Ah guilt, our favourite emotion. It seems to have a penchant for attacking us when we are having the most fun. During that dizzying makeout session in the car or while enjoying that Netflix marathon, sometimes even at those moments of deciding whether to sleep in on a Sunday morning.
For most of us however, guilt seems to have nestled in the part of our brain that enjoys food.
For some reason, it is entrenched in our minds that anything pleasurable (read: that rich nasi lemak
with extra spicy sambal
and ayam goreng
) should somehow come with a side order of food guilt.
Food guilt is something most of us are guilty of. Should we really feel guilty though? The textbook definition of guilt is an emotion felt when an offence has been committed. When did eating become a crime? Keep reading to see how we counter your idea of food guilt!
“Eating bad food like a warm chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream makes me feel terrible about myself!”
Okay, there are too many things wrong with this statement. Firstly, a plate of gooey goodness like that is not ‘bad’, nor is it ‘good’. It may taste fantastic and it may be detrimental to your body in excessive amounts, but the food itself cannot be assigned any morality.
Secondly, you don’t become a terrible person for having dessert. Your self-worth does not lie in what you put into your mouth. Nor do you become a saint by choosing a salad over nasi kandar
. There is more to who you are than what you consume.
Thirdly, if you have an allergy to chocolate, for example, and you say that you feel terrible afterwards, then don’t eat it. But if the feeling ‘terrible’ comes from the act of relishing the dessert itself, then something is seriously wrong with your relationship with food.
Why beat ourselves up over a simple pleasure in life which probably won’t affect you in the long term?
Before the cynics start to throw a fit, let us clarify. Nobody is advocating having a sugary treat six times a day. Excessive consumption of anything is detrimental to health. ANYTHING.
We live in an era where we are exposed to what moderation is. Moderation is having dessert after dinner. Extremism is having three desserts instead of dinner. Moderation is having a side of salad with your meal. Extremism is having salad for all meals.
“I’m on a diet, I can’t take carbs”
Let us introduce you to diet culture. We live in a weight-obsessed society, and because of this, many of us feel that we need to justify our eating habits. We end up feeling incredibly anxious or guilty about what we have eaten. This is diet culture 101.
Under the guise of caring for health and wellness, diet culture places an incredible amount of emphasis on one’s weight, size, shape and ultimately, diet. In this 40 billion dollar industry, being healthy is synonymous with being thin or more recently, lean.
Yes, this culture tells you that if you are thin, you are happy. It’s hard for us to detach from these thoughts as it is something we see every day, all around us, amplified by media in general.
What’s shocking is that it has even affected kids as young as five. According to a study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders
, more than half of a group of 100 five year old girls have internalised the thin ideal (thin = happy), and it was noted that media exposure was the strongest causes of dietary restraint among these kids.
Many of us start dieting, and then come to our breaking point within a few weeks (or days) and cave. This then leads us to the notorious cycle of binging and dieting. You can’t run away from carbs, sugar or oily food forever. It’s exhausting.
Instead of leaping from one diet to another, why not develop a diet of your own? One that works for your body and still gives you the pleasure you crave from your food.
And honey, not everything you eat has to be low fat, low calorie, high fiber, or full of vitamins and minerals!
“Look at that girl on Instagram. I want that flat tummy and those toned arms!”
Our best friend and source of unending information, social media has glorified the thin ideal. This has paved the way for a group of people known as fitness social media influencers.
These beings constantly flash their toned abs, alternated with pictures of colourful acai bowls, green smoothies and yummy protein shakes, all claiming to be healthy. Some of these influencers go to the extent of bashing themselves for having a ‘bad’ meal, or fantasise for days leading up to their cheat day. Some influencers who are ripped go to the extent of calling themselves ‘fat’, using the word derogatorily, only to receive hundreds of comments that sound like “If you are fat, I should go commit suicide.”
Does this really seem like a healthy relationship with food and with one’s body? How does one claim to be healthy when they have achieved the ‘ideal’ body and yet they continue to shame their bodies into oblivion?
