Guilt-Ridden Eating Leads to Weight Gain

By Sandy Todd Webster
Jan 15, 2014

Forget “guilty” pleasures. The next time you “celebrate” by eating your favorite chips, dips or sweets, give yourself permission to fully enjoy the indulgence. Worrying over calories or feeling guilty can put you at risk for weight gain, say researchers in a study published in the November 23, 2013, online edition of Appetite.

The scientists, from the University
of Canterbury, in New Zealand, asked 300 female participants, aged 18–86,
to describe their thoughts about eating chocolate cake—was it linked to guilt
or to celebration? (“Celebration” in
this study meant eating cake to mark
a special occasion or event rather than associating the eating of cake with being
happy.) The researchers investigated this dilemma to discover whether people’s responses to this simple question were related to their attitudes and intentions about healthy eating, and to their success in maintaining their weight
over an 18-month period.

“Guilt can have adaptive as well as
maladaptive consequences. It can motivate us to change, as guilt is an unpleasant feeling; if you feel guilty you are more likely to change your behavior,” said psychologist and lead researcher Roeline Kuijer, PhD, in a UC press release.

However, we also know from research, especially from research looking at disordered eating, that guilt might be related to loss of control, the feeling
that you really can’t do it and you may as well let it all go.

“In our study we found no evidence for adaptive or motivational aspects of guilt. We found that those people who associated chocolate cake with guilt
did not report more positive attitudes
or stronger intentions to eat healthily. Instead, they perceived that they had less control over healthy eating behavior and they found it more difficult to eat healthily compared to participants who associated chocolate cake with celebration.

“Those who associated eating chocolate cake with guilt were also less likely to be able to maintain their weight over a long period.”


Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster is the editor in chief of IDEA’s award-winning publications. She is Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified and is a Rouxbe Certified Plant-Based Professional cook.

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