Food isn't just fuel; it's a big part of our daily lives, culture, and social gatherings. But it's not just about filling our bellies; food often comes with a side of moral judgment. We're constantly bombarded with messages about what's "good" and "bad" to eat. Ads, diet plans, and social media gurus love to praise some foods while bashing others. Fruits and veggies get a gold star as "good," while anything sugary, fried, or processed gets slapped with the "bad" label. This kind of labeling might seem harmless, but it can mess with our heads and make us feel ashamed about what we put on our plates.
The 'Good vs. Bad' Food Trap
When we label foods as either “good” or “bad”, “healthy” or “unhealthy”, “clean” or “dirty”, we tend to attach those labels to ourselves as eaters. Many people tend to think in black or white terms. So, when we are eating “good” or “clean, we feel good about ourselves. But when we eat something "bad," we can't help but feel like we've failed some kind of food morality test.
This shame can mess up our relationship with food and our mental well-being. It can even lead to some disordered eating habits, like going on super-restrictive diets or binge-eating the foods that we’ve been restricting. Plus, it can take a toll on our self-esteem, making us feel like we're failures or “lack willpower” in the food department.
Food Choices Aren't Black and White
Food is morally neutral, neither good nor bad. All foods are meant to be enjoyed and the only off-limits foods are those you are allergic or intolerant to. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that broccoli and mac and cheese are nutritionally equal. But they are morally equal. You are not a better or worse person for enjoying one of those foods over the other. And watch out for other labels, such as “cheat meals”. The word, “cheating”, implies a moral issue, like cheating on your partner or a test at school and this often brings up a sense that you are doing something wrong. Eating a food you enjoy isn’t wrong, so if it feels that way, you may need to take a deeper look at your relationship with food. If you’re following a diet plan, it’s likely that you are feeling restricted and this will ultimately backfire!
How to Have a Better Food Relationship
So, if we want to make peace with food and stop feeling guilty all the time, we've got to ditch the 'good vs. bad' thinking. Here's how:
- Go with the flow: Listen to your body’s hunger, fullness, and satisfaction cues. With time and practice, you can become more attuned to the subtle cues your body sends.
- Find permission: Give yourself full unconditional permission to eat and enjoy whatever foods make your body feel good. This might include vegetables AND pizza. Full permission doesn’t mean that you have to eat all foods that you think about or enjoy, it just means that you can whenever you want to without feeling guilty.
- Question the labels: Don't buy into the whole "good" or "bad" food thing. Foods aren't moral, and neither are you based on what you eat. Feelings of guilt and shame around your eating habits are a sign of deeper issues in your relationship with food.
- Get expert help: If you're baffled by what to eat, chat with a registered dietitian trained in intuitive eating (like us!). They'll help you find what works for you. You can search the Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor directory here.
- Be kind to yourself: every eating opportunity is a learning opportunity. If you have an experience of overeating or binge eating a food, try to remain curious and neutral about the situation so you can learn more about what led up to that moment. Things like food restrictions, stress, and strong emotions can all increase the likelihood of overeating.
Food is more than just nutrients; it's a big part of our lives. The 'good vs. bad' food labeling can make us feel ashamed of what we eat especially when we’ve broken a “food rule”. To have a healthier relationship with food, we've got to ditch the judgment, find balance, and listen to our bodies. Food should nourish us, not make us feel like we're on trial for our eating choices. Remember, nothing tastes good with a side of shame.