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Why We Need To Stop Calling Foods "Good" and "Bad"

Updated: Sep 23, 2018


I've noticed a pattern lately. Every time that I'm with a group of people, whether it is a holiday, a group lunch, a birthday dinner (or even when I overhear a group of people taking to each other), I hear something along the lines of, "I know [insert food here] is so bad!", "I love [insert food here] so much but I never let myself eat it!", or "I was so bad over the weekend because I ate {insert food here]"! Sound familiar?

I sometimes stay quiet. I do not want to impose my beliefs regarding food on people anymore than I want other people to impose their food beliefs on me. I sometimes avoid telling people that I'm a dietitian. I sometimes hope that someone doesn't ask my opinion on [insert food here] while I'm trying to enjoy my meal. I wish that others could see that their food beliefs should not be imposed on others. I also wish that others could see that their judgements surrounding certain foods can be perceived as judgements surrounding the person they are calling out for eating said foods.

However, while there is a time and a place to stay quiet and avoid imposing on others, I wanted to share my thoughts regarding food - all food - in a space that is totally my own, for those who wish to hear my viewpoint. You may disagree, but I ask that you please keep this space a positive one, because I strive to only encourage positive relationships with food. Additionally, I ask that - even if you disagree - you think about this viewpoint the next time you impose your food beliefs on others.

Food Is Not "Good" or "Bad"

There, I said it - food is neither "good" nor "bad". Food is food. Some foods provide more nourishment (i.e. more nutrients) than others, and that is okay. However, just because a food does not provide as many nutrients as another food does not make that food "bad" - it is simply less nutritious. "Good" and "bad" are subjective terms. The terms "nutritious" or "nutrient-rich" are more objective. As long as you are consuming a diet that contains a good amount of nutrient-rich whole foods, it is okay to also consume foods that do not offer as much nutrition.

We Need To Stop Judging Ourselves For Our Food Choices: You Are Not "Good" or "Bad" Based On What You Eat

Enjoying a certain food does not make you a bad person and avoiding a certain food does not make you a good person. Food does not hold moral value. It is so important that this point is understood, because you are not a bad person for eating a certain food, or wanting a certain food, or liking a certain food. You are simply a person, who may require or want different foods on different days - and that is perfectly normal. Some days you may want "the real thing" - whether it is pizza, ice cream, a brownie, etc. Some days, you may want something touted as a more nutritious version - whether it is cauliflower crust, a lower calorie, lower sugar or higher protein ice cream, or a brownie made with avocado or black beans. That is perfectly okay. It is alright to accept and allow yourself to eat both options - it completely depends on what you want. The important factor is the "why" - or the mindset - surrounding your decision.

We Need To Reframe Our Language And Our Mindset

Instead of using words such as "guilt", "bad", or "treat" when describing food, what if we just called it what it was - pizza, strawberries, ice cream, almonds, cookies, peaches, spinach - food is food. Food is neutral. Our feelings toward food should be neutral - or positive. But why - and how- have our feelings toward food become so negative? Food, which nurtures us, helps us to grow, gives us pleasure, is tied to so many memories, and is completely essential to life - how is it possible to feel negatively toward it? The answer is, it is possible because of the language used to describe food. It is also possible to reframe that language. This may not come easy, but beginning with how you speak to yourself - transitioning from "I wish I didn't want [insert food here] now" to "I enjoy [insert food here] and I am allowed to have this food", or "I'm so bad for enjoying [insert food here]" to "I enjoy [insert food here]" help to disrupt the negative culture we have developed surrounding food. Instead of trying to "eat less", what if we tried to eat more nourishing foods? What if we strived to feel full and content by choosing balanced meals and snacks, rather than choosing to feel hungry and consuming fewer nutrients than we really need?

We Need To Stop Judging Others For Their Food Choices

When doing seminars, I like to initiate the conversation of, "what does 'healthy' mean to you?" and listen to the many viewpoints of the word 'healthy'. I have always noticed in doing so that each person has their own viewpoint, their own definition and their own reasoning for defining the word 'healthy' in such a way. I then make sure that the audience hears the differences in the definition. And the truth is, 'healthy' is likely to mean different things to different people, which is perfectly acceptable and unavoidable - and here is why:

Whole wheat is often seen as 'healthy', but for someone with celiac, they will become ill if they consume this 'healthy' food.

Cauliflower is often seen as 'healthy', but for someone with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) who is sensitive to FODMAPs, this 'healthy' food may exacerbate symptoms.

Nuts are often seen as 'healthy', but for someone with a nut allergy, this 'healthy' food can become life threatening.

A large salad is often seen as 'healthy', but for someone with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), this may be poorly tolerated.

I could continue, but I think you can see the point. 'Healthy' can mean different things for different people. Food itself is not 'healthy'. It is also not healthy to force yourself to eat something you do not tolerate or to force yourself to eat something you truly hate. Food is nutritious. Some food is more nutritious than others. And you do not know why someone else is making the food choices they are making - and you do not need to know. All you need to focus on is the foods that you want and choose to eat, for your own reasons.



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