Ditching food guilt, and creating a bigger conversation

Every time I see “guilt-free” descriptions on recipes or blogs, I’m amazed and sad. I have a strong dislike of the whole guilt thing.

It just makes no sense when you think about it. Why should eating make us feel guilty? Why should enjoying food be a source of guilt? Because when we talk about “guilt-free” desserts, it usually implies there are foods we feel guilty about eating. Foods that are bad, foods that WE’RE bad for having. SINful foods.  Prime example: the slutty brownies recipe that was making the rounds earlier.

Do you remember Snackwell cookies? I was talking about them with my hubby, and he had the best take on them. “Those things were gross. You’d eat the whole box, and then get desperate enough to try the cookies that came inside the box”. The only reason why people at them was they were “guilt-free”. No, I’m not saying your guilt-free cake isn’t delicious, but the mentality behind it remains the same.

Usually right after someone talks about making a “guilt free” dessert, invariably the next chocrasp.jpgcomment is: “Since this doesn’t have (sugar, gluten, fat, etc.) I had 2 big pieces!” or “so I didn’t feel bad about eating half of it!” etc.

I think that’s the problem. We eat more than our bodies need or want of foods we’ve identified as freebies. After all, they don’t count.

And we generally enjoy them less, too.


It’s food.

Just food.

Not a matter of personal virtue.

Why give your power away to a piece of cheesecake? Or your scale, for that matter?

Some foods have more nutrients than others. Some foods that make you feel well and foods that make you feel poorly. Honestly, that’s a different conversation.  It’s wise to eat in a way that fuels us and give us the energy to enjoy life.

So as a super-special request, please ponder it for a minute.

Think back to the last food you labeled “guilt-free”. Did you eat more simply because you labeled it as a “good” food? If so, why?

And think back to the last time you ate a food you labeled “bad”. Did you feel guilty? Ashamed? Angry at yourself? Or did you simply enjoy the tastes, textures and flavors?

You and I, we create our norms based on the ways we speak and what we see and hear from others. What think and what we say matters. Bloggers, authors, teachers, parents, nutrition professionals…our words ripple out and influence our definition of normal.

I know this may sound like making a lot out of nothing, but I wish we could stop normalizing disordered eating.

I’m getting off my soapbox now…

And happy National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

About Cheryl Harris

Life played a funny trick on me. I've studied nutrition for years, and much to my surprise, found out that I could manage many of my health issues via diet. I've been GF for years, and I've got a bunch of allergies and sensitivities. But it definitely doesn't keep me from cooking, baking and enjoying my food. Thanks for stopping by.
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7 Responses to Ditching food guilt, and creating a bigger conversation

  1. Iris says:

    This needs to be repeated over and over. Thank you for saying it!

  2. I’ve avoided the words “guilt-free” since I started my blog, mostly because at that time I didn’t know the difference between guilt and shame. Simply put, guilt is “I made a mistake” while shame is “I am a mistake”. I think a lot of us associate shame issues with food, but I don’t want either feeling when I eat. So I try and make food, including desserts, that make me feel good after eating them, so it is neither about guilt nor shame but nutrients & nourishment. Great post!

  3. Thank you, Iris! It’s hard to nourish yourself if you’re busy feeling guilty about it.

    Kate, I like your definitions. I think food guilt and food shame overlap so greatly, and I know for me, they took up way too much real estate in my life for way too long.

  4. Angela Sommers says:

    Thanks for the great post! I couldn’t agree more! I do enjoy my food, and as my mother (who unfortunately is already gone to heaven) would say, with a big smile, “It was worth every single calorie!”
    By the way, can you please point me to the recipe for that awesome looking cake on that blog post, because I want to completely enjoy a piece 😉

  5. Angela,
    That’s awesome.
    I think the cake was from Karina, the GF Goddess http://glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com/2006/02/dark-goddess-cake.html
    but I’m not 100% sure.

  6. Thanks for this post, Cheryl. I’ve had a real problem with certain words being associated with food. I won’t use them and I wince when I read them. That we need this discussion at all plus a negative comment on my Facebook page along somewhat similar lines both cause me angst. We’ll “keep on keeping on” and hoping that such labels and words become a thing of the past.


  7. Hi Shirley,
    I have the exact same response to food guilting. It does seem that there’s growing consensus that it’s healthy and normal to enjoy food, which is fantastic.

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