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Why You Should Stop Labeling Food as "Good" or "Bad"

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

Over the next few weeks I am going to be putting out a series of posts on the importance of having a healthy relationship with food. The first topic I would like to discuss is the negative implications of labeling foods as good or bad.

When I ask clients questions about their nutrition I often get one of two answers: either that they’ve been good or bad. When I ask what makes a day good vs. bad I find that most people only think they are good if they are 100 percent adherent to their current diet/nutrition plan or if they only eat foods they deem as good or healthy. This means that if they are 90 percent adherent but have a treat like a donut or fries they view the day as ruined or bad. Food is not inherently good or bad. Yes, there are certain foods that are more calorically dense than others and certain foods that have more nutritional value than others, but it is important not to view foods only as good or bad.

Due to the fitness and diet industry/culture, when we think of nutrition and exercise, we tend to think of them as black and white. It seems to be a very all or nothing mentality. This explains why people think they need to work out 5 days a week and why they tend to skip workouts if they only have a short period of time, in their minds it’s not worth it if they can’t get a full hour in. When we put food into categories and think of certain foods as off limits or only allowed on cheat days we are setting ourselves up for failure. By telling yourself that a food is bad or that you’re cheating, you’re naturally going to feel guilty and view it as something that is wrong. While eating nutritionally dense foods is important it’s very unrealistic to expect yourself never to eat certain foods again. When we restrict our food choices we often crave those foods even more. This can lead to negative relationships with food, binging, and less than optimal food choices throughout the day. An example would be if I am trying to lose weight, or simply just eat what society tells me is healthy, and I plan my meals out for the day. I end up forgetting my food at home so I have to get my meals out while I am at work. For breakfast I choose a breakfast sandwich on a bagel. I think bagels are a bad food that will prevent me from reaching my goals so therefore I believe I have already ruined my diet for the day. This leads me to choose other options that have less nutritional value than I would have if I had ordered a food I thought of as good or healthy. I also end up eating more food than I had planned because since I have ruined my diet in my mind, there is no point in trying to recover, so I decide I will start over tomorrow. In reality, the bagel is not an unhealthy choice and I could have easily stayed on track throughout the day. It was my negative thinking that led me to overindulge.

When it comes to health, and even weight loss, you have to look at the big picture. Enjoying foods you like with little nutritional value in single servings or small quantities is not going to make you an unhealthy person or unsuccessful at losing weight. Having a healthy relationship with food is important for your mental health and can even help you reach your weight loss goals sooner, if that is what you are trying to achieve. A balanced diet includes the foods you enjoy -- that is why it is called balanced. I am not saying that foods with less nutritional value should make up your whole diet, I am simply saying that you can incorporate them in and you shouldn’t feel guilty about doing so.

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