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The Power of Shame May Not Be Key to Curb Overeating


In one of the latest pieces done by Psychology Today’s Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., she examines the role of shame in those who are considering illegal action, as well as those considering breaking dieting “rules.” According to the report, shame is not effective in both instances.

Petty theft, prostitution solicitation and having unprotected sex all seem to positively respond to the “shame” factor. Local shops make thieves pose for pictures with their stolen object and post it on the wall and the petty theft rate goes down. To further illustrate her point, McGonigal quotes Chicago mayor Richard Daley on his policy of shaming those who solicit prostitutes by printing their name and picture in the paper. In a press conference he said, “We’re telling everyone who sets foot in Chicago, if you solicit a prostitute, you will be arrested. And when you are arrested, people will know. Your spouse, children, friends, neighbors, and employers will know."

McGonigal insists the same is not true for shame and overeating. Most binge eaters when they go off their diet, the shame they feel can propel them to eat more, not less. She calls this the “what-the-hell” effect. Other behaviors, such as gambling or smoking, also respond in a similar fashion. She calls for more self-compassion for those seeking relief from the power of food addiction. She also recommends several books, including There’s Nothing Wrong With You by Cheri Huber.