• Hannah Peterman, Undergraduate Dietetic Intern

The Guilt-Free Epidemic


If you take a second to type "guilt-free" into your search engine, the large majority of suggestions will be about food! "Guilt-free cheesecake," "guilt-free ice cream," and "guilt-free comfort favorites" are all popular Google searches. On the flip side, other foods are described as "sinfully delicious" to communicate that these foods are especially guilt-inducing.

This plays out in advertising as well. Halo-Top Ice Cream, Eat-Me-Guilt-Free Brownies, and many other food brands are named to appeal to the guilt that plagues American dieters. Basically what they're saying is "you can eat this version of [ice cream, brownies, etc] without feeling bad but you should feel bad about eating these foods otherwise".

Since when does enjoyment of food equate to moral failure? Why is the value of a food decided based on what it does or doesn't contain? Placing a moral value on food often backfires and leads to overeating!

Say you are craving a brownie leftover from the family dinner you had last night. "I shouldn't have one," you think, "It's too high in calories! Let me find something else." You find a piece of fruit to eat in an attempt to satisfy your sweet tooth, but you don't feel satisfied. You then remember that you have some "skinny" chocolate granola bars, so you eat a couple of those in attempt to satisfy your chocolate craving. Even though you're not hungry any more, the brownie still looks good, so you decide to only have half. You get a bit carried away and have a whole one, then you feel guilty, like you've "blown it." Since you've already "messed up," you decide to eat several. Three brownies later, you feel defeated and consumed with guilt! Not to mention your stomach doesn't feel so great. "How could I eat so many brownies after I promised I wouldn't have any? I just have no willpower!"

What would have happened if you had just eaten the brownie when you wanted to? You probably wouldn't have eaten those other foods that didn't satisfy. If you ate it slowly and enjoyed yourself, recognizing that you could have the brownie again at any time, you might find that you're satisfied with one or even part of the brownie.

What if, instead of shunning certain foods only to binge on them later, you allowed all types foods to have a regular presence in your life? What if you could eat your cake and actually enjoy it without the experience being tainted by guilt? Once you stop viewing certain foods as "guilt-worthy," you might be surprised by how much more you enjoy them, and by how much less of them you need to feel satisfied.

#intuitiveeating #foodguilt #bingeeating

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