are there good and bad foods
  • February 24, 2023

Are There Good And Bad Foods?

While diet culture would argue that there are good and bad foods, we are here to tell you that this […]

While diet culture would argue that there are good and bad foods, we are here to tell you that this is not true!

Have you heard any of these phrases from friends and family, or thought them to yourself?

‘I’m so excited for my cheat meal tonight’
‘Well, I may as well eat bad for today and I’ll start being good on Monday’
‘I’m so proud, I’ve only eaten clean, guilt-free foods all week’

Diet culture perpetuates a message of food being ‘bad’ or ‘good’ which stems from thin beauty ideals.

This culture also places emphasis on our worth, dictated by the types of foods we eat.

As eating disorder dietitians, we are here to discuss why this type of thinking is unhelpful and how it can negatively impact your relationship with food.

This article will go through the ins and outs of why there is no such thing as good or bad foods. We will also discuss why it’s important to give ourselves freedom when it comes to making food choices and the language we choose to use around foods.

Food has no moral value

We eat food because it provides our body with energy for us to live and do the things we want to do.

Diet culture has led us to think otherwise and believe that some foods are better than others.

This is done by adding positive or negative word associations to food. By describing food as ‘naughty’ or as a ‘cheat meal’, it gives the food a negative moral label. This is the same as describing food to be ‘guilt free’ or ‘good’ to have a positive moral label.

These labels are often associated with trying to achieve certain body ideals. Take a moment to reflect on your own inner monologue around food. If you are someone who describes foods in these terms, have a think about where this may have come from?

 

Two girls enjoying a burger

 

But Some Foods Have Better Nutrition?

Different foods contain different types of nutrients, yes. An apple may contain more vitamin C, potassium and fibre than a bar of chocolate. However, this doesn’t mean one is better than the other.

Different occasions and lifestyles can play a key role in the type of foods that will most benefit us.

For example, imagine you are a shift worker with a single lunch break.

Foods high in fibre and slow-digesting carbohydrates may be the most beneficial. This is because these types of foods will take longer to digest and therefore keep you feeling fuller for longer to sustain you for the rest of your shift.

Now imagine you are about to go to the gym and need a snack before your workout.

Would that same slow-digesting meal be a good option? Maybe not. This time, you might reach for a snack that digests quickly like a simple carbohydrate to give
you the energy you need fast.

These examples show that no one food is universally better than another. All foods play a part and can be beneficial for us at different times. Other foods may not offer you as much nutritionally, however, they may provide more enjoyment or pleasure.

The foods we eat contribute to our health, but it’s also important to remember that it is not the only pillar that supports our overall well-being.

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS
 

Why Do I Call Food Good Or Bad?

When we are born, we have no perception of foods that are branded ‘good’ or ‘bad’. These are learned behaviours and ideas that we are taught in different areas throughout our lives.

Some of the most prominent areas include:

Media

From TikTok and Instagram to more traditional avenues like magazines and TV, media is most notably the source of good vs bad food mentality. Ask yourself this, how many TikTok’s or Reels have you seen with a title along the lines of:

  • Why I never eat X
  • Here are 5 foods to avoid
  • Foods to eat for a flat stomach
  • What I eat in a day to lose weight

 

These types of videos are usually accompanied by some form of body shot. Social media is riddled with accounts trying to spread ideas of foods to eat or avoid with the majority of its creators having little to no expertise in the field of nutrition.

Magazines re-enforce thin beauty ideals by shaming celebrities for weight gain or sharing new fad diets. TV shows and movies often include characters that may be on a diet themselves or criticise others for their body size or dietary habits.

 

Fad Diets:

Fad diets have existed for years. One key thing across many diets is the reccomendaiton to cut out specific foods – this may be our fun foods (like chocolate) or macronutrients like “go low fat” or “go low carb”. They also create and spread fear around the foods advised to avoid. Some of the most popular fad diets include:

  • Keto diet – Creating fear around carbohydrates and praising high intake of fats.
  • Paleo diet – This recommends cutting out foods such as grains (oats, potato), legumes (like chickpeas and lentils), dairy, and all processed foods.
  • Atkins diet – Creating negative associations with carbohydrates and advising very high protein intake.
  • Intermittent fasting – Focuses on eating all daily calories in a small-time window followed by a large time window of fasting which can result in a loss of hunger and fullness cues.
  • Detox diets – Combines fasting with restricted intake of juices, fruits, vegetables, tea and supplements while eliminating all other foods. Perpetuates an idea that only a small variety of food can ‘clean out’ the body while other foods contribute to your body toxification.

While the diets promise quick and noticeable results (primarily weight loss), they fail to mention that cutting out entire food groups puts you at risk of nutritional deficiencies. They also fuel a negative mindset when it comes to how certain foods are perceived.

 

online dietitians discuss why juice cleanses are not a good idea

 

Family and friends – Whether their intentions are pure or not, unsolicited comments from friends and family are unhelpful. Body comments can be problematic as they promote a harmful narrative that some bodies are better than others.

If a family member compliments someone with a smaller body, it emphasises the thin ideal. For someone in a bigger body, they may be met with comments of criticism.

 

Why Is The ‘Good Food Vs Bad Food’ Mentality Problematic?

While there can be many reasons for your view on certain foods, problems can develop when you cultivate a good vs bad food mentality.

