• Karina Inkster

Let’s kill the term “guilty pleasure” when it comes to food!


I’m not in the business of telling people how they should feel – about food, their own bodies, or anything else for that matter – but I am in the business of making suggestions. Oh, and writing rants about topics I feel need attention.

I was recently having a conversation with a new client about plant-based nutrition, and we came to everyone’s favourite topic: vegan desserts. He asked me, “So, what’re your guilty pleasures?” I answered, “None whatsoever! I assume you’re asking what vegan sweets I like, in which case I’d say dark chocolate, homemade cinnamon rolls, Jujubes, Skittles, chewy ginger candies, and chocolate cake layered with strawberry sauce and vanilla coconut mousse.”

I enjoy these things on a regular basis, and I ain’t guilty about it. Guilt implies that you’ve done something wrong. Since when is enjoying life (and delicious food) doing something wrong?

The term “guilty pleasure” gets used a lot (e.g. in reference to pop culture TV shows or music), and there’s usually nothing wrong with it – except perhaps when it comes to food. We’re already bombarded by enough B.S. messages about how we should eat; the last thing we need is to be told how to feel about food too.

When it relates to pop culture, a “guilty pleasure” is something we enjoy that others don’t deem worthy of praise; something sub-par.

When it relates to food, a “guilty pleasure” is something that’s normally supposed to be “off-limits”; something we’re supposed to feel shame about enjoying.

Why should anyone feel guilty about things that bring them enjoyment – especially food? You’re making the assumption that I feel guilt every time I have a “treat” food item. How f*cked up is that?

Setting particular foods as “off-limits” in the first place is a recipe for disaster. It’s not an approach I use with my clients, because it doesn’t work. Things we set as “off-limits” usually become so enticing and all-consuming that not only do we go overboard when we finally allow ourselves to indulge in them, but we also feel guilty about it afterward.

There’s no such thing as “bad” or “good” foods, by the way. There’s also no such thing as “cheat” foods (again, a word that instills guilt). Food is just a collection of molecules, not something about which to make arbitrary moral judgements.

Guilt is a negative emotional response that can cause stress in the body, which leads many people to seek out stress reduction techniques (effective or otherwise) - which often includes more food! Talk about a negative spiral.

The words we use can affect our beliefs about and relationship with food. Let’s strike terms like “guilty pleasure” and “cheat” foods out of our vocabulary!

Moderation isn’t sexy, and it doesn’t sell. But it’s the only thing that works! Wanna learn more about a plant-based, sane, and effective approach to nutrition that doesn’t involve restrictive meal plans or “off-limit” foods? Check out my nutrition coaching options.

Photos in this post are by John Watson of Imagemaker Photographic Studio, and are featured in my cookbook and active living guide, Vegan Vitality.


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