Last year, I participated in a couple of events at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. During one, which focused on food writing, a member of the audience asked me and the other panellist if we had any guilty pleasures. I replied that I never felt guilty about anything I ate.
It's not that I am ascetic - that would be the most inaccurate word to describe me. I have a varied diet that includes everything that nutritionists, at one time or another, have said is bad for us: coffee, chocolate, alcohol, red meat, carbohydrates, fat, sugar, fried foods, fizzy drinks, organ meats, high-fructose corn syrup, fast food, processed flour, instant noodles, foie gras and much more.
Nutritionists and doctors always have plenty of advice on how many calories we should be consuming, how many meals a day we should be eating, and whether or not it's OK to snack between meals. The problem is that they constantly change their minds about many of these things. The latest flip-flop is that a hearty breakfast, which it has long been claimed is essential to weight control, might not be right for everyone. I knew that ages ago, because I very rarely eat breakfast, and haven't - so far - had any problems with my weight. Whatever dietary advice is currently fashionable, I ignore it, because I figure that if I wait long enough, another scientific study will be published that contradicts any former consensus.
I know people who feel guilty about practically everything they eat. Much of the time, they follow a strict diet, denying themselves anything that gives them pleasure, until they can't stand it anymore and binge on these "forbidden" foods. All the time they're eating they moan about the weight they'll gain or about how unhealthy they'll become because of one day of bingeing. Of course, a day spent not eating the "right" food isn't going to suddenly make any healthy person of normal weight morbidly obese. But some people feel so guilty about it that they can't enjoy food even as they're eating it, which is a pity for them.
I bake a lot pastries and cakes, and always have a supply of so-called unhealthy foods in my kitchen and pantry. Sometimes I'll be in the mood for potato chips, so I'll eat potato chips; other times, I might want chocolate. It's there, I eat it and then I forget about it. But because I never deny myself, I've never felt compelled to binge on any of these foods, and therefore I don't feel guilty about any of them.
Even so-called "good" foods can kill you if you consume too much. Eat what you want, when you want it - in moderation - and savour every bite.