How to Overcome Guilty Pleasures

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Recently I was working with a client who had struggled for years with being overweight. As we talked about how hard it had been for her I could tell she was getting upset. So I said to her, “It sounds like you’re really frustrated by this diet thing.”

“Yeah!” She said, “It’s so hard, because for years I used food to treat myself. It’s been there when I’ve felt lonely or sad. It’s helped me relax after a long days and when I wanted to celebrate something. It’s like without food I don’t know how else to take care of myself.“

We Are All Guilty
We are all like this. You may binge on television, exercise, or hiding from the world inside romance novels. But no matter who you are, you have at least one guilty pleasure or habit of self care you believe that you’re better off without.

And at this point I’m supposed to tell you that true character is built by overcoming your desires and living a clean life on the straight and narrow…except I think that’s mostly bullshit. So rather than give you the age old adage about self control, I’m going to tell you the truth.

The Real Problem with Guilty Pleasures –
The real problem with Guilty Pleasures is that they’re guilty. The guilt makes you feel bad and hide your behavior from your friends, family, and even your own mind. But for the most part there isn’t anything wrong with your guilty pleasures.

You need your guilty pleasures, because they work for you. Food is comforting, a glass of wine at night is relaxing, TV is fun to watch, and hitting the snooze button feels friggin’ luxurious.

That’s why letting go of guilty pleasures is so hard. Because you’re not only denying yourself the TV or bag of chips; you’re denying yourself the relaxation, happiness, and fun they’re associated with.

How to Overcome A Guilty Pleasure

Fear not! There is hope. While letting go of a guilty pleasure is hard, there’s another way. Instead of trying to eradicate this strategy that works, you have to replace and dilute it with other forms of self care. This way, instead choosing between comfort and no comfort, you’re choosing between food comfort and massage comfort. But to make this work you have to get creative.

Here are 3 creative solutions to overcoming guilty pleasures that I came up with to solve problems for myself or for my client.

1. Self Care Snacks
Make a list of 5 – 10 self care activities that you can do at a moments notice. And then write each activity on small strips of paper and put the strips in a tupperware container. Then label the container SELF CARE SNACKS and place it prominently in your fridge.

The next time you go for a snack, open the container and draw a slip. Your task then becomes to do the that activity for 5 – 10 mins. If after you get done you’re still hungry, snack away, but if you notice your hunger has passed, then maybe you weren’t so hungry after all.

Here are some activities you might include:

  • Go for a walk
  • Sing a song
  • Dance around your house
  • Call a friend
  • Write a thank you note
  • Smile at yourself in a mirror

2. The TV/Netflix Delay
Put a note on your remote or a reminder by your computer to do one household chore before you sit down to veg out. Then promise yourself to do this chore before you watch TV.

While doing this chore, reflect on why you want to watch TV. Do you need to relax? Could you read instead? What are you trying to avoid by watching TV?

If at the end of your chore you still want to watch, then go ahead, but this way you’ll give yourself a chance to think about other ways you could relax before you watch TV. Plus you’ll have the added bonus of a cleaner house.

3. The Dollar Email Challenge
Go to the bank and take out $50 in one dollar bills, put some in your wallet and some at your desk. Make a deal with yourself to not check your email except for specified times and at least no more than twice a day.

You can give yourself permission to check your email outside these times, but each time you do you have to give away a dollar before you check. So find your office mate or go outside and give the dollar away.

Not only will this deter you from checking email it will also give you a fun and connective way to offer gratitude and generosity to those around you.

Ok now it’s your turn. Think about one guilty pleasure you have and come up with a creative way to look for other ways to meet your needs. Remember be creative. Your solution should be fun and interesting, because the more fun, the more likely it is that it will work.

I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

Everyone has guilty pleasures and the only real problem with them is that they make you feel guilty. And that makes you less likely to think about them and thus more likely to keep doing them.

What if you stopped trying to get rid of the shameful but effective strategies in your life and instead found creative ways to replace them with “less guilty” pleasures? (e.g. reading a book instead of watching TV, taking a walk instead of having a snack when you’re bored, or giving away a dollar instead of mindless checking email.)

If you simply did something interesting that made you feel better instead of doing the same old thing, you never know what you might discover.