Note: Learn more about the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating program here or at www.amihungry.com.
My niece complained recently about foods being advertised as “guilt free” (generally because they’re low fat), saying that food shouldn’t be about guilt but about hunger and meeting your body’s needs.
I couldn’t agree more, especially since this is something I focus on when facilitating the Am I Hungry? (AIH) Mindful Eating program, which teaches that while we may regret something we eat, or how much of it, feeling guilty about it isn’t helpful.
Unfortunately our society doesn’t make this easy, particularly when it comes to advertisements. After my niece’s comment, I paid more attention than I normally do when I went to the store this week (most of the time I ignore the marketing), and it was enlightening.
While the produce and certain canned items (like vegetables, soups, and beans) are pretty quiet on the advertising front, most other packaged items are covered in catch phrases, largely geared to one goal: to make you feel you’re being good if you choose their product and that you’re being bad if you go with something else.
I didn’t see anything that outright said “guilt free”, but it was implied in phrases like:
Low fat or fat free
Full of antioxidants
High in fiber
Made with goodness
Reading between the lines, it’s clear that we’re meant to feel that if we eat foods high in fat or sugar, low in fiber or antioxidants, then we’re bad and should feel guilty that we’re not eating less of the one and more of the other.
The problem is, most of these things are meaningless. Reducing or removing fat doesn’t make things healthy, or particularly tasty. Just because something has antioxidants (like dark chocolate) or fiber doesn’t mean we should binge on it, or avoid items that don’t say that. Especially because foods that are naturally high in fiber – fruits, vegetables, beans - aren’t advertised that way. In fact, they’re often not advertised at all, unless it’s to say they’re on sale.
Continuing through the list, eating something high in sugar now and again isn’t automatically going to cause problems. I don’t know if there are any regulations to qualify what defines something as “heart healthy”, and I’m not even quite sure what the phrase “made with goodness” is supposed to mean or imply.
Instead, I agree with my niece and remember one of the things I most love about AIH – that all foods can fit with balance, variety, and moderation. And from that perspective, all food is also guilt-free, which makes for much happier eating.