There’s a popular morning radio show here that I sometimes
listen to. The show has three DJs. Over the weekend I tuned in mid-way through
a taped replay of a discussion they had one morning last week about food. DJ #1
said that there are just some times when all she wants is a bag of salt and
vinegar potato chips. The other two DJs (I’ll call them DJ #2 and #3) murmured
in agreement. DJ #1 went on to say that when she has that craving, she knows
she could buy a small bag of the chips, but she knows that that just won’t
satisfy her and if she’s going to give into the craving, she gets the big bag.
Then DJ #2 said, “Oh, I know. I do the same. I get the big
bag. And then, when I’m about two-thirds of the way through,” he said, pausing.
“I feel so sad …”
“Yes!” exclaimed DJ #1 in agreement.
Then DJ #2 continued, “I feel so sad because I know I’m near
the end and there won’t be more!” DJ #3 then voiced his agreement about always
wishing there were more. I was floored by the reason DJ #2 gave for feelings
sad two-thirds of the way through a bag of chips. When I pause to note my
feelings after downing more than a healthy serving of a fattening “treat”, I’m
not feeling sad because I’m near the end. I’m feeling guilty about the calories
I’ve consumed and I’m mad with myself for being out-of-control. Pretty
different from the feelings DJs 2 and 3 were expressing, that’s for sure! (The
segment ended without DJ #1 clarifying the nature of her feelings after downing
most of the bag.)
A few different things about that conversation got me
thinking. The most obvious was the very different reasons people might feel bad
two-thirds of the way into a bad-for-you treat. Also, the mere fact that part
way through indulging in something, people often pause to think – whether to
feel sad or bad – is pretty striking. I can’t imagine that other animals do
that. (Of course, for all we know, they do – maybe squirrels who come across a
yard of acorns contemplate whether they’ll need all of them or whether they
should leave some for other squirrels to find. Who knows?)
After the radio conversation I thought about a segment on a
talk show that I had seen earlier in the week. Ann and Mitt Romney were on and
the hostess was testing how well they knew each other (they’ve been married over
40 years). One of the questions to Mitt was: what is Ann’s guilty pleasure?
Turns out it’s chocolate and, of course, Mitt got the answer right.
Though I can, without hesitation, identify two things that
are guilty pleasures for me (cheese and nuts), when you get right down to it, the
idea of a “guilty pleasure” is pretty complex. It entails a variety of
emotions: likes, preferences, and the concept of guilt. Indeed, the idea of such
different emotions even being associated with food strikes me as a uniquely human
phenomenon. Also, how you define a guilty pleasure is pretty subjective. For me
they’re things that I love and that I know I have trouble controlling myself
over. Basically they’re things that I try not to bring home!
I’d like to think that there’s some evolutionary reason for
our guilty pleasures, but since we’re not talking about food consumed strictly for
its nutritional value, it’s hard to imagine such a justification. And besides, the
vast variety of foods that different people consider guilty pleasures, not to
mention the very different reactions folks have when they’ve over-indulged such
pleasures, makes it seem even less likely that such indulgences serve a purpose
other than to quell one’s craving.
What about you? Do you have a guilty pleasure? I’ll bet you
And, if you give into it (or should I say, when you give
into it), do you go for the big bag (or serving) or just a little one? And how
do you feel when you’ve indulged and there’s just a bit left? Do you feel bad because
you feel guilty, or maybe you’re sad because you know there’s only a bit left? Or maybe it’s a little of both?
© 2013 Ingrid Sapona