Food is a big part of our culture. We use it to socialize, maintain traditions, blog about it on the internet, and – you know – survive. It’s a huge part of who we are, but does it define us or determine morality?
Consider this familiar dialogue:
“Vegetables are GOOD.”
“Dessert is BAD.”
“I was so GOOD/BAD yesterday for eating xyz.”
We give a lot of power to the foods we use as fuel when we assign them as good or bad. This becomes even more dangerous when we take this a step further and label ourselves as good or bad due to what we’re eating.
Nutrition is a multifaceted thing, and it’s not as simple as saying “this food is good” and “that food is bad”. Every body is different, every circumstance is different, and there’s a lot we’re still figuring out when it comes to diet and health.
But one thing I know is this: eating French fries doesn’t make you a bad person (and eating kale doesn’t make you a saint).
Here are some reasons you may want to ditch the food morality thing:
Reason #1: It’s a guilt trap.
If we label every food as “good” or “bad” then you’re setting the course for guilt city, baby.
Reason #2: It’s not black and white.
Take for example, the Brazil nut. It is a great source of selenium, which we need for thyroid function and immune system. HOWEVER, regularly eat too many and it puts you at “increased risk of disease”.
Another example is fruit-flavored yogurt. It’s a great source of calcium, protein, and probiotics. And there’s sugar. So is it “healthy” to eat yogurt? Or “unhealthy?”
See what I mean? These labels are really unhelpful. Most foods will have health-supporting factors and taste-supporting factors. So, instead of putting each food under a microscope, aim for balance and variety – as you are able to – and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Reason #3: It promotes the diet cycle.
Guilt is a component of the diet cycle and keeps us in a continuous pattern of restricting until we inevitably reach a breaking point because it isn’t sustainable, which often results in a binge on all the foods we were missing, then guilt, shame and then start over with restricting again. Removing this step of labeling food as “good” or “bad” breaks the chain.
So how can we break this pattern when we’re immersed in a culture of food morality? One way is to begin practicing food neutrality. Evelyn Tribole, dietitian and coauthor of Intuitive Eating, suggests approaching eating from a place of curiosity instead of judgment.
We are humans, not robots, and eating is not going to perfectly match the nutrition needs to keep the body operational – nor should it, as this would absolutely suck the joy right out of eating!
We are bound to eat in ways that don’t always lead to us feeling the best. If we view this from a place of curiosity instead of judgment, it frees up our mind to pay attention to patterns about how different foods make us feel. This takes awareness and practice.
If I am sad and eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s “Chocolate Therapy” I can take this two directions:
Option A→ Get upset at myself, call myself a “bad person”, and take it to mean deeper things about my worth and who I am as a person. Rinse, wash, repeat.
Option B→ Look at it neutrally and pay attention to how the ice-cream makes me feel. Does it make me feel better? Does it give me stomach cramps and terrible farts? What situations lead me to feel this sad?
Notice that the second option doesn’t involve guilt. This method extends the basic human understanding and compassion that we would offer to any other person, and yet we withhold from ourselves. It helps to put us in the place of a self-caretaker instead of a self-bully.
You are more than the food you put in your body. Break the cycle and reclaim your own morality!