I used to have very black and white thinking when it came to food.
Certainly at different stages in life food migrated back and forth across the lines of black and white depending on what stage I was in, but one thing remained the same; food was either “good” or “bad” because of some very profound and valid reasons that I had given myself.
Sure, there were times when I just didn’t give a rats you-know-what and ate whatever I felt like eating. Frankly during those times I didn’t really care to be alive so why should I have cared about what was keeping me alive?
Then there were other stings of time in life where I thought too much about what I was eating. During those not-so-pretty and ever-reoccurring forays I drew very large lines in the sand between what I should and shouldn’t eat. Not to mention how, when, and where I should eat.
I didn’t realize it during those times, but the worst part of those experiences was defiantly classifying foods as “good” or “bad” because there was no wiggle room, no freedom, and no way to experience raw pleasure.
Why would compartmentalizing foods this way be a “bad” thing?
Well, more on that in a bit.
My beliefs around food, shoving it into the category of either "good" or "bad," was dependent upon how I thought food would affect me or make me look.
Any food that caused bloating, allergenic type responses, foods that failed to meet some sort of self-invented criteria, foods that could lead to cancer or some other deadly disease, or foods that caused weight gain were deemed “bad” foods. I even delved into labeling foods as “good” or “bad” based on how they were created, cultivated, harvested, and processed.
Placing foods in either one category or another was quite a task and extremely stressful. I handed my power over to the “bad” food and praised myself for being on track with “good” food. As if “good” food made me more riotous or something.
When I handed my power over to “bad” food, I felt like I had to control myself around it and would inevitably binge on the “bad” foods or some “healthy alternative” that was as close as I could get to the “bad” food.
So here's the trouble with labeling food "good" or "bad."
Compartmentalizing foods as “good” or “bad” places morality upon food.
When we do this, the natural course of events in the mind can look something like this: “I ate bad foods, bad foods are bad for me, therefore I must be bad, therefore I must feel guilty for eating bad foods, therefore I must punish myself with a stricter diet and more intense exercise.”
So we dive down the rabbit hole of guilt and self punishment and the desperate cycle with food and self loathing perpetuates.
It could also look like this… “I ate good foods, look at me I’m so good with my food choices, I am good, I can praise myself, I am deserving of good things, I am righteous and better than you because I am in control.”
In this scenario we tend give ourselves weird permissions, a sense of entitlement, and separate ourselves from others based on how good we are and how bad they are. This cycle can be very reinforcing but there are often severe self imposed repercussions when we indulge in "bad" foods.
Let's face it, placing morality on food makes us think and do weird shit.
You see, food is neither “good” nor “bad.” Food has no morality. It simply exists on the plate before you.
Sure one can argue ‘til the cows come home about how food is produced and the moral dilemmas behind that, but that is not the food’s fault. The ownership of morality belongs to the people producing the food, not the food itself.
Here’s the big picture.
Food isn’t conspiring to kill you with a knife in your sleep nor is it waiting to put a halo on your head for good deeds. Food simply falls on a spectrum of either health promoting or health inhibiting.
When I was able to disengage the old conditioning of “good” food vs “bad” food, and see that food falls on a spectrum, the black and white thinking fell away, thus I was able to relax and have a more open relationship with food. The beautiful side effect was that I my cravings and desires for "bad" food significantly dropped because "bad' food no longer held power over me; I'd given myself permission to engage with it.
This is why it works.
The dose makes the poison.
Too much of anything can be a bad thing, so much so that it can be fatal. It’s possible to overdose on alcohol but it is also possible to drink too much water. Both of those substances fall on different places of the health promoting scale but we have a basic understanding of what is a reasonable about of each substance to remain healthy.
So when it comes to food, you get to choose how much you want of something based on what it has to offer you. You also get to play around with the quantities required for you to remain healthy. There are many things that food can offer you, certainly the basic macro nutrients all the way to phytochemicals, but food is also an experience that invokes emotion.
Positive emotions are actually metabolically enhancing. For example, a couple of sandwich cookies with your eight year old niece at the beach isn’t going to harm you or cause you to blow up ten pounds. In fact you will probably metabolize those cookies lickity split because you are in a joyful and relaxed state. On the other hand, sitting depressed on the couch eating cookies for every meal and feeling guilty spells a different story altogether. You get the idea.
The take home message here is that food really isn’t “good” or “bad.”
Food either promotes health or it doesn’t, and the dose makes the poison.
If you can move beyond the black and white thinking and into a place of seeing food for what it has to offer you at different levels and in variable quantities, you will feel more relaxed and free around food. Plus the space for self judgment narrows exponentially leading to a lot less guilt and self punishment.
You can have your cake and eat it too, but a hearty portion of broccoli goes a long way too.
It's your time to enjoy Life with food.