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Why shame isn't the secret to weight loss success

Be honest: did you ever think you could shame yourself into kick-starting weight loss by creating a total and utter feeling of disgust with yourself? Pinching at your flesh in the mirror, eating until you feel physically ill – purposefully looking for something to hate and (please, please) motivate.

This thought came to mind as I read about a recent outrage over fat-shaming cartoons in the cubicle of a high fashion office. Of course, many are concerned about the company message this sends or the clients they will lose – but I wonder about the woman in whose office it was posted. Did she post these cartoons as motivation? Does she stare at them on a daily basis as reminder that she’s not good enough, that she’ll never be good enough until she swears off carbs and loses weight? Did someone give these to her as a joke or as an in-your-face reminder of their joint pledge to drop 25 lbs by summer?

If that’s the case, she certainly wouldn’t be the first person to think she could shame herself into losing weight. But in fact, shame couldn’t be much further from a true lasting motivator to create a lifestyle change. Let’s consider this from a different perspective. Let’s say your best friend or your spouse or even your child came to you and expressed an overall dissatisfaction with his or her body and a desire to lose weight. Would you say:

a) “About time….I’ve been waiting for you to get so disgusted with yourself you decided to do something about it.”

b) “Yes! You’ll be such a better and happier person if you just lose some weight. Down with carbs!”

c) “Thanks for feeling comfortable sharing this with me, I know it’s tough. How can I help you in a positive way?”

I think the most appropriate response is obvious, but what’s not so obvious is that most people actually have dialogues similar to a) and b) with themselves. And trying to shame yourself into change is, in truth, anti-productive. You don’t have to love your current size, and wanting to lose weight isn’t a bad thing, but you do need to respect your body. Even if you catch yourself having a negative thought about yourself you have the power to analyze it from a neutral perspective and determine how you will act. It’s the difference between:

“I hate how my thighs rub together…I can’t believe I ate myself out of this size…tomorrow I’m back to 1000 calories”


“I hate how my thighs rub together…I really need to wear clothes that are more comfortable for my body…that way I can concentrate on how good I feel when walking rather than my discomfort.”

So the next time shame is creeping its way into your motivational toolbox, try flipping the table and using self-compassion instead. It can go a long way in freeing up your mind to make sustainable lifestyle choices.

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