Let’s try an activity. I’m going to list out some foods, and I want you to think to yourself “good” or “bad.”
- Ice Cream
- Fried Chicken
All of the foods I listed above are OKAY to eat. Eating any of those “good” or “bad” foods does not make you a morally good or bad person. Foods do not define you or your character.
Food Labeling: Why is it important?
As a personal trainer who helps clients transform their bodies, I can’t tell you the amount of times that clients have come to me feeling guilty and listing out all of the “bad” foods they’ve eaten. They come to me, feeling down in the dumps, forgetting about all of the great progress they have made, and feel that they need to punish themselves for their “bad” behavior. I always reassure them that they are not bad people and that the foods they ate are not forbidden. You are allowed to have that slice of pizza, that bowl of ice cream, that dozen of chicken wings (trust me, I’ve had my fair share of wings!), and even a few of grandma’s cookies!
When we put “good” and “bad” labels on food, we are creating and getting stuck in a cycle of psychological stress and torment that we then impose on ourselves. Why torture yourself over something you enjoy every once and a while? Embrace that your eating habits are not going to be perfect 100% of the time. Are we perfect in every other aspect of our lives? Have you ever not gotten an A+ in school, made a mistake at work, or even missed an appointment? I’m sure you’ve forgotten a birthday or two.
How Does This Cycle Work and Why is it Harmful?
When we label these foods as “bad” and put them in that category of foods that should never be eaten, it makes us want and crave them even more. When we say, “I can’t have that because it’s bad for me, has too many carbs, too much sugar, etc.”, we deny ourselves. There comes a time when we eat that so-called “bad” food, it’s very easy to binge on it instead of having one or just a few bites. One bite becomes a feeding frenzy, losing our sense of awareness and presence.
Have you ever eaten one food that you considered bad, and then thought, “Welp, I already ate one, so I might as well eat another… and another.” It can be mindless, as we begin to feel guilty and are not fully present. In this moment, it is not easy to think about whether you truly enjoy what you’re eating. It may be challenging to determine if that food nourishes your body or if a few bites were just enough. It becomes easier to eat more and eat any other foods you can get your hands on.
I have an analogy that I like to use when you eat a food that you have labeled as bad. When you’re driving and accidentally hit a pothole, causing a flat tire, do you think, “I might as well pop the rest of the tires since one is already flat?” Probably not!
What Can You Do?
There are a few recommendations I have when trying to create a new mindset around “good” or “bad” foods:
1. Create Awareness
Remember that everything we eat is our own personal choice. Think about the foods that you have labeled as “good” or “bad.” As you think about these foods, pay attention to the thoughts you have surrounding those foods. What feelings or emotions do those thoughts bring about?
2. Create a New Narrative
Instead of framing foods and your choices to eat them as “bad,” think about how to eat any food and feel “good” about your choice. For example, telling yourself, “I feel good knowing that I can enjoy this one dozen of wings in moderation.” It is very empowering to feel good about your choices and speak in positive affirmations. “I feel good about the choice I’ve made” or “I am in control.” Whereas, before you may have told yourself, “I can’t be around this or that type of food because I can’t control myself.”
This process is not going to be a clean, linear one. It will take time to unlearn these habitual thoughts that are ingrained in your head for a long time. When the guilt and your “bad” thoughts start racing, take a few deep breaths, create awareness, and say your affirmation, “I am in control of all of my choices.” Empower yourself instead of breaking yourself down.
In closing, as you empower yourself, you will feel more confident in your control over food versus food’s control over you. You get to decide how much and what types of foods you eat based on how it will make you feel. The foods you eat do not define who you are as a person.
You got this, you are not alone!
If you would like some more guidance on your fitness and nutrition journey, please reach out to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.