"Forgiving Yourself" by Dr. Beth Wagner

This is a story about forgiveness. About forgiving yourself...or in this case, forgiving myself. The story starts in early December in a quaint little town in Vermont. My town. As the days got darker, shorter, and colder, my desire for exercise dropped as fast as the temperatures. December is the perfect equation for losing motivation to work out: (Cold temps + darkness + Christmas prep) x Christmas cookies= Screw you, I’m not going to the gym. Every year I struggle, and every year I feel so guilty for letting myself go.

This year, I decided to take matters into my own hands. No, don’t be silly, I didn’t hire a trainer, personal chef, and accountability coach. This is not that kind of story. Nope, this year I decided that I’d lean into the darkness, cold, and sugar, and I would let go of the guilt. I decided to be kind to myself, to give myself permission to be naughty without guilt. It was like an episode of Oprah’s favorite things, and I was giving myself the gifts of forgiveness and grace...and lots of calories!!  This was going to be a great month.

And it was. I let go of all the guilt whilst stuffing my face with cookies, chocolates, more cookies, chex mix, and then a few more cookies...and lots of wine. Sure, I exercised here and there, but I didn’t hold myself to any schedule. It definitely was not enough to offset the caloric load I was pounding down on the daily. I felt free, without abandon. It was delicious and so easy to not be hard on myself. But let’s get one thing straight- when it is dark at 4 p.m. and one is wearing cozy, elastic waist pants while snacking on a sugar cookie, forgiveness is a piece of cake (figuratively and literally).

Fast forward 4-6 weeks to the end of January, and I was exercising again, eating healthy again. Now, I’m staving off cookies and junk food. I’m still drinking wine, because come on, guys, I’m not a monk! My pants are a lot tighter, my hips are a lot rounder, and I have cellulite on my arms. “Cellulite can grow on arms!?!?!” you ask. Yes, the upper extremities are where confectioners’ sugar goes to die. Now you know. It would appear that my sins have caught up to me. It’s time for forgiveness 2.0.

We are our own worst enemies. There is a voice inside of us that tells us we aren’t good enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, that we have too much arm cellulite. That voice can be tough. That voice can be a bully. That voice seems pretty content when you are bathing her in sugar. But when the sugar high wears off, that voice is a B. I thought I was taking December to practice the art of grace and forgiveness. As it turns out, I was preparing myself to forgive in January. As I look at myself under the harsh fluorescent lights of my gym, I ask myself “Did you really need to eat that entire loaf of banana bread?” The answer is yes, I had critically low potassium levels and without it, I would have died (editor’s note: not true, you can’t cure fake hypokalemia with banana bread, that is not a thing). What I really need to tell myself is “forgive, forgive, forgive…” It’s really hard.

I thought by gifting myself grace in December I was doing myself a favor. What it did was turn me into a monster with no self-restraint in December and a sluggish monster full of self-remorse in January. Now is the time for grace and forgiveness. Sure, I may be 5-10 pounds heavier and my wobbly bits are a bit wobblier, but I had a wonderful holiday season. I laughed, played, and enjoyed my cookies. I created beautiful memories with my kids, who will never look back on their life and think “remember when mom got chubby after that indulgent Christmas?” I need to let go of the guilt and shut down that voice in my head.

This is a story that ends happily. It ends with me waking up and realizing that forgiveness isn’t seasonal. This isn’t just a story about eating too much and feeling fat. It’s about treating yourself kindly all year round, mentally and physically. You can’t forgive yourself one month and then beat yourself up the next. I was unrealistic with my month of absolution. I thought that I could forgive myself while stuffing my face and never worry about it again. Poof- sins absolved!! In January, the real work started. I’m going easy on myself. I’m ignoring the negative voice and focusing on the positive. I’m looking past the arm cellulite at the gym. Instead, focusing on the sweat and the guy on the stair climber with a baby strapped to his chest...yes there is a guy who wears a baby at my gym (only in Vermont)! I’m doing what it takes to get back on track, and I’m starting to get my energy back. I’m forgiving myself. This time it’s for real. 


Dr. Beth Wagner works as a Hospitalist at Central Vermont Medical Center and lives in Montpelier, Vermont. When she's not professionally nagging people back to health at the hospital, Beth is hanging with her hunky husband and two adorable children. Beth also enjoys watching garbage television (Bachelor and Real Housewives), shopping online, and drinking wine...preferably performed simultaneously while wearing sweatpants.