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A couple weeks ago I set off to join my husband on a European adventure. As many of you know, my husband is a downhill ski racer who has been racing on the FIS World Cup circuit for the last 12 years. One of the perks of our long distance relationship is the yearly trip I make to Europe to spend time with him as he travels from country to country, looking to perform at his best while barrelling down icy slopes with little more than a spandex suit, helmet and back brace along for the ride.
Touring around Europe has allowed me to ski the world’s best resorts, experience many different cultures and eat a wide variety of amazing food. Every year I joke that I always wear jeans to dinner while in Italy, France, Austria, Germany or Spain because my fitted pants are one of the best tools I’ve got to practice balance with the delectable dishes that are served at each and every meal.
A post-race kiss in Hinterstoder, Austria
Over the years I’ve written about how to enjoy food in a balanced way in Italy, penned emails to my mailing list on the joys of local veggies in Austria and shared how I exercise in Spain, but today I want to talk about something we all experience on some level when it comes to travelling and eating, and that is the guilt that comes along with indulging in food.
I must admit I don’t have much of a guilty conscience. When my clients would ask ‘how do I get rid of the guilt I have after indulging in desserts or ultra-rich meals’ I wouldn’t always know exactly how they felt. I do spend a lot of time thinking about how our mind works to craft our relationship with food and this is what I’ve come up with…
In my experience, guilt around food manifests itself in two common forms: destructive guilt or evasive guilt.
Destructive guilt is characterized by feelings of remorse, moments of berating ourselves for the decisions of the day or night before and a promise to get back on track and repent for our actions.
Evasive guilt is what I’ve experienced which is less about feeling guilty and more about saying ‘no regrets!’ It is characterized by a move on and move up response where we are less likely to feel bad about our decisions and more likely to look at the beneficial side of what we chose to do ‘hey I really enjoyed drinking sangria, and eating tacos with reckless abandon’. The ironic part about evasive guilt is that deep down, we often still feel guilty! It’s like the ‘no regrets’ response is about pretending we don’t have guilt.
The point is that neither destructive guilt or evasive guilt actually help us to have a wholeheartedly healthy relationship with food. Often, we’re either experiencing guilt or pretending we don’t experience it. Let’s dive in a little deeper to see how we can create a truly balanced and emotionally healthy relationship with food. This is exactly how it has played out for me.
As I packed my bags to head home to Canada when my most recent European trip was coming to a close, I stopped to gaze at the buckets and buckets of snow falling outside our Austrian hotel. I thought about the beautiful towns we had visited, the delicious food we had eaten and the glorious mornings I had spent sleeping in, drinking coffee and wandering around curious new locales.
And then a little thought crept in…
What if I had gotten up earlier on a few of my holiday mornings? What if I had not had that extra glass of wine? What if I had said no to the dessert buffet last night? What if I had gotten an extra bodyweight workout in or done a few more runs on the ski hill?
Maybe I had over-indulged on this trip.
You’re likely aware that practicing balance is something I have worked hard at mastering over the past three years. After going from an all-or-nothing relationship with clean eating and tons of exercise I wanted a more sustainable and enjoyable way of operating and taking care of myself. Most of the women I work with are eager to find balance, results and enjoyment with food too.
But the challenge with balance is that it can be a slippery slope, right? Is balance one glass of wine or three? Is balance a dessert every night or once a week?
I mean, balance can be so…vague. Did I even practice balance on my trip?
And so I found myself gazing at the fluffy snow piling up outside the window having some vacationer’s regret. In the past, regret is something I would have pushed aside and thought ‘I had fun, I ate lots of vegetables, I moved everyday’. In essence, I would have justified my healthy actions and pulled the rug over my indulgent ones rather than examining them all wholeheartedly. The sneaky part is that guilt was there, I just did a great job of burying it under a facade of ‘no regrets’. Hello, evasive guilt!
This is what I called living with ‘no regrets’. And this mindset, this operating style had served me for quite awhile. Until mid-way through our stay in Spain when I got to the end of the book Rising Strong by Brené Brown, and she began to discuss living with no regrets.
Brené says “No regrets doesn’t mean living with courage, it means living without reflection. To live without regret is to believe you have nothing to learn, no amends to make, and no opportunity to be braver with your life.”
I remember thinking, ‘oh shit, she might be onto something here’. There have been many times in my life that I’ve used ‘no regrets’ as an operating system to move on quickly from a crappy decision. Sometimes I think we use ‘no regrets’ as a fake positivity tool, as a way of pretending there is no guilt.
It’s always a balance isn’t it? (There’s that damn balance word again). We can be honest and use regret as a tool to assess our decisions and see where we’ve made some not-so-great choices. Then we can choose to use that regret constructively via making better choices next time. Or we can choose to use regret destructively and feel bad about ourselves, experience guilt for eating too much or drinking too much and continue to make crappy decisions from a shame-fueled place.
But the answer is certainly not ‘no regrets’. The answer is using regret constructively vs. destructively.
I mean, does the ‘no regrets’ mindset even help us?!
I don’t think it does.
How could I use some of my wine-schnapps-apfel strudel-sangria-schnitzel regret as a constructive tool to remind myself of what is really important for me to live a life of balance? I consciously say no to destructive guilt or evasive guilt. I honestly examine what I missed on this past trip and re-affirm my habits:
I didn’t follow every one of these points, every single day on my most recent adventure. And rather than saying ‘no regrets!’ I’ll use my new found awareness of how I experience guilt and regret as a reflection tool, a learning opportunity and not a shame-filled downward spiral.
Sitting on a mountain top in Alaro, Spain.
There are so many things in our lives that are a constant negotiation of a delicate balance. Relationships, life decisions, balance with food, guilt, regret and using it to help or hurt us. The longer I walk this path of awareness and mindset work, the more I notice how everything is about navigating the middle ground and embracing the grey areas.
Experiencing destructive guilt or evasive guilt are mindset habits. We can change the way we operate by being aware of how we currently act and constantly practicing a more helpful and enjoyable way of relating to our own food decisions.
I think guilt will always be part of our emotional experiences from time to time. It is about learning to use it in a helpful way and becoming aware that destructive guilt is a thought pattern that we can choose to avoid with practice.
It’s not about being positive all the time, it’s not about living with ‘no regrets’, it’s about being truthful and using what we’ve learned to help us in the future. No failures, only learning experiences.
Here’s to living with a little bit of healthy regret,