Will You Join Us in Banning the G-Word?

If you’ve been with me for a while, you know how strongly I feel that guilt has no place in our relationship with food.

For this reason, I am absolutely thrilled that the San Francisco Chronicle’s new restaurant reviewer, Soleil Ho, has promised to never use the G-Word in her reviews.

Here’s what she had to say in a recent article

“Guilt: I don’t use this word because of the harm it does to our relationship to food, especially because ‘guilt’ in this context never actually refers to things that do carry ethical weight, like cannibalism or stealing food from the hungry.

Why should anyone besides the Hamburglar, who seems to enjoy the act of larceny for the sheer thrill of it, feel guilty about their food choices?

The overwhelmingly majority of the time I’ve encountered this word in food writing or a marketing context has been about diet food, mainly directed toward girls and women: ‘guilt-free snacks,’ ‘ice cream without the guilt,’ and so on.

Criminalizing the everyday act of eating reinforces the idea that we need to punish ourselves for wanting food when we’re hungry, which encourages us to develop really screwed-up and disordered attitudes toward our own bodies.

Relatedly, I hate every time Great British Bake-off judge Prue Leith says that a pastry is good if it’s ‘worth the calories.’”

I did an extra cheer when I read Ho’s last sentence because I also cringe mightily whenever I hear Leith (or anyone else) make a comment like this.

Let’s Do This Together
My hope is that more people—from restaurant reviewers and food writers to chefs and copywriters—follow Ho’s lead and ban the word guilt when it comes to food.

You, too, can help drive this change. Notice when you find yourself saying things like:

  • I feel so guilty for eating all those cookies.

  • My guilty pleasure is a bacon double cheeseburger.

  • I seriously overdid it at dinner; I need to burn off all those calories tomorrow!

  • This chocolate fudge cake is sinfully good.

  • I was so bad today; I ate way too many chips.

When you do catch yourself referring to guilt or morality when talking about your food choices (or someone else’s), turn it into an opportunity to practice a new way of speaking to yourself and others about food—one that is unconditional, empowering and liberating rather than criminalizing, punitive and oppressive. 

Once I Open the Bag, I Can't Stop!

Ever since she was a kid, Kendra loved barbecue potato chips. They reminded her of summer pool parties, lakeside picnics and backyard cookouts.

When she began dieting in her 20s, she rarely let herself eat them. Her beloved salty snacks had been put on her “bad” foods list.

However, making the chips a forbidden food backfired. Depriving herself of them only intensified her cravings.

Soon they became one of Kendra's trigger foods. Once she started crunching away on them, she couldn’t stop.

When she would break down and finally eat the chips, her eating felt out of control. She ate with a sense of urgency, barely even tasting them.

Halfway through the bag, she’d tell herself, “I’ve come this far, I might as well keep going since I’m never letting myself have these again!”

As she licked the barbecue seasoning off her fingers, Kendra would be overcome with tremendous guilt and shame.

These feelings, coupled with the overeating, provided her with false evidence that she simply couldn’t be trusted with the chips. She vowed to never let them cross her lips again.

But she couldn’t stop thinking about them!

The Habituation Effect

Feeling obsessed with your forbidden foods is a natural outcome of dieting and deprivation. Telling yourself you can’t have something often makes you want it even more.

When you make foods off limits, whether it’s chocolate, ice cream, bread, chips or fries, it elevates their desirability, reward value and power.

In order to make peace with the chips and stop her restrict-binge-repent-repeat cycle, Kendra needed to experience the habituation effect.

Habituation means the more you eat a particular food, the less enticing it becomes.


As its novelty and allure wears off, the food becomes neutral. It’s no longer a big deal. You desire it less. (You’ve probably experienced this with leftovers.)

Forbidden-food rules, food restriction and dieting prevent habituation. Lack of habituation, combined with the fear you'll never be able to eat a certain food again, commonly results in intense cravings, overeating and binge eating.

Unconditional Permission to Eat

In the past, Kendra would only allow herself to eat barbecue chips about once a month since she always ended up losing control and overdoing it.

In order to habituate to the chips, she started to eat them every day, sometimes a few times a day.

