Why Guilty Pleasure is Good for You

My neighbour and I had been trying for weeks to get together. With opposite work schedules and kids’ stuff, it was getting ridiculous. Last week, she noticed that the movie we’d been attempting to see in the theatre was available on demand, so she suggested a daytime date.

Perfect. We found an afternoon that suited us both. “Any guilty pleasures foodwise?” she texted. “We should treat ourselves to a fun lunch while we watch!” Which translates as junk food: anything greasy, salty or sweet.

I loved the idea – a yummy lunch AND a movie while our kids are at school! So as not to fall completely into eating junk, I picked up some local cheddar and fresh sourdough, made upscale grilled cheeses with a fennel salad, sweet potato fries and a delectable ginger cake. It was a fantastic meal that fit the junk food bill without going so far overboard that I’d regret it later.

We indeed had a fun lunch.

The movie wasn’t as fabulous as we’d hoped, given the weeks of anticipation, but it fuelled our conversation through tea and dessert before the kids got home. Though we were in the kitchen by that point, her son walked in, took one look at the placemats we’d left of the coffee table and asked accusingly, “Did you eat in front of the TV?!?”

Up until then, the day had been pleasurable. I was gob-smacked to notice that those words from a 9-year-old brought on the guilt. For the briefest of moments, I was frozen with my hand in the cookie jar.

 

Guilt comes from doing something we feel we shouldn’t do. It’s about stuff we’re afraid to admit we do, like, want.

For me, guilt doesn’t show up with eating chocolate cake or ice cream or a bag of chips – I have no qualms in satisfying those yens from time to time. That said, I’ve recently woken up to the fact that eating what I ought not eat, especially too frequently or in too large quantities, is actually a punishment – the part that flies right past the guilt and hits hard. (You can read that particular story here.)

The guilt that day came from the feeling that I’d been breaking the rules.

As a mother I work damn hard to uphold the rules. In terms of eating, that might mean ensuring that meals happen at the table and with a good dose of vegetables. I’m also known to harp on to anyone who’s not present to their food, by reading or checking email during breakfast.

There’s an assumption – a self-induced theory to the structure of my days – that while others are busy at the office or school, I too am working. Whether it’s paid work or volunteer or getting Christmas planned doesn’t matter, so long as it’s work. Something useful and productive. As a result, I seem to have created compartments in my mind for when one is expected to be serious and when one is allowed to have fun.

Choosing to watch a movie over lunch in the middle of a random Wednesday afternoon broke that rule…even if the naughtiness of it was a part of the pleasure.

The guilt – the shame – came in the being found out, like a teenager who sees the only thing wrong with her behaviour is getting caught.

Was it in the 90s when people started spouting that “guilt is a useless emotion”? I remember my mother-ex-in-law explaining it to me; how, like worry, it doesn’t have any function other than to tie you in internal knots. Perhaps, like worry, guilt’s function is to point us in the direction of that which needs to change, where we need to set something in motion outside of ourselves.

This particular afternoon of hookie brought my awareness to how much I strive to, if not always follow the rules, at least give the impression that I am. This is my inner teenager, who learned how to rebel without getting caught…and perhaps, without willing to go too far out of her comfort zone.

My predilection for rules got me labeled as the goody-goody more often than I care to admit. This week’s taste of guilty pleasure reminded me that I can follow the rules and be productive and useful, but I don’t need to take it all so seriously. I’m not going to be struck from above for having a bit of fun.

Yes, it’s important that I stick to a certain structure for the sake of my business and my family. It’s important that I take proper care of myself, to feed myself nourishing food and avoid the things that cause me harm, but it doesn’t need to be serious. Those 2 attitudes don’t need to walk constantly hand-in-hand. In this case, it means that a “fun” meal can also have elements of healthy – that a healthy lunch can be fun.

The pleasure of food comes from the delicious combination of colours, textures, flavours,… without going overboard into the realm of punishment. Within that pleasure, letting loose into “cheating” or being “naughty” means making choices that veer from my daily regime, and for the most part, they happen consciously. While this may sound like the goody-goody version of letting loose, I’ve been having a lot of fun with how I nourish myself lately.


