Does eating chocolate cake make you feel guilty or happy?

By Casey O’Dell, Accredited Practising Dietitian

When you consume a piece of chocolate cake, how do you typically feel afterwards? Do you dwell on it and feel guilt soon after, or do you feel happy and content? 

This might sound like an oddly specific question to ask, but recent research indicates that the answer to this question may in fact reveal a lot more about your eating behaviours and your relationship with food than you may think. 

If eating chocolate cake does gives you the guilts, this could indicate eating behaviours which will make it more difficult for you to lose weight compared to those who enjoy eating chocolate cake and think of it more as celebratory behaviour.     

This was shown in a recent New Zealand study, where researchers found that over a period of 18 months, those who associated ‘guilt’ with eating chocolate cake gained 2.4kg on average compared to those who associated it with ‘celebration’ who gained 0.4kg on average in the 18 months. Also, those who had a short-term goal of weight loss in 3 months were less likely to achieve it if they associated chocolate cake with ‘guilt’. 

Whilst guilt can have the potential to motivate behaviour change, it often  negatively impacts our mindset, leads to feelings of helplessness and loss of control which drives poor health behaviours and outcomes.  

It’s important to remember that eating food is far more than just nutrients and health. It’s also about pleasure, social interaction, enjoyment, cultural connections, family time… the list goes on! If we focus too heavily on specific foods or nutrients, this can often cause more harm than good and magnify an unhealthy relationship with food. 

In summary, feeling guilty about eating certain foods doesn’t lead to better health outcomes… it can in fact do the opposite! Instead of associating certain foods with guilt, remember to enjoy all foods but in moderation. Remember the poison is in the dose.  

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