A side of guilt

With the constant barrage of dieting, fitness and nutrition advice, maybe it’s time we cut ourselves some slack.

“That deed which in our guilt we today call weakness, will appear tomorrow as an essential link in the complete chain of Man.” – Khalil Gibran

I was talking to a friend a while back; we were both expressing how we feel guilty much of the time, whether it was that we hadn’t been good enough hosts, weren’t doing enough or that, somehow, we were letting somebody down. We determined that these feelings were an aftereffect of out parents’ Irish Catholic upbringings. The guilt, stemming from the idea that we are born sinners, can pervade every aspect of life if left unchecked. A lot has been written on the differences between Catholic guilt, Jewish guilt, Mormon guilt, and the list goes on – I am not particularly interested in getting into those intricacies here, but more so on what is common to all: that guilt does seem to be an inevitable part of the human experience, whatever one’s background. I am interested in how these feelings affect our experience of food.

When it comes to food, we have a lot to feel guilty about. For one thing, however much we complain about the variety and price of food here compared to the mainland, we have so much more than most people in the world. And what have we done to deserve it? We were (born) in the right place at the right time. That’s all. In a similar vein, the means of production are troublesome, to say the least. We are inundated, daily, with facts about human and animal suffering brought on by the world’s demand for more and more food, whenever and wherever we want it. These two issues are both incredibly important and demand more time and consideration than I am able to give them here. For now, I would like to focus on a more personal strain of guilt, one that (I think) most can identify with. This is the guilt we feel when our actions do not relfect with our intentions; when our wit isn’t matched by our will.

Guilt can be a useful tool, if we learn to recognize it as such. If we catch that feeling before it spirals into self-loathing, it can serve as a landmark letting us know that we are not following our inner compass. Assuming that the guilt is stemming from not following goals set out by and for ourselves, and not because we feel that others will judge us for our grocery cart contents, it can help us modify our lifestyles and habits by identifying those habits we do not want to carry forward.

The big secret to being fit and healthy is that there is no secret. We all know what to do – the information is available everywhere and the guidelines haven’t changed significantly in ages. And yet, so many of us don’t follow those guidelines – we eat foods we know are ‘bad’, and we don’t get enough exercise. Ignorance isn’t the problem here, it’s simply that it’s hard to make the right choices all the time. It’s hard to make the time to do something that seems tedious (and that you can always do tomorrow, right?) or to choose the salad over the poutine. We want to believe there is a quick, painless fix. As a result, many of us fall for the latest diet trend, or the set-period workout that is going to change our lives. Do we really believe that anything short of a sustained, healthy lifestyle is going to give us the well-being and fitness we want? On some level, probably not; but that doesn’t stop us from hoping. The guilt, filling the void between what we know and what we do, can be overwhelming.

Amidst all these feelings of guilt that we’re eating too much and not doing enough, let’s agree to cut ourselves some slack once in a while. If we’re honest with ourselves, which is a task in itself, then we know whether or not we’re trying our best. So try your best, keep yourself honest and, at least once in a while, take your guilt on the side.

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