself, often feel like there is something wrong with them. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: feeling like you need to give in to that piece of cake triggers a chain reaction convincing you to succumb to temptation. For example, having one McDonald’s french fry then wanting to eat more makes you feel like a failure, even though these foods are engineered to make us feel this way.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, I have a friend named Kyle. Anyone would be jealous of his leanness. Kyle told me that he hates eating. Literally, he only eats when he gets hungry enough. I wanted to be more like that. Kyle, to me, was morally astute… not a glutton like myself. Fast forward a few years later and I realised that I will never be like Kyle, but that’s ok.
We cannot control how feel, but we can control how we act. Feelings like hunger, annoyance, and vindictiveness are all negative emotions. When they arise, it’s common to feel bad for responding in such primal, illogical ways. For example, we might feel jealous when a significant other has a great time with someone of the opposite sex, then immediately feel guilty for being insecure.
But by definition, primal feelings are deeply hard-wired and uncontrollable. We can, however, recognise them, be comfortable with them, and understand that they do not necessitate action. By realising these facts, we can both determine their roots and objectively identify the next course of action. This is known as mindfulness: the act of being present then examining your feelings without judgment.
Let’s use “temptation” as an example. From what I have seen, the following scenario is quite typical. You’ve been on a caloric deficit for two weeks now, and you’ve lost weight. You’ve created this deficit by planning exactly what to eat daily and not veering from your protocol. One day, however, your company brings in a cake for a coworker who is celebrating her birthday.
First, feelings of temptation come over you. Then, you feel guilt and anxiety. Not only do you want to eat a piece of cake, you also feel pangs of conscience for doing so. Your mind races with rationalising thoughts such as “It’s just one piece of cake” (when surrounded by these emotions, it’s never just one piece of cake…) or “I was good this week and deserve a reward”, a thought that usually leads to failure. At this point, most people would give in.
Instead, pause for a brief moment. First, tell yourself that it’s ok that you’re feeling this way, and you’re not a bad person for immense feelings of temptation. Then, remind yourself that you are only feeling what anyone else your situation would feel. Given your past experiences, how would you feel yourself if you gave in? Wouldn’t you feel much better if you didn’t?
You cannot be responsible for your feelings. You are, however, responsible for your actions. By understanding understanding and internalising these facts, you can make the best, most objective decisions to keep moving you forward both in fitness and in life.