On being ... a guilty pleasure?

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 do…

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


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