The other day a client told me how upset and guilty she felt because she’d indulged in two peppermint patties the night before. “I’d been good all day, but then I got in an argument with my husband, and the next thing I knew, I was eating, actually scarfing, those darn candies,” she said.

I asked her how guilty she felt on a scale from 1 to 10. She said she was at an 8, and she went on to say that she’d been so upset with herself that she’d gone to bed instead of working on the screenplay she was writing. I pointed out that this was an awful lot of energy to carry around for 120 calories. I asked her how she’d felt while she was eating the candies.

“I love peppermint patties. They taste so good,” she said.

Setbacks like having an unplanned dessert aren’t that big a deal; it’s the guilt, shame, and remorse you bombard yourself with that really set you up for self­sabotage and throw you off track. The reality is that slipping off your eating plan will happen from time to time. Your brain is wired so the irrational sometimes wins out.

You have a couple of options. One is to pause any time you feel triggered and address with awareness what is going on by saying something like, “I know I’m upset right now, and I have every right to feel what I feel. Sugar will give me a temporary feeling of pleasure.” Then you have to decide on your next step. One possibility is to delay the gratification by promising yourself that you will have the treat in 45 minutes if you still feel like it (often a craving will pass, and so will triggered emotions, in about 20 minutes).

The second option is to go ahead and have the treat but be fully aware that you are making a conscious choice and that you are going to enjoy it and have no bad feelings connected to it. You can adjust the rest of your menu or do a longer workout for that day, or the next day, to compensate for the treat. Then, if you are going to have your dessert, really enjoy it. I would have told my client to put those peppermint patties on a plate and sit down without any distractions, so she could have the full experience and not just stuff them in her mouth.

Finally, kiss remorse goodbye. Guilt and shame are toxic emotions. They can cause further overeating or damage your self-­worth, drain your energy, waste your time, and keep you from getting back on track.

Click here to buy Joel Harper’s book, Mind Your Body: 4 Weeks to a Leaner, Healthier Life.

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