The phrase ‘guilt-free’ might seem like a positive label for a food product upon first impressions.
‘Hooray, food without any guilt!’ But wait, why should we be feeling guilty in the first place?
Somewhere amongst the constant battle to market healthier food products, the phrase ‘guilt-free’ was born.
But what does that phrase really mean?
You may assume that a guilt-free product might be environmentally friendly or made without harming animals for example. Both sound pretty free of guilt to me.
That’s where you’d be wrong.
From my experience, a ‘guilt-free’ product is usually some sort of ‘treat’ with a healthy eating claim under its arm.
For example, it might have lower calories, no refined sugar (but potentially still loads of natural sugar), contain so-called ‘superfoods’ or be lower in fat etc.
Yep, that’s right. The phrase ‘guilt-free’ is pretty much interchangeable with how we’ve (rightly or wrongly) used the word ‘healthy’ for many years.
It’s basically yet another gimmicky marketing phrase for a word we already use and understand.
But what’s the harm in using the phrase ‘guilt-free’ instead of the word ‘healthy’ if they both mean pretty much the same thing?
Well, the problem is that the phrase ‘guilt-free’ is a loaded term.
Not only does it imply that the product in question is healthier, but it encourages the idea that you should feel guilty for eating the non ‘healthy’ version.
Here’s a few examples I’ve found in my travels as a food blogger:
Now you can enjoy pasta that’s 100% guilt-free.
Wait, we’re supposed to be feeling guilty for eating pasta now?
Why not ditch the daily guilt of an advent calendar and try something more creative?
I thought I was eating a stamp-sized piece of chocolate every day, but it turns out I was just tasting guilt in its purest form.
Enjoy chocolate with all of the flavour and none of the guilt.
These types of marketing taglines only serve to encourage a negative relationship with food: eat healthy, or be ashamed. Feel guilty.
Even if I never felt food guilt in the first place, these types of messages insinuate that I probably should start doing so.
That’s more than enough to kick-start someone’s negative relationship with food.
However, a phrase like ‘guilt-free’ definitely isn’t alone in its existence and certainly not a new phenomenon.
The phrase ‘clean eating’ recently had the pitchfork and torches treatment for indirectly implying that any food that isn’t ‘clean’ must therefore be dirty.
Phrases like ‘guilt-free’ and ‘clean eating’ may initially appear to be positive labels for food and healthy lifestyles.
But in reality, both terms promote the ethos of orthorexia – an intense obsession with healthy eating.
If food isn’t healthy or clean, it must therefore be ‘dirty’ and full of guilt. So much for ‘everything in moderation’ and having a balanced diet.
It’s not a clever, original or creative way of marketing food products, especially given how many brands claim their products are ‘guilt-free’.
There are so many ways for brands to show us the benefits of their products, but please – let’s leave ‘guilt-free’ labels out of this.