Don’t let Trader Joe’s Make you Feel Guilty About Eating

Move over, RDs! Trader Joe’s has taken over food policing. We’re off the hook! They use a reduced guilt label to save us the trouble. 
JK. Dietitians are not the food police. I think I speak for most of us when I say we do not care what you’re eating in every moment of every day. (Well, I’m 100 percent sure I don’t.) We’re not stalking the grocery store aisles or fast food stops waiting for the right moment to chastise you for making “bad” choices. We don’t know your life. We don’t care to judge you for making one food choice in one moment. We do not want to make you feel guilty or ashamed about what you’re eating, any day, at any time.
Trader Joe’s and their reduced guilt food label, though. That’s another story.

“What is your guilty pleasure food?” 

 I’ve answered this question more than once. Clients, friends, holiday party conversation starters, and interviewers are all curious. In the past, I may have said something annoying like dark chocolate or my mom’s lasagna or mint chocolate chip ice cream or those mini frozen pizzas we used to get from the Schwan’s man. (OK, but first: Does anyone else have very fond memories of the Schwan’s food? Fudgsicles? Chicken nuggets? Tater tots? THE PIZZAS? Does anyone else even recognize the Schwans’ food brand? The yellow delivery truck full of ALL the goods? #90sKid ETA: Twitter poll reassures me: society does still love Schwan’s food.)
My point is I wouldn’t have said, “Food is not a guilty pleasure. Food is something we eat every day (I hope). I don’t feel guilty about it. Next question!” That’s what I should have said. I could have had years of fighting against the idea of food as a “guilty pleasure” under my belt. Maybe we wouldn’t have a reduced guilt label to battle. Instead, we’re just getting started.
reduced guilt label on spinach dip


I don’t feel food guilt anymore.

I’m not pretending to enjoy any one food while actually feeling a pit in my stomach about how to compensate for it, how to repent. I don’t overanalyze my food choices, calculate how they add up, or care much about whether I hit all the “healthy!” food groups in every meal. I don’t make silent self-promises to eat a salad later at the exact moment I’m eating a bagel, or slice of pizza, or mint chocolate chip ice cream cone. I don’t feel guilty about what I eat, anymore.
But I DO know exactly what food guilt feels like. It’s an (unnecessary) angst I wish on no one. It plagues the mind for hours, sometimes days. It can be all-consuming. It serves no useful purpose, whatsoever. It convinces you that your food morals have gone awry; you’ve made the worst choice possible, and you will pay for it later. It makes you feel ashamed for EATING. It’s nonsense.

Trader Joe’s “Reduced Guilt” label marketing is nonsense.

The scene: My kitchen, snack time. I’m dipping tortilla chips into a creamy spinach dip I bought at Trader Joe’s. I’ve never bought this dip before, but I do love a good creamy spinach dip so I added it to the cart and thought, “Why haven’t we bought this before?” I’m using tortilla chips as my spoon because we’re out of crackers. We’re out of crackers because we’re moving soon and the mission is to STOP filling the pantry and start emptying it.
I’ve seen their reduced guilt label before, but was unaware it adorned the lid of this specific dip. That’s how much attention I pay to the foods I’m buying. I’m not interested in the package marketing or labels; I’m interested in what sounds good at the moment and adding some variety to our fridge situation. In fact, the first time I noticed their “Reduced Guilt’ label was about a year ago. I was in line, staring at the many products they try to tempt you with before you checkout. A display of wheat crackers stared back at me. “Reduced Guilt!” they said. “WTF,” I wondered.

The reduced guilt label is Trader Joe’s “healthy” euphemism of choice.

I’d much rather them use the now-meaningless, ubiquitous food labels that consumers are learning to ignore. Go with “healthy” or “natural” or anything that is just a somewhat-harmless attempt at marketing. But DO NOT (try to) make me feel guilty about food, even if it’s LESS guilty than I’m apparently supposed to feel. Do not imply that I should feel even the slightest bit guilty about this cracker, chip, or spinach dip.
I haven’t done a full sweep of the store to see what other products don this Superior Food hat. That feels like a giant waste of my time and yours. What I do know is that they explain this reduced guilt label with things like “50% less” fat or sugar or whatever else might explain WHY you should feel less guilty about eating these foods. Those full-fat foods, though? GUILT RIDDEN. Don’t even go there, they say. You’ll have the worst day.

This is nonsense. Please don’t feel guilty about what you’re eating.

Please refrain from categorizing any one food or drink as a “vice” or a “guilty pleasure.” It’s something you like. Why feel ashamed of that? What is there to feel so guilty about? You have not committed a crime.

On the flip side, food cannot be “innocent.”

After seeing my reduced guilt label spinach-dip-rant on Instagram last week, a friend sent me a picture of her LaCroix box. It read “0-calorie, 0-sweetener, 0-sodium = Innocent!” As if calories, sweeteners, and sodium are guilty. Of what, exactly?
food cannot be guilty | heather caplan RD Real Talk
Food does not have morals. It doesn’t commit crimes or sins or whatever you might consider an act that makes someone “guilty” of something. It can’t be “good” or “bad,” guilty or innocent. In a simpler world, food is not anthropomorphized to justify a diet mentality or food rules. “I can’t eat that, it’s not an innocent food.” Does that actually make any sense? No more or less so than, “It’s a bad carb.” Food didn’t ask for these characteristics; it didn’t develop its own morality. Diet culture, and the disordered eating patterns that come with diet food rules, have done this for us. Diets give food morals and thereby make us feel guilty, or sometimes superior, because of our food choices.

Strip food of morals, and remember it’s just something we eat.

It’s something that provides nourishment, connection, taste, texture, pleasure (but not of the “guilty” kind), joy, and fuel. That’s all. Remember these labels and emotional ties to food serve a marketing or dieting culture purpose, nothing more. Strip food of this moral hierarchy, and see how it feels to just eat it. Consider it one step in ditching the diet mentality; one step towards accepting your taste and food preferences, not judging them. If nothing else, please ignore the reduced guilt label and dine on, innocently. 


  1. August 15, 2017

    Brilliant! I totally agree. I think you should send this post into Trader Joes. They are responsive to their clients, so maybe if we all send this in, it will help turn the tide.

    And yes!! Schwans!!! I loved those personal pizzas! and corndogs! and all their ice creams! Thanks for reminding me of this fun childhood memory!

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