During a recent study, UC researchers asked 300 participants what they thought about when they thought of chocolate cake – did they think of guilt or celebration?
UC senior lecturer Dr Roeline Kuijer (Psychology) and recent UC psychology graduate Dr Jessica Boyce have been investigating this dilemma with the aim of examining whether people’s response to this simple question was related to their attitudes and intention about healthy eating and their success in maintaining their weight over an 18-month period. Their findings were recently published in the journal Appetite.
“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 behaviour,” said Dr Kuijer.
“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 behaviour 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.”
For the purposes of this study the word celebration referred to eating cake to mark a special occasion or event rather than associating the eating of cake with being happy.
Dr Kuijer says that while people should not feel guilty when eating for celebration, eating cake should be still kept within moderation.
“If you have a weight loss goal or want to maintain your weight or a healthy diet, having treats is okay – you don’t have to deny yourself everything and it is perhaps better to see that in a positive light than feeling guilty about it.
“Eating treats once in a while is not a problem. Eating and food are very important for our health and wellbeing and health and wellbeing are more than just being healthy – it is also about enjoyment and pleasure.”
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