Abstract Food and eating are often associated with ambivalent feelings: pleasure and enjoyment, but also worry and guilt. Guilt has the potential to motivate behaviour change, but may also lead to feelings of helplessness and loss of control. This study firstly examined whether a default association of either ‘guilt’ or ‘celebration’ with a prototypical forbidden food item (chocolate cake) was related to differences in attitudes, perceived behavioural control, and intentions in relation to healthy eating, and secondly whether the default association was related to weight change over an 18month period (and short term weight-loss in a subsample of participants with a weight-loss goal). This study did not find any evidence for adaptive or motivational properties of guilt. Participants associating chocolate cake with guilt did not report more positive attitudes or stronger intentions to eat healthy than did those associating chocolate cake with celebration. Instead, they reported lower levels of perceived behavioural control over eating and were less successful at maintaining their weight over an 18month period. Participants with a weight-loss goal who associated chocolate cake with guilt were less successful at losing weight over a 3month period compared to those associating chocolate cake with celebration.