Viewing Foods on a Spectrum

Do you label your food as “good” and “bad”? If you answered “yes”, you aren’t alone. 

Majority of individuals label their foods in this black and white manner. This creates a lot of guilt and shame surrounding those “bad” foods. While there’s no denying that some foods are healthier than others, labeling our foods in such a strict way creates feelings of restriction and unnecessary negative emotion tied to various foods. 

Not so surprisingly, when we have clients that are trying to get healthier and eat better, the reason they fall off track is not due to their lack of motivation. More times than not, it is their relationship with food that causes them to struggle with sticking to nutrition goals long-term.

Labeling foods as “bad” automatically makes our brain associate it with something that’s forbidden or something we should be ashamed of. This restriction causes our bodies to have a complete lack of control around that food. You probably even experience intense negative self talk and emotions when consuming that food! When we get caught in this cycle, it becomes really hard to get back on track again. 

Research shows that restricting and labeling foods as “bad” may cause you to desire that food even more since it is “off limits”. And then once we eat those off limit foods, we view ourselves as a failure. 

Instead of getting caught up in labeling your foods, challenge yourself to view foods on a spectrum. Some foods are more nutrient dense, while others are less nutrient dense. These varying foods serve different purposes at different times. Food serves many purposes: physical, social, emotional, and spiritual. Every single food you consume doesn’t have to be perfect because eating a balanced variety of foods aids in maintaining many aspects of wellness. 

Now, we’re not telling you to eat cookies at every meal. But if cookies are one of your favorite things that bring you joy, or memories with family- enjoy them in moderation. 

Let’s think of 2 scenarios.

Scenario #1: Labeling foods as “good” and “bad”

You have been eating extremely “good” all week. You have eaten a very restricted diet, and feel burnt out. The weekend comes around and your friends plan to order pizza later when you all hang out. Because you plan to eat a “bad” food later, you restrict yourself during the day to be sure you are able to have that pizza later. Once you get to your friends and have the first slice of pizza, you feel completely out of control because you haven’t had it in so long. You end up with extreme guilt and/or overindulging to the point of physical discomfort. 

Scenario #2: Viewing foods on a spectrum

You have been eating a wide variety of foods all week, with a focus on foods that are more nutrient dense. The weekend rolls around, and your friends plan to order pizza later when you all hangout. You get excited because you all decided on one of your favorite pizza places! During the day, you eat as you normally would. Once you get to your friends, you enjoy and savor two slices of pizza with some sides and feel completely satisfied. You are aware that pizza isn’t a very nutrient dense food, but in combination with your typically nutrient dense diet it is okay! The pizza doesn’t cross your mind after consuming it. 

Did you find yourself relating to either one of these scenarios? If the first one is more relatable than the second, you may want to check in on your relationship with food. 

Viewing food on a spectrum is freeing. It allows us to enjoy foods we love, while consistently eating healthy. It allows us to not have constant thoughts or preoccupation with food. It allows us to not feel food guilt or shame when eating foods considered less healthy.

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