Do you find yourself thinking of food as good or bad? You’re not alone. Everyone from health influencers to superfood companies put out messages that attach morality to the food we eat.
But are the foods we eat really good or bad? Or is this approach actually making it more difficult for you to make the right choices for you?
Why a food becomes ‘bad’ in your mind
We all have two minds – the conscious and the unconscious. Your conscious mind is in charge of whatever you are focusing on right now. But 95-98% of what you do every day is the job of the unconscious mind.
Whenever you do something so many times that it becomes a habit you do on autopilot, that’s your unconscious mind at work. This includes the thoughts and feelings you attach to food.
So let’s say that one day, you eat a delicious type of food. While you eat it, you are enjoying it immensely. But once you’re done, you start to attach negative emotions and thoughts like ‘I’ve been so good with my diet recently, now I’ve ruined it’ or ‘5 minutes on the lips, 5 years on the hips!’
Your unconscious mind does what you tell it to do. If you tell yourself over and over that you’ve ruined your healthy eating efforts or that you’ll put on weight by enjoying that type of food, it will make that happen for you!
Why I don’t talk about ‘good foods’ or ‘bad foods’
Many people expect a dietitian to talk about good and bad food choices. But I’m a food rebel when it comes to these types of labels, because I know that food is not the enemy! What is the enemy is when we attach a meaning that takes the power away from you.
Food is not good or bad – this is just a meaning we attach to it. Humans are emotional beings, so we attach meaning and emotion to everything.
For example, when my daughter throws a massive tantrum, I could think two things. I might think that she’s trying to ‘defy me’, which would make me feel angry and frustrated. Or I might think that she’s had a bad day and is releasing some of her own frustration, which will lead to me feeling more compassionate.
It is the same with food. When I eat a caramel slice, I could think that it’s a less healthy choice, end up feeling guilty and not enjoy the slice as much. Or I can make it a conscious choice to enjoy it as one of my favourite foods, and feel pleasure. I know which option I prefer!
How to make the right choice for you and your body
So if food isn’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’, how do you choose what to eat? What if you’re afraid that you’ll go off the deep end and live off icecream and chips for the rest of your life?
Here are some tips to help.
Choose foods that are right for you (not anyone else!)
Food is not black and white. What is fine for you might be unhealthy for others, and vice versa. Gluten, dairy and fructose are all examples of compounds found in everyday foods that can go either way.
The same goes for allergies and intolerances. Nuts are a nutrient-dense wholefood option for people who can eat them. But if you’re allergic to nuts, it’s not going to be a good choice for you to make!
Make sure you’re clear on what foods are ok for you to eat. If a food makes you feel physically unwell, it’s best to minimise it. If you feel fine when you eat it, but tend to attach negative emotions to it because it’s ‘bad’ for you, then move onto the next tip.
Enjoy your treats
There is nothing bad about enjoying foods that might not be as nourishing for your body. But you want to do it on your terms!
When you have negative emotions such as guilt around food, you’re more likely to impulse eat or binge on treats. You might even end up eating food that you don’t really like that much because you’ve been restricting yourself! Restricting yourself will also raise your stress and cortisol levels, which can sabotage your weight loss efforts if that’s a goal of yours.
Instead, know the foods that you truly enjoy. Then choose when you want to enjoy those favourite foods. When you do eat them, take time to savour them.
If you want to learn more, why not join me for my end emotional eating program! The next round is starting on the 14th October! Click here for more details
And remember: health is not a size, it’s a feeling.