Feeling Guilty for Not Dieting

When the guilt of not dieting hits you randomly

Zeynep Demirelli

7/11/20210 min read

It’s late afternoon. I am out with friends. I’m having fun. The thought of losing weight hasn’t crossed my mind yet. I haven’t paid any attention to what I eat. I am just living in the moment and enjoying myself. Then suddenly it hits me: the guilt of not dieting.

The thoughts come rushing, how I haven’t started a diet that day, how I have been at the same weight for a while or maybe even gained some. With the techniques I learned from therapy, I acknowledge these thoughts and try to talk to myself positively. But it is useless, as the guilt is so strong and overwhelming that it just overpowers me. I feel like I am very close to being back to square one with my eating disorder. I feel anxious. Taking advantage of this weakness, my inner critic asks me:

‘‘Why are you not working towards a better body, a better version of yourself?’’

Then my ‘‘healthy adult self’’ gives the obvious answer,

‘‘Because you struggled with an eating disorder, going there again might trigger you. You are fine, you showed amazing progress already. You enjoyed yourself today’’.

Then my inner critic argues back:

‘‘But you should be working to be a better version of yourself, ALWAYS. That is not a disorder, it is dedication. And it is about health, not looks. Don’t you want to be healthy?’’

This re-activates the unhealthy mindset of my eating disorder so subtly that it may go unnoticed if I am not paying attention. This the critical moment where I decide if I am going to give in or just let the feeling pass. But where did this come in the first place? I was doing fine the whole day, what lies under this guilt? There are a couple of factors that come together to give rise to feelings of guilt:

1. Physical appearance.

This is an obvious factor, sadly, our society values physical appearance over any other characteristic we may have as individuals. Our worth is defined by our appearance and how well we live up to society’s beauty standards. The zeitgeist of beauty for women is being skinny and taking as little space as possible. At first glance, it is almost implicitthat people judge you based on your weight, and being at a higher weight is considered to be less desirable. Thus, being heavier may make you feel less accepted socially. Research has shown that negative feeling we experience when we are excluded from social groups is equally painful as physical pain we may experience.

The standard of having to be skinny is not limited to how beautiful you are but also gives information on what kind of person you are: women who have thin legs, tight stomachs, and slim arms are considered to be smarter and nicer. This is due to the Halo Effect, which is the phenomenon of perceiving beautiful people as better and smarter individuals. Additionally, women who are skinny are often viewed as individuals who have better ‘self-control’ and who take more care of themselves compared to women who are at a higher weight. This is also why when someone gains weight, everyone assumes that there is something wrong. People also express concern and comment on how ‘that person let herself go’.

2. Being skinny means healthy according to society.

Society views the word “skinny” as synonymous with the word healthy. This is also true in the world of medicine. Many patients are turned down or their symptoms are invalidated if they present with higher weight. For many different complaints, they have prescribed the same solution (!): losing weight. Their weight is assumed to be at the root of any kind of complaint they have.

It is sad to see how people who are at a higher weight receive pitiful looks while people who are at a lower weight are praised and asked ‘‘their secret’’. This creates the illusion that if you are working towards being skinny, you are working towards being healthier which is not necessarily the case. This way eating disorders can easily disguise themselves as ‘‘being healthy’’ and ‘‘taking care of yourself’’ because everyone wants to seem like a healthy person who takes good care of themselves.

3. The pressure of ‘‘You should always be working on something’’

The pressure to be always working on something is extremely prominent, especially when thinking in the context of the Information Age. In this context, the pressure is on how you should always be working on a better version of yourself and your body. If you spend quite a bit of time browsing social media, the chances are, you came across motivational montages, “routines”, of celebrities, bodybuilders, and influencers. There is a primitive reason for this type of content to exist because there is a huge demand. Although, we humans are not built to constantly be on “the grind” or “hustle”. Watching a motivational video rushes our brains with feel-good chemicals, exactly what you need after feeling like you haven’t done anything for the whole day. However, the good feelings are shortly followed up with guilt. They make you believe that everyone is on a constant ‘grind’, moving towards better bodies and you are not. I find this pressure extremely harmful because it comes in the disguise of something positive, like how can aiming to improve yourself be negative? Also, as endorsed by the diet culture, improving yourself is possible through dieting, working out frequently, and losing weight.

4. Fear of missing out

In the last few years, going to the gym and eating in certain ways have become the trend. As the name implies, we want to be up to date with trends. You cannot avoid all the trends, they are extremely prominent in our daily lives because of social media. We may know the negative effects of the beauty standards, the pressure of “you need to be constantly working on yourself”, the belief that “being skinny is healthy” has on us. But it is difficult to go against what everyone else is doing because we don’t want to miss out on anything, especially on something that is as healthy (!) as working on ourselves.

Putting it all together, we are constantly forced to believe we should always be working on something (in this case dieting/losing weight). Also, there is an illusion that other people are already doing it and we feel like we are somehow lagging behind. These encourage us to be constantly working towards a better version of ourselves in some way (and you shouldn’t miss out on this because it is the right thing to do). Add the view that being skinny is healthy to that, tada! The guilt of not dieting.
Now that we know where this guilt comes from, the next time you feel guilty; you can remind yourself that…

Bodies come in different shapes and sizes. You may feel the beauty standards pressuring you, but in the end, if you think really hard about it, people who love you will not judge you based on weight and will accept you as you are. So you should re-consider the importance of anyone who makes you feel less worthy because of your weight in your life. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.

Health starts with mental well-being. Being skinny does not necessarily mean healthy and taking care of yourself does not mean losing weight. If you force your body to lose weight with heavy restriction, it negatively impacts your mental health. If you obsess over calories and exercise, it puts a strain on your mental health. On social media, everyone seems to be constantly working on a better body, but it’s important to remember that most of the time it is just an illusion. When you see people transforming their bodies, you do not know how it is affecting their mental health. You don’t need to be constantly working on a better and ‘‘skinnier’’ body. You should find what “better version” means for you. The guilt you feel for not dieting will hurt you more than anything else. You need to be honest with yourself: does the ‘healthy’ diet affect your mental health positively? Does your exercise routine improve your well-being or wreckit? What is the weight you feel the most comfortable at, both mentally and physically? That is the weight you need to be at. Healthy does not mean skinny, healthy means the weight you maintain effortlessly while still preserving your mental health.