Sunday, April 10, 2011

Guilt as a Motivator?

There's a new gym in my neck of the woods. Huge billboards and ads adorn the windows proclaiming that YOU need to "earn your mac n cheese tonight"
Their gimmick to get you inside their doors, clamoring for a membership is to guilt you into working out.

Because the only reason we work out is to burn calories right? Not because it protects our hearts, guards against hypertension, increases endorphins, makes you better in bed, boosts self-confidence and makes us stronger? Nope-the only reason you'll ever see me in the gym is because I just ate, and goddamn it-I feel guilty.

A study that has been getting a lot of press lately claims that guilt is a great motivator for diet change and exercise. But let me ask you-does the end justify the means? Yes guilt may get you to the gym, but it also starts you down a path of self-hatred and distance from your intuition.

Steph & I started Guiltless because we say those around us sabotaging their own health with guilt. Yes, we love healthy food and work out regularly, but we also know the dangers of swearing of dessert forever, classifying foods as good or bad, obsessive exercising and extreme dieting. Compensating for what you eat by working out is a disordered behavior. And not one any one or any gym should be promoting.

So go to the gym. But don't go because you feel guilty about what you just ate. Go because it makes you feel alive, healthy, strong and beautiful! Eliminate all guilt from your diet and fitness regime.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about guilt as a motivator! Leave them in the comment section below!


  1. This is something that I have struggled with a lot-- I eat a hamburger, french fries, and a Reese's 'blizzard,' and I feel guilty about it, so I feel the need to exercise. I will kill myself exercising, b/c I feel guilty for indulging continuously. Sometimes it would just be nice to exercise just 'because,' and not b/c I ate too much! It's a vicious cycle, and one that I have gone to counseling for to help with. I'd like to say that I'm better with it, and I probably am, but it depends upon the day (or the hour), whether or not I can let it slide!

  2. I agree Elizabeth- Guilt may work initially, but long term it will make you miserable and create a vicious cycle that takes the joy out of living and Nourishing our bodies! Guilt makes self-care like moving our bodies and eating a balanced diet into penance or a weapon. I'm all for learning and moving toward living guiltlessly and enjoying taking care of my body, which does include rest days and carrot cake :-)

  3. I get incredibly frustrated when I see campaigns built around the concept of guilt. I don't feel like shaming individuals is an effective - or ethical - means of sustainable behavior change. In the end, shame creates dependence and a lack of self-confidence that only undermine health rather than support it. With regard to the study, asking patients about what motivates them is very different than truly assessing it. It may seem like guilt is effective in the moment - we're so used to it! - but it's evident from longer term studies that shame-based approaches don't work.

    And that advertisement pictured makes me cringe!

  4. Thank you for this wonderful post and thoughtful comments. Food guilt is a toxic thought process that only motivates us with negative energy. True happiness cannot come out of this. As Elizabeth mentioned, there are so many incredible, positive, inspiring reasons to love our bodies enough to move them. There are also studies out there that report that positivity and confidence improve performance, and I have seen this firsthand in myself. It's time to turn the tables on Guilt!!!

  5. From personal experience, I feel 10x better after a workout that I choose to do, apposed to a workout that I HAVE to do. It's disappointing to see a company that is supposed to be helping people be healthy, is guilt-tripping consumers into running off their mac and cheese. Their marketing team obviously doesn't consist of RDs! =)

  6. We put enough pressure on ourselves... now we have to look at ads guilting us into exercising for mac and cheese?

    Good thing I didn't want to eat that anyway j/k

    Thanks for bringing this very thought-provoking topic up!

  7. It seems to me that the missing piece is whether we're confusing guilt with shame. It's one thing and potentially motivating in a positive way to feel guilt over past conduct and resolving to do better in the future as much as possible. It's quite another to feel shameful over past conduct, which will NOT lead to changed behaviors. It just leads to feeling bad about oneself and probably more overeating (or undereating if that's your issue).

    True guilt in small doses can be good, but NOT if it turns into shame.

  8. Great reality check. This is why I love this blog :)

  9. Great post. It is sad that guilt and/or easy fixes are the media's go-to campaigns when it comes to fitness or weight. That advertisement makes me sick...they don't understand the negative issues that they are creating with that message...restrictive eating or even eating disorders.

  10. Hey ladies, I hope you don't mind but I plugged your blog post today. I think what you guys are doing is great and love the blog - and it just so happened that yesterday I mentioned I was blogging about this same topic today! Thanks again!

  11. How interesting that this ad uses the word earn. I can't imagine working out long enough and hard enough to earn at least a 500+ calorie dish. But I don't exercise... however I can certainly earn a dish of Mac'n'cheese if I build it into what I am eating for the day. No guilt just conscious thought.

    I think guilt comes into play when people are not comfortable with their actions. Or worse, when they are not making an active choice. You eat it- own it. You don't want to work out- own it. But doing something because you should or because you feel shame or because it's habit-- I think that's the problem and that to me is where you find guilt. It's hard working paying attention and making peace with self but for me, it's better than feeling guilty.

  12. Are you guys serious? If we all took advertising literally, we would think that babies really use eTrade and that frogs really drink Budweiser. How about we appreciate a lighthearted campaign. And eat some mac n' cheese while you're at it.

  13. We are very sorry that this transit billboard was offensive to you and others. Perhaps seeing this one message out of the context of all the messages the gym is trying to promote does make it seems as though it is a guilt campaign. But if you happen to see the other billboards and signage around you’ll find messages like “Cancel anytime without pretending you’ve moved,” and “Hot new fitness trend: not getting ripped off.” GymIt is a new gym that is about including everybody—its very mission is to provide an opportunity for anyone to join a gym thanks to its low cost, lack of contractual commitments, no pushy sales people and having just the features you need to work out (great equipment, modern fancy juice bars or tanning beds). GymIt is a gym for regular folks and the reference to Mac n’ Cheese was trying to speak more to that audience rather then guilt them.

    I assure you that the purpose of the ad is not to guilt anyone. Most Gyms feature "Hard Bodies" and sexual innuendo in their ad campaigns. We do not like that, it is intimidating and gives a bad perception of the meaning of being fit. This is why we went with a more light hearted campaign. We will be sure to keep your comments in mind for future ads.

    I couldn't agree more with your comment "Go because it makes you feel alive, healthy, strong and beautiful!" Very well said.

    Feel free to comment here or email me if you have any questions:

    Matt Harrington
    President, GymIt