During a run around the reservoir in Central Park this morning, I talked shop with one of my favorite doctors, Mary Wendt. Mary is the founder of Get Waisted, and deploys an awful lot of science and psychology in her quest to help people achieve a healthy weight.
At one point, she brought up the concept of guilt. We feel guilty about lots of things, she mused, but gluttony no longer seems to be one of them. Might restoring a little healthy guilt help us resist temptation and make better food choices?
That stopped me in my tracks. (Literally. My feet were killing me 😉
At first blush, I don't like guilt. Taken to an extreme, feeling guilt about food translates into using healthy food to punish ourselves for the unhealthy food. As in, “I'm going to eat a salad for dinner because I ordered the eclair at lunch.”
When we associate food with punishment, we're not real motivated to consume it. Which makes shifting our diets even harder. Who wants to reduce the amount of pleasure and increase the amount of displeasure in their life? Totally unsustainable.
There's something powerful in what Dr Mary said about gluttony no longer triggering guilt like it used to. The other six “deadly sins” (greed, lust, sloth, excessive pride, inordinate anger, and malicious envy) still evoke feelings of “badness” in most folks. Gluttony lacks that sting anymore. Now it's seen as weakness, as lack of self-control, as evidence of self-loathing.
What if we encouraged people to think of gluttony – overeating, or eating overly rich foods, or fetishizing hyper-palatable foods – as a moral issue?
Would it backfire? Would it empower? Would it change the conversation in a useful way?
Is guilt too dangerous and powerful to deploy in the service of positive change?
Or might a few metaphorical (or real) Hail Marys give people a tool for confronting their temptations in a more powerful way.
I haven't thought this through. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please share them in the comments section below.
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