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  • Writer's pictureAmy Jaffe MS RD LD

The Good Food Bad Food Dilemma

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

“Can you please expand on the concept of good/bad foods and how to reconcile it with health issues?”. I thought I would post a bit about it and expand some more during the next nutrition call because it is a question that deserves depth and breadth in explanation.

Our diet culture (the latest statistic I read is they made ~ $50 billion last year in the United States) has portrayed foods as good/bad/, healthy/unhealthy, clean food/junk food, etc. for many years. Back in the day, it was all low fat, low fat, low fat (they just added more sugar to the foods to taste better). Now it is low carb, low carb, low carb (they just add more fat to the food for better taste). So now, bread, pasta, rice, potato etc. are considered “fattening” as in they will make you fat and they will make you gain weight if you eat them. The commercials warn against these foods going straight to your hips or butt.

There is so much meaning that has been added to food, so much judgment, that it sabotages our efforts to have a healthier relationship with food. These judgments force us to make decisions about food from our mind rather than from the whispers, the wisdom of our bodies. Our minds have egos, our bodies don’t. The body will never lie to us. The chatter in our minds, fueled by so many external forces drowns out the cues from our bodies and have us take our eye off the ball from what will better serve us. Food is food, food is neutral.

It’s time to consider your food tethers, and to stop being afraid of eating

food that you’ve been told is “unhealthy” or “bad.” By demonizing food, you give it power. When you instead give yourself permission to eat any food you wish, your cravings and binges will begin to subside. I’ve seen this happen time and time again over the many years I have worked with people and their relationships with food. Conscious eating will allow you to add the foods you used to fear into a balanced, delicious eating pattern.

A lot of the reason that we crave foods that we label as 'bad' is because we put them off-limits or told ourselves that we're not allowed to eat them. When people really give themselves permission to eat all foods, get in touch with their hunger and fullness, and start to pay attention to how food not only tastes in their mouths, but also how it makes them feel in their bodies, I find that, for most people, food quality actually improves.

If you did eat pizza and ice cream all day every day, it would get old fast. You'd probably feel tired and bloated. You'd notice how awful you feel, and soon you'd opt for something else — maybe something fresh and crunchy.

With time and practice, you can reach a point where you're generally eating a good variety of nutrient-dense foods in reasonable portions. But you don't eat them because they're low in calories or because someone told you that you're supposed to. You eat them because sometimes you actually want them, and because they make your body feel good after you eat them. My clients are so surprised when they come in to tell me that they actually WANTED a salad, something they had in the past, associated with only with dieting and feeling deprived. When they were off their diet, they wanted nothing to do with them.

One woman in our last Conscious Eating meal at Seasons 52 said she always “anger-eats” salads- feeling like she HAS to order one in a restaurant.

One of my clients told me that “cutting out ‘bad' foods, ignoring my cravings, and weighing less didn't make me healthier. It only made me miserable.” With time, your inner food police can finally shut up.

Now, having said all that, what if you have a medical condition that requires certain food parameters or guidelines, like diabetes for example. First let me say that I don’t know very many people who actually follow their “diabetic diets”. Why? Because they are restrictive and not sustainable. If someone has celiac, their body does not tolerate gluten. Therefore they need to stay away from it. But it isn’t for weight loss purposes or for changing their appearance. Its because their body feels terrible trying to digest a food it is unable to. If a person is allergic to a certain food, they stay away from it because it can actually be a life and death situation. Some people have intolerances, like to lactose but are willing to eat cheese or ice cream and tolerate the usually temporary physical discomfort from it. There are so many diets touting the health benefits from staying away from this or eliminating that food or food type. But the restrictive nature of most of them makes them unsustainable so that any “health” benefits are erased by overeating the foods were previously avoiding.

A woman recently reported that she thought she felt stomach cramping and bloating after drinking milk. While she was experimenting with not drinking it intentionally for a week, she mentioned it to her mother who reminded her that as a child she always got a stomach ache from drinking milk.

There was a time in my life that eating a banana made my mouth tingle and actually hurt. I didn’t eat bananas for many years. I’m not sure when, but recently I happened to try them again and I didn’t have any negative sensations in my mouth. I am a happy banana eater right now. The body is fluid, always changing, moment to moment. Our challenge is to slow down, pay attention with compassion and respond appropriately.

A good distinction is if in the service of feeling better inside your body, whether it be physical comfort, energy level, concentration or fitness levels, rather than in the service of trying to change your body’s appearance, it is ok to experiment with certain foods, preferably with the support of a health care provider. Let the whispers, the wisdom of your body guide you!

More and more, I am hearing from my clients that when they go to their doctors, many are told they need to lose weight for various “health reasons”. I believe this is an ill-informed recommendation that is bound to backfire. This is a whole other soap box I stand on, about how dieting causes obesity, and is certainly not the solution. So more later…

I will leave you with :

“How would you feel if you failed at something over and over again and the experts kept prescribing a treatment with a 95% failure rate, then blamed you when it didn’t work? How would you feel?” - Dana Armstrong, RD, CDE, Moving Away from Diets

See my colleague and psychologist Dr. Paula Levine for more on eating disorder treatment

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