The Guilt of Healthy Living (and how to get past it)
*This is a guest post from our friends at Clearpath Chiropractic in Guelph*
Eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits.
Exercise, and be physically active on a daily basis.
Maintain a schedule of regular, restful sleep.
You know this already. I know this already. We’ve known this for years. You would think that it doesn’t need to be said because we are all models of healthy living, right?
But… we’re not. Incidences of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and stroke continue to rise. And with those, so do health care costs. And not only are diseases of lifestyle getting worse, so too is our guilt associated with it.
There isn’t a week that goes by at our clinic that a patient doesn’t sheepishly admit that they know they need to exercise more, or eat better, or work on managing their stress. They feel guilty. The problem is that guilt is a challenging emotion to deal with – it can be suppressive and demotivating. And when you’re robbed of the gumption to be consistent with healthy habits, it can become a downward spiral of poor health choices reinforcing poor health habits.
Do we need to just exercise a little more willpower then? Yes, willpower plays a role. We should be actively engaged in self-management and improvement. But there is compelling research that shows willpower is a limited resource that can be used up. And once we’ve depleted that resource, we are much more likely to give in and make poor health choices.
Compound limited willpower with the idea that the environment we live in makes unhealthy options the default choice:
- We sit for most of our travel, work, and free time.
- We are inundated with fast food/junk food advertising, and presented with their options on every single corner of our neighbourhoods.
- We praise being busy, and working long hours, at the expense of letting our brains rest.
And then, when we’re exhausted from dealing with this, day in and day out, we add guilt on top of it. Guilt for not feeling like we put up enough of a fight to make the healthy choice all of the time. Or even some of the time.
This narrative is one I try to impart to many of my patients. It starts with becoming aware that it’s not a fair fight, and that it’s okay to not make the healthiest decisions all of the time.
Now some might take a pessimistic view and think that this gives permission to simply give up. However, a neat thing often happens: people give themselves permission to recognize that they are normal, and susceptible to the environment they live in. Subsequently it reduces the guilt, and it takes a load off. Then, with that burden lifted, people feel more encouraged to make small, consistent choices to improve their health. The downward spiral starts to reverse. And it’s in those small victories that encouragement flourishes, motivation builds, and healthy change happens.
Whether you’re already in great health, or have been struggling to just get started, please keep this in mind – cutting yourself some slack, and letting go of the guilt about all the things you haven’t done, can lighten the load and make it easier to get on with the things you can.
This is where the May Health Challenge can come into play. May Health is an annual challenge where participants commit to improving a healthy habit every day for the month of May. It’s a simple and effective way to start with small, manageable, actionable bites, while still making an impact on becoming a healthier you. For more information on how you can participate in the May Health Challenge please click on the link – you’ll be in for something good.