3 minutes reading time (592 words)

Why Using "Guilt Free" As a Message To Sell Food Is Counterproductive

Its Totally OK To Eat Cake Sometimes Its Totally OK To Eat Cake Sometimes

Every time I read the words or hear the words "guilt free" I feel a slight tinge, and sometimes a great tinge of discomfort.

When the words "guilt free" are used when discussing food and eating, especially as a way of selling products I cringe even more.

As if people who are feeling vulnerable about their weight need to be humiliated and shamed any more by using the word guilt to sell them something.

"Guilt is described as a self-conscious emotion that involves negative evaluations of the self, feelings of distress, and feelings of failure."

I guess it is on my mind now since all the New Years weight loss advertisements are on TV tapping into new years resolutions especially ones related to weight loss goals.

Feeling guilty is very uncomfortable. It holds on, and becomes a loud and punishing voice that can become quite pervasive. When people are feeling guilty for eating something, the guilt attaches itself to a scornful voice that says things like "see you have no self control", "why did you eat that?","Have you no discipline?", "If you were a disciplined person who had control you wouldn't have eaten that".

The guilt is so hostile towards self it acts like a judge and jury to self.

There is the hope that the guilt will prevent you from eating the said food again or over eating something again.

However I've rarely see it work like that. Instead I've seen it just make people sad and feel a bit more helpless. The guilt just reinforces the feeling that what they ate was wrong or bad, and worse they as a person are somehow bad, which leads down the path of shame.

Selling foods as "Guilt free" foods seems to me to be manipulative and judgmental and is reinforcing the notion that there are two ways to think about the food that you eat. You have a choice to eat something you really like maybe some chocolate or ice cream and feel guilty about it or choose a guilt free option and you somehow have avoided doing the wrong thing.

One of the things that I see time and time again in my work is the shame, the sorrow, the conflict, the pain that people are experiencing about their weight, their body and their relationship with food. The very last thing we need to do is reinforce these feelings.

Unless you have a food allergy or an illness that necessitates an avoidance of certain foods and you are unable to eat them, I really encourage a kinder and more flexible approach to how we speak to ourselves if we choose to eat certain foods. I absolutely promise you that eating some chocolate or an ice cream occasionally is totally fine and in itself will not lead to weight gain. Of course if this is all you eat or eat these foods to excess there might be a problem but equally there will be a problem with if all you ate was broccoli and apples.

I realise the irony of what I am saying now but I also don't want anyone feeling guilty for choosing to eat a guilt free product. I just would like it to be because they like the taste of the food, not to avoid guilt.

2022 has started out with enormous grief, anxiety and fear. Collectively we are under enormous pressure and the last thing I want for anyone is to add feeling guilty for something they chose to eat.

Ginette Lenham © January 2022 

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