The Huge Problem With Guilty-Pleasure Foods


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“What are your favorite guilty-pleasure foods?” the interviewer posed.

“I don’t have ‘guilty pleasures,’” I retorted before continuing, “I refuse to experience guilt or shame from eating food.” My answer was received with a stunned silence. Clearly this wasn’t a response she’d ever received to the common, playful question. And I had just sucked all the fun out of it.

This wasn’t always the case. Over a decade ago any food that I didn’t deem “clean” was labeled as a guilty pleasure. And my list was lengthy. Guilty pleasure is a phrase I refuse to use, unless it’s to say how stupid and harmful that term can be, and why we should banish it from our health and fitness vocabulary.

Guilt begets guilt. Someone who labels food good and bad unintentionally gives food the ability to affect their mood and sense of self. If they eat something good then they think of themselves as good; eat something bad and they consider themselves to be bad and reflexively pile on guilt and shame.

This can lead to many unforeseen consequences such as (a) using exercise as punishment to “make up” for the transgression, (b) vowing to restrict food intake the rest of the day, or into the following day, to “make up” for the offense, or (c) exacerbating disordered/binge eating habits from reinforcing a deeply ingrained habit (e.g., telling oneself she “screwed up” from eating a guilty-pleasure food and responding in an unhealthy manner).

Have you experienced any of those? I’ve done all three of them, more times than I can recall, and it causes the ugly side of health and fitness to rear its grotesque head. And that is why I refuse to have guilty-pleasure foods. That is why I’m encouraging you to purge that term from your food-choices vocabulary.

Food should just be food — it shouldn’t have moral implications attached to it. Munching on an apple you grew from the tree in your backyard doesn’t make you innocent/good just as enjoying your favorite candy bar that’s been buried in your purse for three months doesn’t make you guilty/bad.

Choice, Not Guilt

If you want to improve your eating habits, here’s a simple pragmatic guideline that’s void of unnecessary moral implications: Be choosy with the not-the-most-healthy foods and beverages you happily, unapologetically indulge in, absolutely guilt free. This is the difference between snacking on the candy dish at work throughout the day, just because it’s there, even though you don’t really enjoy that food, and choosing instead to wait to eat a dessert you truly enjoy and savoring every delectable mouthful.

Here’s another way to look at this choice, not guilt solution.

Consider two kids who each receive a ten-dollar allowance every week. One kid immediately blows his newfound riches on the first item he sees at the first presented opportunity. But the other kid knows that just because she has ten dollars to spend doesn’t mean she needs to part with it on the first opportunity that comes along. She will take her time and intentionally choose what she really wants.

Be like the latter child when it comes to the favorite not-the-most-healthy foods you choose to eat and enjoy. Choose to eat more of the foods that nourish and satisfy you, and consciously eat less of the other stuff. Not banning it or branding it with harmful labels but being selective about what you choose to indulge in, free from the monstrous weight of guilt that accompanies a good food/bad food dichotomy.

So the next time someone asks you what your favorite guilty-pleasure foods are, perhaps you’ll respond that you no longer have any, because you refuse to feel guilty from eating food.

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