When I arrived back at the office today after a week’s vacation, the entire Bottom Line staff came marching toward me singing Happy Birthday and carrying a “cake” made of bags of potato chips—plain, barbecue, salt-and-vinegar…a buffet of salty, crunchy chips. Perfect, since that’s my guilty pleasure.

Kind of weird, right? Especially given my overall healthy habits and my soapbox pronouncements about the importance of eating high-quality, nutritious foods. But yes, it’s true! I, Sarah Hiner, love salty, crunchy snacks—potato chips, corn chips, popcorn. So much so that on Tuesdays, Bottom Line’s CFO and I walk over to the movie theater next door to get popcorn for the team because it’s $5 bucket day. Salt. Crunch. Yum.

What is it about guilty pleasures that causes us each to become a six-year-old once again? It could be binge-watching reality TV shows or eating an entire sleeve of Fig Newtons, all the while telling yourself, I shouldn’t be doing this. Is there something about doing something “naughty” that makes these things taste and feel even better? Or are we simply too controlled by the “shoulds” in our lives and would be far better served removing the guilt and simply enjoying a sometimes-pleasure?

I took an informal poll today at the office and on Facebook asking about other people’s guilty pleasures. What I found most fascinating was the number of people who responded! There is something about guilty pleasures that hits a nerve…and voyeurs that we are, we all wanted to share our little secrets and see what others do in their “private Idahos.”

While I know that no one would share any truly deep private guilty pleasures with me, most actually were quite predictable and tame. The #1 response—sweets. Nearly half (42%) of my friends/family yearn for candy, cookies, cake, chocolate—anything that provides sugar’s temporary elation. No wonder scientists have deemed sugar more addictive than cocaine!

The next most-popular category? The modern-day addiction, of course—our screens. Our TV screens—the Kardashians, Bravo reality shows and Lifetime movies…and our phone, tablet and laptop screens—phone games, Facebook, etc. Just as sugar helps our bodies release feel-good dopamine, social media provides a similar dopamine “hit” with every ding and light.

Of course, within these categories were some very specific and colorful descriptions that you might enjoy—chocolate-covered Oreo cookies with sea salt and caramel…bad made-for-TV movies that involve a knife-wielding psycho…disco music karaoke…wonderful yet horrible deli macaroni salad…and the one that really made my mouth water—triple-decker Sloppy Joes from the Millburn Deli in New Jersey. (If you haven’t ever tasted one, you wouldn’t understand. But for all my Millburn, NJ, friends…sheer delight.)

So what? Good question.

Different experts say different things. Some say that sweet cravings mean you have a biological addiction to particular drugs or that the bad intestinal flora that feed on sugar are demanding to be fed…or that you are filling the stresses of life with sweetness.

For all the salty/crunchy people like me, that craving usually is a response to stress because salt actually suppresses the production of the stress hormone cortisol. This makes total sense to me because I live in a constant state of motion and pressure. Thankfully, there were few salty crunchers among my brethren.

As for all of the media escape artists…well…sometimes we all just need to escape a little. No surprises there.

Here’s what I propose, though. Sometimes we all do need an escape…or to soothe ourselves in a complex and often stressful world. So why feel guilty? My daughter regularly gives me a hard time for not enjoying my food when I have something that isn’t healthy. “Why can’t you just enjoy your food, Mom? Why do you have to always say, ‘It’s just food’?” Well, perhaps, that relates to guilty pleasures as well.

Why can’t we just enjoy our pleasures without feeling guilty? I don’t mean drown yourself in those pleasures because there are only so many episodes of the Kardashians anyone can take and only so many cookies anyone should eat. But why not understand that there are many ways to take care of ourselves, and sometimes that means a little screen time or chocolate-induced dopamine.

Years ago, I heard a presentation by Dr. Christiane Northrup. She talked about walking into a restaurant for lunch and seeing a burger that you think looks great. You really want the burger, but you know you shouldn’t. So you order the salad, then spend the rest of the meal drowning in regret because you didn’t get that delicious burger. Dr. Northrup’s reco: Get the burger because the impact of the regret on your body is more damaging than simply eating and enjoying the burger.

Last week, my family celebrated two birthdays—my brother-in-law’s and mine. That meant two days in a row of birthday cake and ice cream. I love chocolate cake and ice cream, but I never buy them because I generally feel terrible after I eat them. But at the right time for the right occasion, you bet I ate that cake and frosting and ice cream and enjoyed every pleasurable morsel.

Sometimes you just need to indulge…no guilt required.

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