Ok, pop quiz: have you ever described a food you’re about to eat as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’?
Be honest! I’m pretty confident we all have from time to time – sometimes in throwaway comments like “Oh I’ll be good and have the salad” or on Monday morning when someone asks how our weekend was “Not good. I ate a lot of bad food.”
Logically you know what I’m going to say next – or maybe you don’t, what an adventure awaits! – food is not, and can never be ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s quite literally just food. Fuel. Sustenance. But as humans we anthropomorphise it and then project our own emotions on everything from bell peppers to donuts to yogurt to steak to soup.
Food cannot be anything other that with which we power our day-to-day lives, yet for a whole host of reasons (though mainly due to guilt and shame) we label it and let those labels control our own emotions.
Let me explain: I’ll wager you don’t think of yourself as a ‘bad’ person. But if you describe the meal in front of you as bad… and go ahead and eat it anyway… it doesn’t take a psychotherapist to realise that you’re going to think of yourself as ‘bad’ for eating it.
Before they start working with me, I hear this a great deal with clients who have this sort of relationship with food. BFCY (before Fitter Confident You) they start a Diet and cut out all the sugar, carbs, processed food, alcohol and soda because those foods are ‘bad’.
In comes the ‘good’ food – salads! Watery soups! The driest crackers this side of Death Valley!
Why? Because these are ‘good’ foods, and they’re being ‘good’ and a ‘good person’ and will only hit their goals if they’re always ‘good’.
And the first few days are bearable. Just. But the hunger pangs kick in, there’s probably a sugar withdrawal headache and an overall lack of energy about them.
They last one more day, and then dive into the cookies, grab handfuls of chips and get very well acquainted with both Ben and Jerry.
Ie. they eat a lot of ‘bad’ foods. Worse still, they’ve cheated on their ‘good’ persona they were trying to cultivate, so feel crappy about who they are and they can’t stick anything and nothing works for them… and the downward spiral continues.
What can you do about this?
Two things. Firstly, listen to the language you’re using to describe your food. If it’s things like ‘good’ and ‘bad’, pause and see if you could let it pass without judging your food.
However nutritionally-poor a food is, it still isn’t ‘bad’, it just won’t help you to your goals as effectively as other foods.
And the flipside? One salad isn’t going to get you to your goals either – neither does it make you a ‘good’ person – sorry! I don’t make the rules up! Actually, I sort of do, but I’m still not sorry.
The other thing you can do, is to start to allow yourself to have – and enjoy! – these so-called ‘bad’ foods during the week and on a regular basis. The less you see them as treats and food with which to reward yourself, the more you’ll see them as what they are: that’s right, just food.
The final thing, remember this: any Diet that gets you to do something out of the ordinary, won’t be sustainable long term. It will be a quick fix that will most likely leave you feeling below par.
Do you think Beyonce still does that ridiculous maple syrup, lemon juice and cayenne pepper drink thing? No she does not! (Maybe she never did it, but it was in all the trashy mags about 13 years ago!)
Learning a bit of nutrition knowledge – hey! That’s what I can teach you! – won’t take the fun out of food, instead it will help you create a healthier relationship with food where nothing is ever off-limits and there’s no guilt or shame around anything you eat, ever again.