Remember the days before calorie counting, before you worried about food going “straight to your thighs?” Before you could only eat ice cream on “cheat days?” Remember when you didn’t think twice about chasing the ice cream truck down the street in pursuit of a Chipwich? Yes, there probably was a time when you could have your cake and eat it too without feeling guilty.

Life Was Better Without Calorie Counting

cupcake, cake, cream, chocolate, sweet, candy, pastry
Maria Gabriela Jorge

Growing up, my parents encouraged me to listen to my body and eat when I was hungry. But outside of the home, society told me something different. I learned that foods high in sugar and fat, though they tasted good, were “bad.” They were to be avoided at all costs. Eating bad foods made me bad, and I should feel guilty for consuming something so vile as a slice of chocolate cake. If I did give in to the temptation, I should purge my body of sin by way of rigorous exercise.

This logic does somewhat stem from a place of reason—it’s true that consuming too much sugar is bad for your teeth, and a diet heavy in processed food can cause nutritional deficiencies that are bad for your health. But having dessert twice a week won’t kill you. When we label a food as “bad,” we are making a vast generalization that this food is bad all the time. Lead and arsenic are bad all the time. Chocolate cake is relatively harmless. Still, society expects us to feel guilt and shame for eating it.

It’s hard not to internalize these negative connotations and equate them with your self-worth. Banning certain foods or food groups from your diet is worse for your mental health than occasionally consuming junk food is for the rest of your body. Besides, trying to stifle cravings often ends in binge eating, which leads to even greater feelings of guilt or shame, which leads to more craving denial…And the cycle continues.

One Slice of Pizza Won't Kill You

pizza, sauce, tomato, meat, cheese, crust, vegetable, mozzarella
Urjita Tendolkar

Another reason junk food (for the purposes of this article, I am using this term to describe any food that is consumed simply for pleasure and provides little to no nutritional value) gets such a bad rap is because it’s calorie heavy and, supposedly, eating too much of it could cause weight gain. This is wrong for so many reasons. First, science says that this may not be true. Second, the amount of body fat one has says almost nothing about their health. And third, body-shaming of all types needs to end. We spend $55 billion globally every year to hold our bodies to standards that were created by the diet industry and are completely unrealistic.

Think critically about this concept of labeling foods as good or bad, clean or dirty. Words like “cheat” and “guilt” are used to describe a person that has committed a crime. They have no place on a dessert menu. Besides, eating food simply because you enjoy it is a perfectly natural and normal part of being a human. We mustn’t repackage indulgence as cheating. A donut ice cream sandwich is a beautiful thing, let’s not vilify it.