Forget the Guilt—Have the Pleasure Instead

by [email protected]  Nov 20, 2013

Co-written by Patricia Black

Everyone’s heard of “guilty pleasures.” What comes to mind for you? Hot fudge sundaes? Thick cut bread slathered with butter? Fried anything… you get the idea.

It’s that thing you think you want, because it would feel soooo good in the moment. And then you eat it, and you feel sooooo bad for having indulged in something that is “bad” for you. All kinds of thoughts crop up, berating you for your weakness for having given in to temptation, and that’s where the guilt comes in. It takes away all the pleasure you felt in the first place and convinces you that you need to clamp down, have more control, and you’ll do better next time. But we all know what happens...and you end up finding yourself in a vicious cycle. The reason we fall into the cycle is because we believe that the guilt somehow saves us from ourselves—without the guilt, we would be lost, totally off the rails and out of control. So we exalt the guilt.

Guilt after the fact actually destroys most of the pleasure. As a culture, we trust guilt, because it confirms us being in the wrong, rather than pleasure, which would always have us be in the right.

We have the perfect example of this in Thanksgiving, a nationally sanctioned feast,which we don’t allow ourselves to have unless we do penance with plenty of guilt. It goes back to our Puritan roots as Americans.

This Puritan thread is woven into our conversation around body and food. We live in constant judgment. How can we possibly know what our bodies actually want and need, when we are so programmed to judge those desires? We all have long lists of “good” (virtuous; read: bland, tasteless, boring) foods and “bad” (read: sexy, decadent, fatty) foods. But the body doesn’t work like that, and neither does desire.

When you listen to the story of how it should be, you don’t pay any attention to what your body actually needs, wants, and craves. Food is more than something that simply takes away hunger, it actually holds information that speaks to your body. The way your body interacts with the food in digesting it creates sensation, for example bloating, energy spikes, headaches, etc. Sensation is neither good nor bad, it’s information or feedback. When you listen to that feedback, you can get in touch with what’s actually happening in your body and let go of the judgments, and therefore the guilt.

So, how do you get to a place where you are free from these judgments? In Orgasmic Meditation, the practice is goalless, and the only thing to do is to feel sensation in your body. You can create a similar practice around food by using a food-mood journal. Writing down what you eat and how you feel will give you a container in which to notice what is actually happening, rather than relying on old story. So you tend to feel sleepy and want to run for a coffee about 3 pm—is that your body’s natural rhythm, or simply the effect of what you had for lunch? By taking stock regularly, you can start to form a fuller picture of what’s really going on in your body. To create your own food-mood journal:

  • Using your smartphone or a small notebook, record everything you eat and drink, along with the time you ate it, immediately upon finishing. Notice how you feel right after your meal/snack - full, still hungry, sleepy, satisfied, guilty, etc. and record that as well.

  • Two hours after eating (set a timer if you need a reminder), check in with your body. Do a full scan, and notice what’s there. Are you feeling energized, sleepy, heavy, craving something sweet, bloated, head aching? What’s your mood like? This is the most important step, because about two hours after you eat is when you’ll feel the effects of the food.

  • Do this at every meal for at least 5 days, and a picture of what your body likes and doesn’t like will begin to emerge. You are keeping this journal to research and get data on how what and when you eat affects you. The purpose of this journal is NOT to beat yourself up for eating something “bad.” Gradually, this practice can help you cultivate awareness and compassion for yourself, and also a newfound appreciation for your body and it’s myriad sensations.

By keeping a food-mood journal, you are collecting information, which gives you the power to make informed decisions. The judgments of good and bad can fall away, because then there are simply foods that make you feel good, and foods that don’t. The choice simply becomes “How do I want to feel?” With this practice, you have the opportunity to cultivate kindness toward yourself, which in the long run is a better strategy for making the choices that will have you feel good, rather than the old way of trying to guilt yourself into submission. And then, you can actually have a practice of eating for enjoyment, which we’ll talk about in our next article.