Choose who you follow on social media wisely. There are plenty of fitness enthusiasts who advocate a moderate lifestyle that the rest of us can put into practice, in accordance to our fitness goals.
Social media is not the sole cause of food guilt. However, it is important to note that diet culture and societal obsession with thinness stem from it in today’s world, among other things.
“I want to lose weight, I hate the way I look”
Raise your hands virtually if you’ve heard of body positivity! You read that right, it’s okay to feel good about yourself, no matter how Instagram-unworthy you think you are! Self-love is key in the journey to overcome food guilt.
We really don’t give our bodies enough credit. All the physiological functions that go on unnoticed are taken for granted as we fixate on our flaws, scheming how we can get rid of those jiggly arms or flatten that beer paunch.
STOP! Our bodies do so much for us, the least we can do is to love our body and appreciate it. Accept your body for how it looks, what it can do and how beautiful it truly is. Fall in love with yourself, and your body.
Yes, that also means that ALL bodies are beautiful, and there is no one ideal body. It is only natural to have goals, to want to be stronger and fitter. However, to be obsessed with losing weight to fit the stereotypical ideal body of your peers, is unnecessary.
When you truly love yourself, you won’t resort to calling yourself bad after having some chocolate chip cookies. And to those naysayers who say: 'Oh no, because I love myself, I don’t want to have those cookies in the first place!', let us ask you this: if you are craving something, aren’t you doing your body an injustice by not having that to eat?
Indulgence is okay, once in a while. Of course, we aren’t advocating overeating or gluttony, but intuitive eating. Listen to your body. Eat until you’re satisfied. If you had a big fat cheesy burger with a side order of fries for lunch, chances are, you wouldn’t be too hungry for dinner, and might just settle for some vegetable soup.
For those who are STILL adamant about losing weight by way of food guilt, let us share with you the results of a study published in the New Zeland National Center for Biotechnology Information. Researchers Dr Roeline Kuijer and Jessica Boyce conducted a study
on 300 people aged 18 to 86 about whether eating chocolate cake made them feel celebratory or guilty. The result? 27% said they associated chocolate cake with guilt and 73% associated it with celebration.
The researchers then monitored the participants' weight over 18 months and found that those who felt guilty tended to feel a loss of control over their eating when they indulged in cake, which caused them to give up on their weight loss goals. They also found that the guilty eaters were no stronger in their health resolves, and were not as successful at maintaining their weight. Need we say more?
“I need to work out to burn that curry laksa off”
This is the most overused sentence amongst urban Malaysians aged 18–35. Some of us now go to the gym as a form of punishment and we work out to ‘burn that (insert yummy Malaysian dish here) off’.
Some time ago, exercising was viewed as a leisurely activity which in the long run, could improve our strength and stamina. That perspective has officially been skewed.
Workouts are supposed to be fun, be it a sport or the gym or a fitness class. Leave your food guilt behind and hit the badminton courts, you would enjoy the game even more without having the time of day to feel guilty about what you ate.
The same logic applies to the gym. Exercising is one of the most enjoyable activities once you give food guilt a roundhouse kick.
“So? I can just go eat everything I want ah?”
Well, you could if you want to. Or you could use your common sense to decide what you want to eat, and eat what makes you feel good, physically and mentally.
Being an adult, you would made enough gastronomic mistakes to know what works for your body, and what doesn’t and what your body needs. All we are saying is, don’t deny your body what it wants. And there’s really no need for any guilt to be associated with that. Food after all, is just food! Why associate so much stress with a meal?
So, the next time someone asks you, or you ask yourself, “Are you sure you really want to eat that?” Please don’t overthink it. It’s a simple yes or no question, and if you really want that salted caramel cupcake, just eat it! And if you don’t feel like it today, that’s totally fine too.
Remember, your appetite is not shameful, it’s something to be celebrated and enjoyed on this epicurean adventure of life. Just enjoy that cupcake lah,
if you want to, life is too short for food guilt.