What is the difference between GOOD and BAD food?
So today is my birthday. Just so happens that it occurs every year, and every year I am reminded of a lesson that I am continuing to learn about the morality of food. When I was growing up, birthday parties would cause anxiety. A little voice in my head would nag, "too much cake and ice cream is BAD for you!" or "stick with the fruit and veggies, they are GOOD for you!" I cared a lot about doing the "right thing" and eating the "best way." While I was in college working to obtain my nutrition degree, I would try to change what I was doing to fit into the mold of what I saw as "perfect eating." I realize that many people think this way. It only takes a quick search on YouTube to see thousands of "what I eat in a day" videos touting the benefits of avocado toast, huge mason jars of lemon water, and acai smoothie bowls. Chips are labeled as "junk food," fast food as "unhealthy." The aisles at every grocery store are full of packages with the words "pure," "healthy," and "good." Everybody seems to have different ideas of what "perfect" looks like, and it can be downright disorienting.
Even so, there is a certain satisfaction in feeling like you have achieved the "right" way to eat; a satisfaction that is only rivaled by the intense guilt that comes with screwing it all up. For me, a nutrition major who struggled with food cravings and emotional eating, it looked like "pretending" that I had everything together when I was around friends and other girls in my major, then bingeing late at night on cold pizza, chips, ice cream, and anything else I could get my hands on. I cared a lot about appearing to have it all together... I was going to be a dietitian for goodness sake! If anybody should have the perfect diet, it should be me. Who would take me seriously if they knew that I struggled and ate "bad" food in secret?
The truth is that too much of anything, including "good" foods, can be harmful.
The truth is that there is no such thing as "good" or "bad" food. There is no such thing as a "perfect" diet. Every food provides nutrition and sustenance to the body. The truth is that too much of anything, including "good" foods, can be harmful. All foods should be eaten in moderation. All food is fuel. Interestingly, depriving yourself of the foods that you really enjoy or labeling foods as "good" and "bad" can actually backfire. Research shows that depriving yourself of foods that you crave can cause you to dislike healthy foods and binge or overeat the "forbidden" or "restricted" foods.
So now what? How do I become healthier without this good/bad food mindset? Stop depriving yourself of the foods that you enjoy. This might be really tough at first, and you might even gain a few pounds in the process (which is totally normal and OK!). Over time, though, the intensity of your cravings will start to diminish. The goal is this: eating a wide variety of foods that not only are enjoyable in the moment, but help you to feel satisfied, nourished, and healthy on a day-to-day basis. It used to be that I would never let myself eat ice cream (even though it is one of my favorite things ever) and I craved it sooo intensely. When I first discovered this new way of eating, I ate ice cream every night! I couldn't get enough. But over time, that intense craving I had started to diminish... Nowadays, I'll have a bowl every once in a while when I feel like it. Today, I'm going to eat some delicious birthday cake, knowing that I can fully enjoy the awesome experience without feeling guilty or fearful of more restriction in my future...