10/16/2014 03:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why It's Time to Banish Dessert Guilt

Chris Ryan via Getty Images

Tell me if you can relate:

You go to a restaurant, and just as you're finishing up the main course, the server walks by, grasping a one-page menu. "Would you like dessert?" they ask, as they gently slide the menu onto the table.

And then, the interior monologue begins.

I shouldn't have dessert. I really shouldn't have dessert. I looked, like, a thousand pounds in that picture from last week and I'm full, really I'm full, and . . . wait, is that . . . chocolate lava cake? Oh man that sounds good.

No. NO.

Yes. YES!



The server starts walking away. You bite your lip. "Oh, excuse me. Actually . . .  yes, I'll take the lava cake." Quick, say something self deprecating to show you know this is bad. 

"Cake is fat-free, right?" Haha! Idiot.

The server saunters off and returns with your dessert, a gooey pile of sugary wonder. And as you lift up your fork, the monologue kicks back in.

Just have one bite. Just one bite. OK, one more. Damnit, why'd you have one more? This is why you'll never be skinny. Yes, but maybe skinny is overrated, remember that one friend of yours who's not super-skinny but is really pretty, you can be like her! OK, one more bite. Shit, skinny isn't overrated, everyone wants to be skinny. What's wrong with you? Stop eating. Then again, at this point, who cares? It's too late. There's no salvation.

One more bite.

And on and on, until all that remains is a pile of chocolate lava cake crumbs, and you realize you don't even know if you enjoyed the dessert, because you were too busy feeling bad about maybe enjoying it.

This love-loathe relationship with desserts is central to a woman's fraught relationship with her body, and it's one worth noting today--after all it's National Dessert Day. (Seriously.)

In the enduring struggle to both enjoy life and not get fat, there is nothing more right--or more wrong--than dessert.

Of Guilt And Dessert

Let's get one thing out of the way right off the bat: that stereotype about women loving sweets? It's actually pretty true. According to one recent study, women are 25 percent more likely than men to order dessert. And yet, despite this desire -- or maybe because of it -- they're also far more likely to be told to hate themselves for it.

Consider the trend of headlines about "Guilt-Free Desserts," implying that regular desserts are, I suppose, "Guilt-Filled" or perhaps "Guilt-Riddled." (Also, for the record, there is no such thing as "guilt free" food. Any food.) "30 Guilt-Free Desserts," crows Woman's Day. "A Whole Lotta Dessert Without a Whole Lotta Guilt," intones Austin Woman's Magazine. Oxygen, the women's fitness publication, even has an entire page devoted to the elusive, magical "Guilt-Free Dessert."

The message here is blatant: Guilt. Dessert. Guilt. Dessert. Want dessert? Feel guilty.

And then there are the images we're inundated with in ads and stories, showing us just how depraved dessert guilt looks. Type in "woman guilt dessert" into the photo source ThinkStock, and here's a sampling of what comes up:




Apparently, women should feel so guilty about eating cheesecake and donuts, sneaking around to do so is a must. And from what, pray tell, are we sneaking from? The world's judgment? Ourselves? Our partners who, if they catch us savoring a morsel of fudge, will surely decide to dump us for a woman who only eats vegan, gluten-free pound cakes, and then only on Christmas?

For the record, type in "man guilt dessert" into the same photo archive, and this comes up.


I'll have the guilt he's having.

This isn't to say that I think women should spend their evenings on the couch eating bon bons and Twinkies; that sounds nice, but for health reasons, it's probably not a great idea. But on National Dessert Day, or when you're out for a nice dinner, or when you're at a birthday party and someone asks "Want a slice of cake?" you should have the right to silence the monologue and enjoy your dessert. No hiding. No shame. No guilt.

Because you know what? Chocolate lava cake is really damn good.

This story first appeared at, an alternative news+culture women's website.