There are no "bad" foods
How often do we hear the terms “good” and “bad” associated with food? Whether it's someone at the dinner table demonizing pasta, or a new documentary on Netflix telling us to eliminate a food group, we are CONSTANTLY being fed ideas of how we should think about food. How we eat has turned into a moral obligation, rather than a way to fuel our body and soul.
Food is meant to be pleasurable and satisfying. It gives us energy to do our favorite activities, and fuels our brains to come up with incredible ideas. Foods provide us with protein, fats, and carbohydrates- the macronutrients we need to stay alive. Regardless if your meal is pizza or a big salad (both of which are perfectly fine to eat), when it goes through digestion it will be utilized by the body. Sure, some foods contain more nutrients and fiber than others. But if we consume foods from a variety of food groups, we will get the nutrition we need. If we listen to our bodies and ask ourselves, what sounds delicious and satisfying to eat right now, our nutrition needs will be met.
When foods are labeled as bad and good, it creates this sense of anxiety and fear around food. If “bad food” is consumed, we find ourselves in the all or nothing mindset. So often I hear people say things such as “I ate X food, I’ve ruined the day so I might as well eat everything. I’ll start my diet over with ‘good’ food tomorrow”. This is a problematic mindset for many reasons. Labeling food as “bad” creates an unhealthy relationship with food. Food restriction (which is what happens when we label foods bad) often leads to binges. This is our bodies natural reaction to restriction- it's a mechanism to try and save up fuel in case food is restricted again. Binging on “bad” or forbidden foods causes shame and guilt around eating. Having these feelings takes away the pleasure of eating-one of the main reasons humans consume foods. It leads people down a spiraling path of low self-esteem, chronic yo-yo dieting, and disordered eating.
So, how to stop labeling foods as good and bad? It's a change of mindset society needs to adopt. Instead of focusing on foods that you “should” eat, think about foods you would enjoy eating. Foods that will satisfy your body and soul. When having a snack or a meal, think about foods you can include that will give you energy and satisfaction. I like to start by including at least two of the three macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) every time I eat. This could be eggs (protein), toast (carbohydrate) and avocado (fat). It could also be a delicious doughnut from the local bakery (carbohydrate and fat). Each macronutrient has a different role in the body, and are more satisfying when eaten together. Also, consider what sounds palatable. If a doughnut sounds amazing, an apple will not satisfy your need. I can tell you in full confidence you won’t always crave the doughnut-sometimes it will be a crunchy apply. However, chances are if you go for the apple when you really wanted the doughnut, you will end up binging on doughnuts later.
Long story short- make food choices that are YOUR choice rather than what you “should” eat, or what is “bad” to eat. This will make your eating experience more enjoyable, reduce shame and guilt around food, and lead to better physical and mental health.
If you are struggling with disordered eating, or have a complicated relationship with food, please reach out to myself, or another intuitive eating dietitian and/or therapist.