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Never feeling guilt or shame anymore about what you eat?

13 Feb 2019
by Aimée Kuntz

Food & yoga postures: the impact of guilt, shame and feeling proud - how to use compassion, respect and love instead

If you have been practicing yoga for a while, chances are that yoga has also influenced your diet. Perhaps because your yoga practice then feels easier. Or because you now naturally have fewer cravings and/or have more appetite for healthier foods. Or because you became more aware of other nutritional possibilities. Often this helps you to make effective changes gradually and naturally. All with the effect that you will feel better and better over time.


But sometimes... there may also rise an aspect in this journey that is actually not helping at all. Just as with other aspects of our lives, we are influenced by other people with regard to nutrition. Not that this is bad in itself. We even need each other to learn an live our life! By learning from each other, we shorten our learning process tremendously. But the moment we hold up ‘perfect pictures’ for each other, it can also have adverse effects on our mental health.


For example if you feel guilty if you (don’t) eat what you THINK you should eat. Or if you feel proud if you can temporarily follow your self-imposed strict diet. I personally think that this approach could even make someone vulnerable to eating disorders or unhealthy dietary patterns. But even without that, if you’re feeling that you are not enough because you are not fulfilling the conditions x, y & z, these ideas aren’t helping you to feel better.


The moment we hold up a perfect picture, we become vulnerable to feel ashamed or guilty if we’re not complying with this image. Or to feel proud (and feel better than others) if one is (temporarily) succeeding. In other words, when we put ourselves or others on a pedestal or by the opposite in bringing ourselves/others down. This feeling could clearly stand out, but it often has the tendency to sneak in so slightly that one is not aware what is causing this feeling.


Striving for a diet that you would make you feel proud is a different approach than choosing for food that makes you feel energized and emotionally stable. So based on its effect on your physical and emotional body Using self-care and self-compassion instead of judgment.


In my own 'self-examination', I noticed that sometimes we are not aware at all whether we act out of guilt, shame or pride. When I was asked whether guilt, shame and/or pride play a role in my life, I thought that this wasn’t really the case. Anyway, not for so far I was aware of. That the challenge that was keeping me busy was the choice between fear and love: the fear of not being enough, not doing enough, doing things wrong and so on.


But the question planted a seed in my mind, to start becoming more aware of where it might affect me. Over time I began to notice that it could also be hiding behind fear. For example if you would like to choose for foods that works best for you, one can find guilty about what is needed for that. Like the adjustments if you eat together with others that have a different food pattern. I found it sometimes difficult to be clear about what I needed (while still acting kind). Because it could occur that someone then had to make adjustments for me, or that it should be okay if I would bring something myself. Behind my fear that others wouldn’t understand or judge my choices was a feeling of guilt and shame about why I had to be different (again). Or for feeling afraid of the possibility that they would feel that my choices would be extreme.


The answer? For me it helped to go back to the choice 'fear or love'. How would I feel and act if I would choose from a place of love? Love for what I think I need and what others think they need at the same time. From a place of compassion and self-compassion. Here, there is respect for your own choices as well of the choices of others. For me, this feels very different than choices based on pride. Precisely because it allows everybody to be and feel accepted. A choice that comes from a warm feeling in your heart and were you won’t hear those little critical voices in your head.


Actually (or of course) it works the same way in yoga postures. Do you practice the yoga postures from what gives you the maximal therapeutic value or are you focused on a perfect picture? Do you sometimes have the tendency to go deeper in a yoga posture without the technique to support it (even when you are aware of it)? Or do you feel self-doubt if you would opt for the variance or stage of the posture that corresponds to what would help you therapeutically the most right there? Or do you sometimes have the tendency to completely avoid (the set-up of) a yoga posture because you think it is an 'all or nothing' choice instead of exploring your personal starting point (and work from there)?

  • What are the moments where you could let go of a judgment about your yoga postures and/or body and could work more from a place of self-compassion, respect and love?


Another frequent occurring variance is when someone thinks he/she is too inflexible, weak, fat or old to practice yoga. While this is never the case! Of course some yoga styles can better fit your circumstances than others at the moment, but yoga is meant to be therapeutic and inclusive. Besides that we can explore different styles ourselves to find a good fit, we can also help each other by making others feel welcome to come to and practice yoga.


In the application on both food patterns as well as yoga postures, one can distinguish between focusing on the outcome and the process. Focusing on the 'outcome' is more likely to go together with guilt, shame and pride. While to focus on the process, feelings like compassion, respect and love are almost necessary. Just like satisfaction, attention, joy, self-discipline and patience. Doesn’t that feel much better?


For a process-oriented approach, my suggestion is to keep on figuring out what works for your body. Precisely because your body is constantly changing: after all, your body is part of nature.


Yes, it might certainly be worthwhile to take recommendations of others into account, because they can shorten your quest. But in the end, you only know if something really brings you an improvement if you start feeling what the effect is on your body, emotions and thoughts. It’s a process of tuning in: an inner practice.


The more often you focus your attention on tuning in, the more patterns you will begin to recognize within your observations. Eventually, it will become easier to recognize not only the direct effects such as pain or pleasure, but also to connect it to the effects later on the day (or even many days after). Like what happens to your mobility, energy, clarity and emotions. Both by what you eat and by how you practice yoga postures. Or maybe even by how your thoughts affect you... And as soon as you begin to feel the effect on you, it becomes easier to choose things that work better for you. Because choosing based on your experience what works for you is easier than based of guilt, shame or feeling proud.


Feeling shame, guilt or proud is not limited to food and yoga postures; you can apply it to an infinite amount of topics. Like how you perceive your work(status), income, how different bodies look like, fertility or environment issues. The dynamics of guilt, shame and pride makes solving issues not easier…. but it does make life more complicated for a lot of people. By the way, the photo above this blog is already an old one. But I hadn’t used it before because I was judging how my body looks on it. For that reason I thought it was the perfect photo to use it now. Also to help myself to accept my own body more completely, including the story it tells.


For more possible topics, you could explore the things that annoy you or where you struggle with during the day. Can you perceive it differently if you would use the theme of this blog? If that is difficult, you can always first go back to your yoga postures. Both to your physical practice as to your thoughts about it. The more you practice, the easier it becomes to apply it to other parts of your life. There is a good working system behind yoga. ;-)


YogaHabits recommendations:

  • Focus on the process instead on the outcome/progress/perfect image
  • How would you choose of you would act from a place of compassion, love, respect for both yourself and others?
  • Reflection / journal exercise: write about how guilt, shame and pride affects your life. What is the fear underneath this? If you would advise your best friend to choose from a place of love, what would you tell them? Is there another subject in your life where these questions could help you?


Enjoy your YogaHabits© today with love and light!



Aimée Kuntz


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13 Jul 2019
p.s. check out orthorexia, which is not uncommon among yogis
13 Jul 2019
Yes, great points. Perhaps yoga teachers and schools can also put some thought into the messages they send out by promoting vegan and vegetarian diets. Some people cannot be vegan for medical reasons yet they are constantly bombarded with the notion that eating meat=bad. THIS is shaming and degrading for the students. It is not as black and white as this anyway. Plenty of vegan foods are unhealthy, or are produced in ways which lead to suffering of people or animals (e.g. deforestation to grow quinoa crops which are then too expensive for the local people to buy, so it gets transported halfway across the planet to the rich westerners instead...)
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