Playful smoothie combinations or topping my bowl with (sweetened, but beautifully jewel-coloured) dry cranberries

Opting for frozen sweet potato fries and melted cheese

Eating lunch in front of the TV…by myself!

Cooking a meal just for me, that I will adore.

The nourishment of pleasure goes beyond food choices:

  •       Waking a half-hour early to have the whole house to myself while I journal and pull a card or two
  •       Working in the hot sun at the dining table (the deck in summer) rather than my desk
  •       “Abandoning” my family to walk home from the hockey arena on a warm day.

 

By taking delight in these small moments through my day, I’m rejuvenating body and soul at a whole other level. I’m raising oxytocin levels, boosting motivation and charging creative energy in one fell swoop.

By putting the focus on enjoyment, it lightens the guilt, takes the shame out of the closet for air. (As I’ve said before, air and light are kryptonite to shame.)

Have I been so steeped in the model that that “useful” is the only acceptable daytime activity, that I’ve come to fear judgment from on high if I choose otherwise?

In taking my need for pleasure out to play, letting a crack open in the veneer of perfection I think I need to maintain, I’m opening myself to the momentary freedom of not having to care what others think.

Where the guilt I noticed the other day felt like hiding, instead I’ve created the space for my needs to step forward, step out, be seen – regardless of whether others find them acceptable. In opening up those needs, I take away the struggle and give them permission to be met.

If that’s not healthy, I don’t know what is.

 

So, tell me, which guilty pleasure is calling to you today? Tell us here – when you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others – then go and fulfull it! …Then come back to let us know it felt!

If you’d rather rather whisper this stuff quietly, join the WH community and share your secrets with us in the comfort of the closed Whole Health Dinner Party group. I’ll be in there later in the week to mull over more thoughts about guilt, pleasure and creating better habits.

10 thoughts on “Why Guilty Pleasure is Good for You

  1. Oh boy was today a good day to read this! It’s a snowy day here in NJ, and I have SO much work to do and I’ve been procrastinating.

    Let’s remember, I AM the boss, so when I say I have so much work to do, I can surely be the one to change the “due dates” on what needed to be done.

    Instead, I called it “procrastinating” and berated myself for not getting done what was on my list, and enjoying the snow and a movie instead.

    So thank you for reminding me that guilt is of no use! I’m catching up on some work now anyway, but spent hours feeling stressed instead of just enjoying myself. Let’s hope I catch myself next time!

    • So true Karen. You might want to catch my FB Live tomorrow afternoon. I’m addressing exactly that stress from not doing the thing you’re supposed to be doing (aka cheating).

      I also just learned from a local business coach a wonderful reframe for procrastination: It allows you to find the fear. Let that question simmer in your mind as you contemplate the snow!

  2. Awesome Article! U know me, I opt for pleasure as MUCH as I can, whenever I can! 😉
    Lately I have been studying energy work that encourages “receiving” everything- inlc judgement. The more we receive… the MORE we receive😆. Scary Freeing Fun and much magic happens when we drop our barriers, not only to gift, but to receive💜 Happy Spring Baby xo

    • Love that – opening to receive no matter what comes! Makes so much sense when you think about it…if you want to be open for the happy stuff, there will be some unhappy stuff that sneaks in there.

  3. OMG.. you are such a good writer… YES… guilty for breaking the RULES… omg… been there… who’s rules sometimes too! Right! ???? OOOOOO….. And making our OWN rules… like waking a little early and pulling a card or two… YES… I have so been there with my hand in the cookie jar and getting caught… even at this age I go… opps… sometimes,… and slowly I’ve been realizing that if I just allow my body to have what it wants… the ‘needs’ that are outside me seem to go away. Isn’t it funny how that works?

    I know for me… guilt is a feeling that has other feelings… so on it’s own, it doesn’t really help me… but …. if I can find the underneath, the beside, the ah-ha … well, then, the wisdom is abundant.

    I loved this article Cathy. I have missed reading your blogs… so much goodness in here, beyond just food… Thank you for that. Deep bow for your precious work. I”m so glad I can receive your loving wisdom. It is a blessing.

  4. NIce! I love this! I’m all for it. I don;t think we should have ” guilty” pleasures, we should just have pleasure how, when and where we can. xoa

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