Good Foods vs. Bad Foods

“But isn’t X bad for you?”

Fill in X with any food you can think of and I’ve probably gotten asked about it. Eggs, soy, bread, bananas, diet soda, mac n’ cheese….honestly you could Google any food you can think of and someone on the internet is going to be bashing it in one way or another. As opposed to what many internet articles, doctors, friends or diet books might lead you to believe there are no foods in particular you must avoid. I repeat – THERE ARE NO CRIMINAL FOODS.

Labeling foods with this bad/good morality taps into people’s guilt and increases temptations. Adults are often very much like toddlers – tell us we can’t eat something and that food becomes all we can think about. Then when we do end up eating it, we tend to overeat it and feel guilty afterwards. This cycle can be difficult to break out of and lead to disordered eating patterns.

Food is not black and white and blanket labeling  and food as “bad” makes no sense. Bad in what context? Everything is so individual. How much of X are you eating? What are your goals? What are your medical conditions? Are there foods you are allergic to or avoid for religious or ethical reasons? The answers to these questions are more telling than the actual food in question.

“Bad” foods don’t exist but less nutritious foods and poor eating patterns do. When we combine these two factors on a consistent basis we’re likely to see poor health results. Rather than labeling foods as “good” or “bad”, I like to tell people that the foods we eat exist on a spectrum. Picture foods like soda, desserts, pizza, fast food on one end of the spectrum and foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meats, and dairy on the other side. We should aim to choose foods on the right side of the spectrum 80-90% of the time and allow ourselves favorites from the left side to fill in the gaps. By decriminalizing foods you lose the “all or nothing” attitude that makes it so difficult to reach our goals. This will allow you to practice mindful eating of the less nutritious foods by slowing down and enjoying them for what they are.

Even when it comes to hitting weight-related goals – we CAN eat whatever we want to reach them. You may have seen clickbait articles advertising a man who lost weight eating Twinkies daily or your cousin who lost 20 pounds stating the only change she made was “cutting out carbs”. Does this mean that Twinkies are actually “good” for you? Or that carbs cause you to gain weight? No. It means they lost weight simply due to a calorie deficit. No matter what foods they were eating or what foods they were avoiding, they burned more calories than they consumed. Period. And here’s an important reminder: losing weight can make someone “healthier” but our weight is not the only determinant of our health. If we lose that weight only eating Twinkies we likely aren’t doing our bodies much of a favor. 

Many of you reading this have the privilege to choose what you can eat each day or at least have some say in it. You may not know what it will be (although I encourage you all to get onto the meal planning game), but you know you will eat. Recognize this and use it to choose wisely based on both your health goals and your cravings. Food is fuel but it is also so much more than that. There are many horrible things in this world – let’s not make food one of them.

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