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Why We Need to Stop Labeling Food as 'Good' or 'Bad'


As someone recovering from anorexia, there’s a lot of things in today’s society that rub me the wrong way — diet fads, the constant “fat chat” that is so pervasive in society, the media glorifying thinness, etc. But one that is quite possibly the most frustrating to me — the notion of defining food as “good” or “bad.”

Even if you don’t want to categorize food that way, it’s hard to avoid it.  Most diets are based off the good/bad mentality (carbs = “bad,” protein = “good;” avocados = “good” fat, butter = “bad” fat) and it’s probably a regular part of conversations you overhear or are part of. Some people will even say they only eat “bad” foods on their “cheat” days. 

It’s also part of how food is marketed. Think of some of the words used to describe cakes, cookies and other desserts — sinful, forbidden, decadent. Now think of how they market low calorie, low carb, and/or low fat “healthy” foods — guiltless, smart, all natural. No wonder we think the way we do.

But when it comes down to it, food is just food. Food has calories, calories are fuel for the body, fuel is what keeps you running and umm… alive! Food might taste good or bad, or might make you physically feel good or bad (e.g., give you a stomach ache, gives you more energy, make you sleepy, etc.), but food itself is neither of those. And likewise, you are neither good nor bad based on what you’ve chosen to eat.

Even in recovery, I still need to remind myself of this every day.

My logical side tells me a body needs a mix of all types of food to function properly — fats, carbs, proteins, fruits/veggies, etc. The human body is amazing in its ability to adapt to keep itself alive and to maintain a genetically pre-determined set weight (news flash — it’s not the same for everyone!). Your body actually makes you crave the things it needs to function properly. If you’re on a low/no-carb “diet,” you’re going to start lusting after carbs. That’s not a weakness — it’s science. And if worse comes to worse, the body will go into “survival mode” and shut down other very important bodily functions (metabolism, menstrual cycles, brain cognition, etc.) to give you the energy you need to survive that you’re not getting through food. 

My logical side reminds me of the ridiculousness of the good food/bad food mentality in the grand scheme of things. The success of my day should be defined by the engaging conversation I had with an old friend over lunch, not what I had for lunch. It should be defined by seeing the joy in my son’s face as we’re enjoying a bowl of ice cream together, not whether said ice cream was low-fat or not.

I wish we could all work a little harder to think this way. Should be a piece of cake, right? 

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via nd3000