Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cream

Eating Guilt

A study recently published in Appetite suggests that celebration beats guilt when thinking about chocolate cake.

In a sample of 294 people, researchers assessed whether an individual associated chocolate cake with guilt or celebration. Further, they examined attitudes, intentions, behaviors, and self-control over healthy eating behaviors. And finally, they followed up 18 months later to assess changes in weight. They chose chocolate cake as a prototype of foods for which many people have both craving and feelings of guilt.

The researchers were unable to find any indications that people who thought of chocolate cake in terms of guilt benefited from that orientation. They reported lower levels of control over eating and less healthy eating behaviors. Individuals who thought of cake in terms of celebration and who intended to lose weight were more likely to have lost weight 18 months later.

It’s worth remembering that these findings are associations, not a the outcomes of coaching people to look at chocolate cake in a particular way. It could well be that guilt is the result of problematic behaviors and outcomes, not the cause. And the study has a few other soft spots. Weight and height are self-reported, male participants are too few, and drop-out rates were a problem. Regardless, there’s no evidence here that guilt is a motivator for healthy changes.

“Guilt is one side of a nasty triangle; the other two are shame and stigma. This grim coalition combines to inculpate women themselves of the crimes committed against them.” — Germaine Greer

Click here to read the study.

Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cream, photograph © Susanne Nilsson / flickr

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