“Sugar is bad for you”. “Coffee is bad for you”. “Red meat is bad for you”. People say things like this all the time. But what do they mean? What bad things can foods do to our bodies? There are many problems with calling foods “bad”:
1. Vague descriptors like bad do not motivate us to action.
Take a second and think about this: If you had to give one reason that sugar is bad for you, what would you say?
I’m guessing a lot of people would say “because it makes you fat”. That might be true, but it is still very vague. It does not tell you how sugar adds those extra pounds, what being overweight can do to your health, or how the extra weight will prevent you from enjoying your life.
Here’s an example of what sugar does in our bodies that is more concrete and specific: Sugar can depress our immune function by inhibiting white blood cell activity, which is necessary for fighting off infection.
If you have a big event coming up and are feeling a little under the weather, don’t you think that knowing sugar may prevent you from healing in time for the big day would be more likely to motivate you to pass on dessert than knowing that it’s “bad for you”?
2. When we eat foods we consider bad, we can easily think we are bad.
We need to dissociate shame from eating forever. The purpose of food is to give life and heal us physically and emotionally, and the good news is there is an endless host of life giving, delicious foods we can enjoy.
But if and when you make decisions to eat foods that are not healing or life giving, YOU are not bad or shameful or disappointing.
If you live in the 21st century (which I’m guessing you all do? ;) ) you will unfortunately be put in positions where you have to eat foods that are less than optimal for energy and healing.
The BEST thing you can do to maintain a positive relationship with food is to be thankful for all the food that you eat and acknowledge our value is NOT in what we do or don’t eat.
The BEST thing you can do to physically help you get the most benefit from ANY food is take a deep breath and enjoy the meal.
3. We can use black & white labels like bad as a crutch to avoid thinking critically about the food we eat.
When we label foods as bad – or good for that matter – it removes our need to evaluate whether a food will be appropriate for us based on the context, which generally leads to unintentional decisions.
It is more useful to think of all food as having specific consequences in the body.
Some foods are healing and energizing, some foods interrupt normal function, some foods actively cause further damage in certain people but not others. Knowing what foods do in our bodies empowers us to make intentional, knowledgeable decisions about what to eat, recognizing the probable effects.
For example, if someone tolerates grains well, grains may fall into the “good” category in their mind. However this may lead them to eat something that could be beneficial like quinoa in excess of their metabolic needs, potentially leading to inflammation, weight gain, or other health issues.
Alternatively, if someone labels wine as a “bad” beverage and becomes hyper-focused on eliminating “bad” foods, they may miss out on an opportunity to celebrate a special occasion. In both situations if the individual understood the specific consequences of those foods, they may evaluate the benefits to consuming against the likely impact differently.
I focus the content of my website on equipping my readers to understand the specific consequences of foods so they can build eating habits around foods that are generally energizing and healing for them, and make informed and intentional exceptions for occasions that THEY determine is appropriate for their lifestyle.
Enjoy your next meal! What foods would you like to know more about the specific consequences? Leave me a comment and let me know.