Time to address this concept of “good” vs “bad” foods.
Many of us have talk about food this way. Fruit and veggies, for instance, are commonly seen as “good” foods. And cake or potato chips are seen as “bad” foods.
The reality is, some foods do have more nutritional value—more nutrients, more vitamins and minerals—and some foods do have less nutritional value—fewer nutrients, fewer vitamins and minerals, more “empty” calories, as in they provide a lot of calories with few other nutrients.
But labelling foods as good or bad because of their nutrient or calorie content isn’t helpful. For example, what happens when we go on a diet, tell ourselves we shouldn’t eat any bad food, but then “slip up” and end up eating them? We feel guilty. We feel bad about ourselves. And that guilt can sometimes create a rebound effect, where we think, “Oh look, I slipped up and ate that bad food. I have failed with this diet. I may as well give up. I may as well keep eating more of that bad food.” And that can result in a binge, which is not what we want here.
Instead, I’m going to encourage you to let go of the labels. To try not to judge your intake. To try not to engage in all-or-nothing thinking. And by that I mean the kind of thinking where we think: my diet has to be perfect, or I’ve failed. Or: I can never eat junk food ever, or I will be super unhealthy.
The truth is, you don’t need to be a perfect eater. There can be room in your diet for “play food.” Eating should be pleasurable. Balance is key.
So instead of that binary thinking—good vs bad—I want to encourage you to think of a continuum. There is a continuum along which every single food lies. At one end are food choices that have a high nutritional value; they are chock full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, nutrients, etc. For example, whole fruits, whole vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, legumes, lean sources of protein, healthy fats, etc. At the other end of the continuum are foods that have a low nutritional value: they have few vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, and provide mostly empty calories. For example, soda pop, candy, potato chips, etc. And then there are foods that lie at various points in between.
The goal is not to live at one end of the continuum, that is to only eat highly nutritious food. If you can, by all means, do it. But for most of us that would be unrealistic. The goal instead is to make choices that are sustainable, that you can live with over the long term.
So I’m not going to tell you to eliminate anything from your diet, or from that one end of the continuum. What you eat is your choice.
Instead, I’m going to encourage you to gradually move towards just a little bit better. Work at making choices that are more on the “healthier” end of the continuum. Work at it, make small improvements, small changes over time, and over time your diet will keep improving. And so will your health and body composition.
Instead of judging our diet and ourselves and focusing on what we’re doing wrong, let’s focus on what we’re doing well. Cuz chances are, there are things in your eating that you’re doing well. And that’s awesome. Let’s work at doing more of those things.
Think about your current diet. What are you doing well right now? Even if you have a lot of areas to improve, chances are there are some things you are doing well. Celebrate your successes. Look for the awesome!
Check out some of my articles on nutrition and health: