The Effect of Mommy Guilt on Behavior Change.

A major component of my job as a personal trainer is behavior change; clients essentially come to me for help in altering their habits in the hopes of reaching a particular goal. Through my certifications, and also my previous experiences in social work and church ministry, I have become well versed on the concept of behavior change, and I believe my role in this can be summed up in one notion: “MEET CLIENTS WHERE THEY ARE -NOT WHERE YOU WANT THEM TO BE”.

What exactly does this mean? It means that even though I am the expert  as the fitness professional, the client is the expert on herself. So if I come into our first meeting telling her the a list of ways that “I” think she should implement healthier behavior, I am not meeting her where she is. I would not be effective in my role if I preach at my clients, or outright condemn their lifestyle choices because not only is it unmotivational, it does nothing to enhance the dignity or respect of the individual. Shaming or blaming food choices or lifestyle choices does not inspire a woman to want to change, nor does it build a rapport with her. The first thing I say to clients is thank you for being brave enough to ask for help and for trusting me with your story. It takes courage and a vulnerability to admit that we need help and to make changes, and it is so important to me to let a client know how much I appreciate that trust in me.

However for women with significant others and/or children, there is an additional factor that affects behavior change that I don’t believe is addressed enough if at all: Mommy guilt.

You ladies know what I am talking about; that feeling that no matter what, we are not doing enough, that something or someone is being neglected, and as a result we are horrible moms. When this feeling becomes entwined with our desire to make personal changes, it can have a profound impact on our success. For example, our own self-care or personal agendas are usually on the back burner if they even make it to the stove! We feel guilty for putting ourselves and our needs first for some reason, but it is so important to remember that self-care is not selfish! We’re instructed to secure our own air masks before assisting others-because we can’t effectively help others if we’re not taken care of.

Another factor that I take into account with clients who have spouses and families, especially when it comes to nutrition, is that more often than not, the spouses/children have different tastes/dietary needs than they do. Which means that if a woman wants to change her food choices, often she has to make a separate meal for herself, which over time can understandably adversely affect adherence. However rather than account for the external factor, a woman will often place the blame entirely on herself and wind up feeling guilty that she had difficulty sticking to the changes.

The fact of the matter is that change is a process; it is not going to happen overnight and certainly not without setbacks. For me as a trainer, asking questions is the best way to find out about a woman and her day to day life, which helps me to find ways within her reality, to embrace behaviors and habits that support her goals. Talking in a non-judgmental way allows the opportunity for education, which empowers a client to make choices that will help her achieve the change she is seeking. Equally as important is realizing that the changes we seek to make are being made with several external factors influencing us, which is why planning for setbacks, and most importantly forgiving ourselves for setbacks are crucial components of lasting behavior change.

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