At first, Kendra was scared to have the chips around all the time. As she feared, she did continue to overeat them for a while. However, although she didn’t trust herself yet, she did trust the process and stuck with it.

By giving herself unconditional permission to enjoy the chips whenever she wanted and however much she wanted, Kendra was able to neutralize her relationship with them.

Eventually, her desire for the chips diminished. Sometimes she completely forgot they were in her cupboard! When she did want them, she was able to eat an amount that felt just right, completely guilt-free.

Encouraged by the outcome, Kendra slowly started eating her other forbidden foods, gradually rebuilding her self-trust while enjoying a more peaceful, flexible and relaxed relationship with food.

Do You Play Hide & Eat?

Have you ever played Hide & Eat?

It looks something like this:

As soon as her co-workers leave the room, Kim snatches a handful of leftover cookies and quickly throws them into her bag. She declined them during the meeting secretly hoping there’d be leftovers she could eat alone at home.

Once everyone is asleep, Janice sneaks into the kitchen, quietly opens the freezer door and grabs a pint of ice cream, which she hurriedly eats while standing in the dark.

When Jack goes to the restroom, Jim stuffs the last slice of pizza into his mouth before the waiter comes to clear the table and his friend returns.

Val keeps a stash of chocolate bars hidden in the back of her sock drawer. She eats them in bed while watching TV, then buries the wrappers in the trashcan so her roommates won’t see them.


Perhaps, like me, you can you relate to these secret-eating stories. During my dieting years, I mastered the game of Hide & Eat!

Why We Play Hide & Eat
There are many reasons why you might play Hide & Eat. Following are just a few. As you'll see, many of them are rooted in shame.

  • You’ve internalized diet-culture messaging that assigns moral value to food and judges people as good or bad based on their food choices (i.e., if you eat something "bad," you're bad).

  • You don’t want to tarnish your reputation as a “healthy person," "clean eater” or “dedicated dieter.”

  • You fear it's unacceptable to eat certain foods (or eat at all) because of the size of your body, what you've already eaten, or your lack of exercise.

  • You don’t want anyone to witness what you believe is a lack of willpower or self-control.

  • You’re afraid of the external food police making comments about your food choices, like “Do you really think you should be eating that?” or “I thought you gave up sugar!

  • You love the thrill of rebelling against a restrictive diet or watchful partner or parent, yet don't want to suffer the consequences of getting caught.

  • If no one sees you breaking your food rules or eating a forbidden food, it didn't happen or doesn't count. 

  • You’re experiencing an uncomfortable emotion, such as anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and long ago learned to hide your feelings, retreat from the world, and self-soothe with food.

Conditioned to Play
Although it can feel really shameful and embarrassing, your desire to play Hide & Eat is completely understandable.

Most likely, from a very young age, you've been conditioned (like most of us) by our insidious, pervasive diet culture to believe that much of your value and worth is determined by your size, shape and what’s on our plate.

This deeply ingrained, shame-triggering social construct can easily compel you to hide any behavior that could potentially be considered bad and ultimately jeopardize people's perception and acceptance of you.

The risk of being seen feels too great.

Not Your Fault
None of this is your fault. You’re simply trying to protect yourself from painful perceived threats, like judgment, criticism and rejection.

But, as you may know all too well, playing Hide & Eat is not a fun game. It’s a fear- and shame-driven activity that's exhausting, demoralizing and disempowering.

Plus, it’s hard to enjoy whatever it is you’re eating when you’re anxiously consuming it at a fast and furious pace while crouched in a dark corner trying not to make any noise.

The good news is you can come out of hiding whenever you’re ready. 

You Can Walk Away
Walking away from the game of Hide & Eat can take a lot of courage and self-compassion, especially if you’ve been playing it for a long time.

It’s best to take small steps, like experimenting with eating a forbidden food out in the open, perhaps with a supportive friend.

Seek Support
Untangling yourself from the grip of our toxic diet culture can be downright challenging.

I encourage you to seek support from a weight-neutral, non-diet practitioner who can help you let go of the beliefs and behaviors (and games) that are no longer serving you. You deserve it.