The most common is a restrictive mindset. This mindset may occur around certain foods we perceive as ‘bad’ and tell ourselves to avoid. This can result in us experiencing the binge-restrict cycle ( 1 ).

 

The Binge-Restrict Cycle Has 4 Stages

Stage 1: Restrict – We restrict and avoid certain foods. We start to create fear around the particular food.
Stage 2: Feel Deprived – Increased feelings of hungry and obsession with the restricted food. Followed by feelings of deprivation from not allowing ourselves to eat the particular food.
Stage 3: Binge – Give into cravings and often eat more than usual. Some people describe this as feeling complete out of control around a specific food and may say things like “I can’t keep chocolate in the house as every time I have it, I binge on it!”
Stage 4: Shame – Feelings of guilt, regret and failure after ‘giving in’ to craving. Promises to ‘do better next time’ which recommences the restriction. This takes us back to stage 1.

the binge restrict cycle

One thing we see regularly when we’re in the binge-restrict cycle is ‘all or nothing’ thinking. This could mean feeling like you’re either on the diet and “good” or off the diet and “falling off the wagon”.

This thinking results into you worsening your relationship with food.

As we need food for survival, it is difficult to avoid the act of eating but as your relationship with food deteriorates, mealtimes can become stressful and anxiety inducing ( 1 ).

Additionally, this leads to only eating foods you deem as ‘good’ which in some cases, results in cutting out entire food groups. This is problematic as this can put you at risk of establishing nutrient deficiencies (2).

 

Importance Of Food Beyond Nutritional Value

As mentioned earlier, food is primarily eaten to give our body energy for survival. However, this isn’t the only reason we eat food. There are many other reasons to enjoy food beyond the nutritional value.

Culture

Many people connect to their culture by their food choices. Different cultures eat different foods based on their attitudes, beliefs and geographic location. Different cultures also celebrate different holidays where many different foods may
be a part of celebrating the holiday.

Social Events

Food can be a central component for many social events. Catching up with a friend over dinner, meeting at a café for breakfast or enjoying a piece of birthday cake at a party. Holidays such as Christmas or Easter are also used as social
gatherings to connect over a shared meal.

Enjoyment

Sometimes, we may just eat food because we enjoy the taste or experience. Enjoying popcorn at the movies, eating some chocolate after a big day at work or picking up a snack simply because you like the taste of it.

 

social eating

 

How To Overcome The Good Vs Bad Food Mentality

Overcoming good vs bad mentality around food can take time and requires mindfulness and dedication.

We often describe this process a bit like a rollercoaster, some days you feel like you’ve got it down pact, other days, you may feel completely out of control.

Working with an eating disorder dietitian as part of this journey can help manage any feelings that come up with this.

With that said, here are our tips on getting started to heal your relationship and thoughts around food.

Self-Awareness Around ‘Fear Foods’

there may be certain foods that you have labelled ‘bad’ which cause anxiety, fear and guilt if eaten.

A useful tool can be to get to the root cause of how you came to this conclusion. It may be beneficial to think about where this fear came from and question whether the place you heard this information is actually credible?

If you have a list of fear foods, it can be helpful to tackle one fear food at a time.

 

Give Yourself Unconditional Permission

when we have food rules, we give ourselves permission to eat food based on “condition”. We want to do the opposite to this and give ourselves unconditional permission. Allowing ourself to eat anything and everything and breaking rules we have around food in the process. This may be easier said than done (which is why a dietitian can be helpful in the process).

However, when we do this, we take back the power we had given to fear foods.

For example, you may feel out of control when you buy yourself a chocolate bar.

By keeping chocolate in the house at all times and allowing yourself to have some whenever you feel like, the permission you’ve given yourself results in feeling more in control around the food.

You may find in the beginning you eat a lot of chocolate but after a little while, the hype fades, the fixation disappears and you no longer have the need to ‘give yourself permission’ to eat the chocolate.

Question Food Rules You May Have Introduced

Similar to the first point, getting to the root cause of food rules can be beneficial when breaking down how you came to think this way.

Common rules may be cheat days, no eating after 7pm, no carb days, no cake if you don’t exercise etc.

 

Lose The Black And White Thinking

We discussed that food is different nutritionally, however, morally all food is neutral. By obtaining a more neutral mentality, the fixation on certain foods being ‘bad’ while other foods are ‘good’ weakens.

 

Refine The Type Of Media You Consume

Media can be the catalyst for a lot of good vs bad food mentality for many people. Unfollow accounts that spread the thin ideal, food rules, or make you engage in problematic thinking.

 

Work With An Eating-Disorder Dietitian

Your relationship with food can be an extremely complex situation. It can be benficial to have someone by your side to help you navigate the journey and build your tool-box of skills. A psychologist can also be useful when working through your relationship with food and eating.

 

Practice Self-Compassion

Healing your relationship with food is a process. If you find yourself having unhelpful thoughts or criticising your efforts, remember to reflect and be kind to yourself as you’re doing the best you can.

 

Summary

Labelling food as good or bad can be problematic and may result in a negative mentality around food.

We want to remind you that all foods can exist together and contribute to your mental and physical well-being.

If you’re wanting do a deeper dive into more, check out Episode 6: Are There ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’ Foods? of the Imbodi Health podcast to hear more from our online dietitians.

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS
 

Article written by: student dietitian Leanna Fyffe

Reviewed by: Dietitian Jade Wrigley

 

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