NEW: Plant Yourself merch designed by my daughter, Yael Zivan.

Can Guilt Be Good?

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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.

And yet…

There's something powerful in what Dr Mary said about gluttony no longer triggering guilt like it used to.ย 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.

Looking for Transformational Change?

You know how when you discovered plant-based eating, you basically went, “Holy shit, how come the entire healthcare system isn't totally embracing this as one of the most powerful keys to disease prevention and reversal!”?

That's how I feel now about a psychological approach to transformational change called “Memory Reconsolidation.” Few psychologists have heard about it, and when they do hear the radical transformations it can bring about in a very short time, they're often skeptical to the point of disbelief.

But I've added Memory Reconsolidation work to my own coaching, and can attest to its amazing efficacy. So much so, my team and I are studying with the best clinicians and teachers in the world, with the goal of introducing it into our health coaching training.

If you're interested in experiencing the magic of memory reconsolidation coaching with me or a member of my team trained in the process, click the link below to open the form in a new browser tab. Someone will get back to you within 3 business days.

Yes, I'm interested in Memory Reconsolidation Coaching.

You CAN Change Other People!

Well, that's what Peter Bregman and I claim in our provocative book of that title.

What we really mean is, you can help the people around you make behavioral changes in their own best interests. If you think you're powerless to help people change, it's because you've been going about it the wrong way.

Discover our straightforward, replicable process here: You Can Change Other People.

Audiobook: Use the Weight to Lose the Weight

Listen to Josh LaJaunie and me narrate our latest audiobook, about how to start moving when you're obese.

It's $10, and Josh and I split it evenly ๐Ÿ™‚

Tip Jar

This podcast is not underwritten by advertising, so I can experience complete editorial autonomy without worrying about pissing off the person paying the bills. Instead, I pay the bills, with your help. It's free for those who can't afford to pay, and supported by those who can. You can contribute to the growth and improvement of the podcast by clicking the “Support on Patreon” or “Donate” buttons on the right to help out.


The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.

It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.

You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website,


Thanks to Plant Yourself podcast patrons – Kim Harrison – Lynn McLellan – Brittany Porter – Dominic Marro – Barbara Whitney – Tammy Black – Amy Good – Amanda Hatherly – Mary Jane Wheeler – Ellen Kennelly – Melissa Cobb – Rachel Behrens – Tina Scharf – Tina Ahern – Jen Vilkinofsky – David Byczek – Michele X – Elspeth Feldman – Leah Stolar – Allan Kristensen – Colleen Peck – Michele Landry – Jozina – Sara Durkacs – Kelly Cameron – Janet Selby – Claire Adams – Tom Fronczak – Jeannette Benham – Gila Lacerte – David Donohue – Blair Seibert – Doron Avizov – Gio and Carolyn Argentati – Jodi Friesner – Mischa Rosen – Michael Worobiec – AvIvA Lael – Alicia Lemus – Val Linnemann – Nick Harper – Bandana Chawla – Molly Levine – The Inscrutable Harry R – Susan Laverty the Panda Vegan – Craig Covic – Adam Scharf – Karen Bury – Heather Morgan – Nigel Davies – Marian Blum – Teresa Kopel – Julian Watkins – Brid O'Connell – Shannon Herschman – Linda Ayotte – Holm Hedegaard – Isa Tousignant – Connie Haneline – Erin Greer – Alicia Davis – Heather O'Connor – Carollynne Jensen – Sheri Orlekoski of Plant Powered for Health – Karen Smith – Scott Mirani – Karen and Joe Crabtree – Kirby Burton – Theresa Carrell – Kevin Macaulay – Elizabeth Rothschild – Ann Jesse – Sheryl Dwyer – Jenny Hazelton – Peter W Evans – Dennis Bird – Darby Kelly – Lori Fanney – Linnea Lundquist – Emily Iaconelli – Levi Wallach – Rosamonde McAtee – Dan Pokorney – Stephen Leinin – Patty DeMartino – Mike and Donna Kartz – Deanne Bishop – Bilberry Elf – Marjorie Lewis – Tricia Adams – Nancy Sheldon – Lindsey Bashore – Gunn Marit Hagen – Tracey Gulledge – Lara Hedin – Meg from Mamasezz – Stacey Stokes – Ben Savage – Michael K – David Hughes -Coni Rodgers – Claire England – Sally Robertson – Parham Ganchi – Amy Dailey – Brian Tourville – Mark Jeffrey Johnson – Josie Dempsey – Caryn Schmitt – Pamela Hayden – Emily Perryman – Allison Corbett – Richard Stone – Lauren Vaught of Edible Musings – Erin Hastey – Sean Owens – Sagar Naik – Erika Piedra – Danielle Roberts – Michael Leuchten – Sarah Johnson – Katharine Floyd – Meryl Fury – for your generous support of the podcast.


This post may contain amazon affiliate links. I may receive compensation from your actions on such links. It don't cost you a dime, tho.

5 comments on “Can Guilt Be Good?

  1. Rebecca Benedict says:

    I think this concept is turned around. People do feel guilty when they eat too much or unhealthy foods. I think the biggest problem is apathy, most people have tried so many diets and they fail again and again so they end up saying whats the point!

    1. Howard says:

      Thanks for your perspective, Rebecca.

      Perhaps what I’m getting at is that as a culture, there’s no guilt around overconsumption. So it’s a private, after-the-fact guilt that doesn’t influence behavior or dissuade bingeing.

      Still noodling with the concept, as you can probably tell ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Christine Frost says:

    I believe that guilt is our conscience wrestling with our integrity. By exploring guilt we become more mindful of our practices. We can get to the bottom of why we are feeling bad instead of brushing it off and living a “no regrets” lifestyle. Taking all emotions seriously and giving them their day in court is an important path to emotional well being. Since guilt is so hard to define and discuss, it seems to be one of those emotions that comes from the heart or the gut. Meaning that it’s very hard to work through and be processed by the mind. Ultimately, it reveals our vulnerabilities… so we definitely want to know what those are. This is a beautiful and natural part of being human and embracing our unique and diverse spectrum of emotions.

    1. Howard says:

      Love it, Christine! Thanks for that definition of guilt. I’m finding the New Age refusal to acknowledge guilt as potentially healthy and useful a real barrier to transformation.

  3. Christine Frost says:

    Thanks Howard. Brene Brown has written a great book about wrestling with guilt, shame, and vulnerability called “Rising Strong” I just finished it so these things have been on my mind lately as well. Keep up the great work!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *