“I’ve been so good today, I totally deserve dessert tonight”
“I know it’s naughty, but that cake looks so good and I just want a piece”
“I just love my food too much. Why is it that I can’t seem to stop eating the bad foods?!”
Sound familiar? It’s dichotomous language that seems to have slipped into our everyday vernacular, regardless if we are watching our weight or not. It’s our almost universal classification of foods into groups – either foods are “good” because they are highly nutritious or they are “bad” because they are junk foods. In theory it sounds easy. You want to eat healthy so you just tell yourself to have the good foods and forget about the bad ones. There’s a couple of problems with this approach, however. Even though lots of people use this approach to eat less “bad” foods, the opposite tends to happen.
For a lot of people, the “good” vs. “bad” approach starts off okay. But I bet the following scenario is very familiar to a lot of people.
You decide to you need to start eating healthier to lose weight, so in your mind you have an idea of the types of foods that are going to be good for you. You meal prep like a boss, only pack “good” food into your trolley and always have food on you when you go out. This works really well for you, for the first little while.
It’s Saturday afternoon. No one else is around. You might have had a big Friday night so you might be a bit tired or hungover. You open the cupboard and see… TimTams. You try and resist but now you’ve seen them you can’t stop thinking about them. You pick up the packet swearing you’ll only have one. You take a bite and it’s like flood gates opening. You demolish the packet, cramming those biscuits in as fast as you can. Then you remember the ice cream in the freezer. Next thing you know that’s gone too. Cheese on your list of bad foods? Bread? You hoe in these too and before you know it you’re wracked with guilt for having eaten so many bad foods and so over full you feel sick.
This is really common. Placing foods on a “bad” list pretty much means they’re a banned food and that your going to do your best not to eat them – after all who wants to be “bad” and eat from the banned list?
Goodie two shoes alert
Another problem with calling foods “good” and “bad” is that we then tend to classify ourselves or our behaviour based on our food choices. Suddenly we’re a “good” person for eating kale (“I’ve been so good today!”) and a “bad” person for eating cake (“that was so naughty of me!”). Which is… silly? You’re not being a bad person for having some chocolate, you’re being, you know, human.
This thinking can start the slippery slope towards orthorexia, or an obsession with eating only healthy foods. While not yet a clinically diagnosable eating disorder, many health experts agree that this is not a healthy state of mind. Obsessing and stressing over every meal to make sure that it’s perfectly healthy can be very damaging to many aspects of health – physical, emotional and social.
Food is morally neutral
Repeat after me: there is no such thing as good foods or bad foods.
Think about it. How can a food be good? It didn’t help the old lady cross the road in the same way a bad food didn’t rob a bank. Yes, foods have different amounts of nutrients in them. Some foods are highly nutritious i.e they contain high amounts of nutrients that our bodies thrive off (vitamins, minerals, wholegrain carbohydrates, protein, poly- and monounsaturated fats, etc.) and some less so. This doesn’t make some good and some bad. Food is morally neutral.
Yes, we Aussies aren’t that great at eating our veggies, and we eat too many sometimes foods. These are foods that don’t contain as many nutrients in them as everyday foods and are often high in saturated fat, sugar or salt. You won’t find these in the five foods groups that we should be eating from everyday. Well then, you might ask, if we are eating too many of these discretionary foods, surely we need something that is going to encourage us to eat better?
At face value, many diets do encourage us to eat more fruits (well, most of them) and they certainly encourage us to eat more veggies (yay!) but the problem with almost all of them is that they divide foods into lists. Good/bad, clean/dirty, sugar free/sugar filled, Paleo/not Paleo, the list goes on and on! The problem, as I’ve already illustrated, with grouping foods into good/bad categories is that it affects how we eat. As soon as you classify a food as good or bad you’ll probably eat more of the “bad” foods and feel worse for eating them, then if you take a neutral approach to foods. You’ll also probably feel bad or feel like you’re a bad person for eating a food not on the “accepted” list.
This approach to get us to eat more everyday foods clearly isn’t working. We need a new approach. After all, this isn’t some epic battle against good and evil. This is you, nourishing your body in the best way you know how to without spending hours everyday stressing over how many “good” and “bad” foods you’re going to eat.