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Will you get diabetes from a Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino?

Posted May 1

Starbucks released its Unicorn Frappuccino last week and made quite the splash. Some critics condemned the drink. Were they right? (Deseret Photo)

Last week, Starbucks made a splash with a limited-availability drink. It jumped on the unicorn-themed bandwagon with a hot pink and blue Unicorn Frappuccino. Released for five days, the brightly colored drink was all over social media, and stores sold out the first day.

It’s been awhile since there was such a polarizing food item, and this one saw both Team Unicorn and Team Fear, along with another possible team: Team Curious.

Team Fear attacked the amount of sugar and artificiality of the frozen drink — although Starbucks says the bright colors are created with fruits, vegetables and spices.

This quick response was fear-mongering at its finest, and was worse than the 40-80 grams of sugar in the drink. When did we, as a society, get to the point of fearing food? How is one fun, brightly colored drink going to ruin anyone? Is it going to give you diabetes or make you unhealthy in just 24 ounces?

No, it’s one drink. Even a few won't have that effect.

When you hear the words “chia seeds,” you probably think healthy, fiber-filled, food. When you hear “frappuccino” or “unicorn frappuccino,” you may think of something bad or unhealthy. Regardless of whether you've tried either, your response is based on health, not taste.

If you can’t tell, this isn’t about the Unicorn Frappuccino, rather about how we view food as a society.

We’ve somehow started to separate eating for pleasure from eating for health. Eating nutritious food is important, but eating pleasurable food is important, as well, because food is something we will always need. Food nourishes our bodies and allows them to function. For that reason, it makes sense that food is (or at least should be) pleasurable.

We crave different foods, and sometimes those cravings don’t align with what we’ve been trained to see as good.

Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, authors of "Intuitive Eating," a book about the psychology of eating and dieting, give a powerful example about honoring one's body: Generally, when you have a craving for chocolate cake and don’t honor it, you find yourself grabbing carrots, then maybe a slice of bread. Because neither satisfies your craving, you go for peanut butter and chocolate chips and, finally, you go for that cake. Instead, you could have started by eating just the cake you wanted.

Tribole and Resch are talking about a slice of chocolate cake, not a full day of chocolate cake, or a chocolate cake diet. The notion that one food choice can derail your health is silly. Most of us eat multiple times per day and, because of that, we need to look at overall food consumption, not one isolated food.

With that said, labeling individual foods as good or bad isn’t helpful. You can eat chia seeds, a Unicorn Frappuccino and other foods in a day and still be healthy. Imagine that.

The sense of pride that comes from restricting foods you enjoy because they may not be healthy is not productive. If you don’t honor cravings or hunger, you may overeat at some point.

Dieting and restriction doesn’t work. Villainizing foods doesn’t work, either. They all lead to shame, guilt and even disordered eating. We hear everywhere that we should feel guilty for eating unhealthy food, or that our sense of worth is bound up in our food choices or how our bodies look. But those voices are wrong and can affect our happiness and well-being. Being miserable by trying to eat perfectly is, well, miserable.

Shame and guilt that surround food choices and ourselves do not lead to healthful habits. They lead to punishing ourselves through restrictive eating and miserable exercise, and no one wants to feel punished long-term.

Stop believing they are productive when it comes to food choices. Stop believing looking a certain way is the only way to be healthy. Stop believing any food is inherently good or inherently bad, unless you don’t enjoy that food.

All foods provide some type of benefit, as they nourish bodies and souls. When we stop listening to the guilt and shame, and turn inward to listen to what our bodies are telling us, we can nourish our bodies and strip away that shame, guilt, and fear that often accompany our food choices. That’s when we can truly be healthy.

This isn’t saying eating mostly chocolate cake or Unicorn Frappuccinos is good for you. Avoiding food groups can lead to nutrient deficiencies and a body that doesn’t function as well as it could. But the shame and guilt that accompany eating foods isn’t good, either.

Here are three quick tips to feel less shame and guilt when you eat.

  1. Identify your triggers that cause shame and guilt when you eat. Do you feel bad about yourself if you eat that piece (or pieces) of candy at the office? Why? Where is that shame or guilt coming from? Recognizing why you feel bad about yourself is the first step to reducing shame and guilt.
  2. Realize your food choices don’t define you. If you eat a hamburger or a treat, are you a bad person? No. Are you any less worthy of loving yourself or being loved for not looking a certain way? No.
  3. Work to feel comfortable in your skin. Society pressures us to look a certain way, a way a majority of people won’t look if they nourish their bodies properly. You’re more than your body size. Here’s something that can help.
Disordered eating is serious and common. NEDA and EatRight can help.

As for the Unicorn Frappuccino, I hope you tried one if you wanted. If so, I hope you drank it until you were satisfied. Your blood sugar may have spiked, but it will go down. As for shame and guilt, work on bringing those down, too.

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