How not to feel guilty after indulging in food or skipping a gym session

In a world where we’re offered cake at every turn and lured to the pub rather than the gym on a regular basis, sticking to your health intentions can be challenging.

But when you are trying to shape up or slim down, it’s easy to feel annoyed at yourself or guilty after giving into the packet of biscuits or bottle of wine (or three).

And all too often we end up feeling like if we’ve had one piece of chocolate we might as have the whole bar, or if we’ve had one beer, we might as well have six. Because sod it, everything’s ruined now.

It’s irrational, but all too common.

And this often leaves us plagued by guilt, simply for enjoying food and drink or skipping a workout.

This mentality isn’t good for us though, because then you often feel bad about feeling bad about yourself.

According to Joe Meares, one of five elite coaches who runs the Equinox Tier X Lifestyle Management and Personal Training Program, there’s actually nothing wrong with feeling guilty though. 

“You feel what you feel and it’s more important to take a pause, acknowledge the guilt and reflect on why you feel this way,” he explained to The Independent. “Being mindful, aware, and accepting of this emotion can actually be the start to getting you back on track.”

The most important thing to do when you catch yourself feeling guilty, Meares says, is to try and switch your mindset back to the positive – of course this isn’t easy though. 

“Holding onto guilt will only make you worry more, it will snowball,” Meares explains. “Having a positive mental attitude creates an energy which in turn makes you refocus back on making it to the gym while allowing yourself to enjoying the weekend’s fun.”

Another useful approach can be to think about your health and wellbeing with a long-term mindset. 

It’s all too easy to get sucked in by quick-blitz programmes that promise unachievable goals, but this often means you’re setting yourself up for failure, leaving you feeling guilty and demotivated when you don’t achieve what was an unattainable goal in the first place. 

“Life happens, an unexpected late night out or a weekend away,” Meares accepts. “If you’re thinking long-term you’re less likely to have guilt over a missed workout.”

So next time you come back from a boozy weekend and feel bad about yourself, what should you do?

The key is affirmation – give yourself some emotional support and encouragement. 

“Switch your focus to the positive steps you’ve taken and what you have achieved.”

It’s all about noticing the wins and giving yourself credit for them – so maybe you didn’t make it to the gym over the weekend, but perhaps you slept for eight hours each night, drank more water and added greens to your meals. 

At the end of the day, life is about balance and moderation. And that’s why most genuinely healthy people will advocate following the 80/20 rule: eating healthily 80 per cent of the time and indulging in a little of what she fancies the other 20 per cent. 

This is the approach taken by stylish supperclub hosts Laura Jackson and Alice Levine too: 

“Balance is definitely the word – everything in moderation is how we try and work it – and some weeks are better than others!” they admitted to The Independent

“Sometimes we are eating out every night and the next we are home cooking more, and thinking more carefully about what we are putting in our dinners. 

“We love food too much to deny ourselves or cut anything out, we feel better if we have a really varied diet, but when you are rushing around that can be a bit harder.” 

Meares believes we can allow ourselves to relax about our diets and enjoy indulging occasionally without a side of guilt by planning ahead – adapt your training regime and nutrition before or after a holiday, for example. 

“Planning ahead means you won’t feel like you’ve left yourself down, or that you aren’t achieving your goals,” he says. “When you’re back and refocused you can revisit your usual program and feel motivated to continue, you’ll be in a far more positive head space.”

If you’re having a weekend away or even just a special meal, it helps to adopt intuitive eating. That means being mindful of when your body is hungry, listening to your body and being aware of when you’re full. 

“Make peace with your choices even if they’re not a part of your plan,” Meares says. “I can’t stress the importance of giving yourself a break, accept and enjoy the moment of being relaxed or less strict, life is for living.”

This can also help you fight the all too common mentality of: “I’ve had one biscuit, I might as well finish the packet because everything’s ruined now.”

When you find yourself in such a situation, heading back to the cupboard even though you deliberately put the packet away because you were only going to have one, the trick is to go back to your original goal and ask yourself why you set it. 

On one hand, you may want to lose half a stone, but on the other you want to have the biscuits. Which do you prioritise?

You need to ask yourself why you want to lose that half a stone. 

“Maybe it’s so you feel like you have more energy to tackle your day,” Meares says, adding that you need to reflect on that. “Use this thought, or even write it down – this can help if you feel like you’ve hit a bump in the road and have lost motivation, or feel you could give up.

“It can be a very powerful technique as it turns your goal into something tangible – you really have to think about the words you are writing and can help set you back on track.”

But if you do eat a whole packet of biscuits, it’s really not the end of the world, and we need to stop associating certain foods with guilt.

“We don’t really believe in demonising particular foods as just having a bit of everything tends to work fine for us,” say Jackson and Levine. 

“Your body generally knows best – if you’ve eaten loads of heavy, rich food, you often crave something lighter and fresher and greener. Just try and strike a balance. On a really basic level, if you want some chocolate – just have it! And definitely don’t beat yourself up about it.” 

To help yourself develop a healthier mindset, approach your fitness as a lifestyle, and Meares recommends remembering to take care of all aspects of you: movement, nutrition and regeneration.

So that means not feeling bad for skipping a 6am workout to get some more sleep. 

“I’ve had clients who aren’t seeing results as they are training on the gym floor too much, they’re not sleeping enough they’re not giving their body time to recover and regenerate,” Meares says. “This is vital.

“Making a lifestyle change for the better to improve your health and wellbeing is not about giving yourself impossible tasks, creating feelings of unachievable goals and guilt, or worry, it’s about setting you up to be successful.”

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