How often do you see headlines like these in magazines, articles and blogs to announce recipes that are low in calories and fat? I see them a lot, and frankly I’ve referred to ‘guilt-free’ foods right here on the blog several times. So why does the idea of ‘guilt-free eating’ suddenly bother me so much?
We hear a lot about ‘good foods’ and ‘bad foods’; half the time, articles are offering up lists of the best and worst foods, while the rest of the time they’re warning against the dangers of ‘demonizing’ certain foods. I know it’s said that forbidding foods from your diet will only lead to cravings and binges, but I think there’s more to the issue than that.
One of the biggest changes I’ve been trying to make in living a healthier lifestyle is changing my attitude about food. I don’t forbid foods from my diet, or try to force myself to like certain healthy foods that do nothing for me (I’m looking at you, quinoa). And I’ve just added “Forget about guilt-free foods” to my list of goals.
So what’s the harm in pointing out the difference between a nutritious meal and a not-so-healthy treat? After all, knowing a thing or two about nutrition is one of the most critical parts of losing weight, putting on muscle or changing your body in any other way. But the problem with ‘guilt-free’ food is that it emphasizes the idea that we’ve done something wrong when we’ve indulged in treats or favorite foods that are high in calories or fat, when eating what we enjoy is one of the most natural things we can do. Is there really any upside to feeling bad about yourself after eating something that doesn’t make the “health food” cut?
Sadly, there’s so much judgement about what people – particularly women – eat that it’s no surprise that ‘guilty eating’ is pretty much considered normal behavior. It’s gotten to a point where any woman who admits to ordering pizza every Friday night and enjoying a burger and fries on a weekly basis would have a hard time being considered a healthy eater. But what’s healthier than eating a nutritious diet while still being able to enjoy those indulgences without an ounce of shame? Personally, I’d be far more proud to be known as that blogger than as the girl with the unbreakable willpower who hasn’t eaten a brownie in a decade (for the record, I’m neither at this point).
And what’s accomplished by feeling guilty about something you’ve eaten? I can only speak for myself, but that guilt has never stopped me from indulging the next time. It’s one thing to eat a greasy burger, then feel sick to your stomach or have an energy crash and decide burgers are a bad choice for you; that’s learning firsthand how to eat (or not eat) to feel good. But feeling guilty, ashamed or weak-willed about your food choices serves no positive purpose.
Maybe in the grand scheme of all things fitness, nutrition and healthy living, labeling a food as ‘guilt-free’ is an insignificant offense. I know it’s not intended to be make people ashamed of what they eat or encourage disordered eating. But from now on, I’m imposing a ban on foods and recipes labeled ‘guilt-free’ on this blog. It’s a small step, but it’s part of a bigger change in attitude that I hope will pay off in a healthier lifestyle.