How did we end up here?
This is a question I've always asked myself, how did we end up here? This idea that food has some type of moral attachment has always baffled me. Food itself, has never been inherently good or bad. What and how we deem the things we eat as food, that may have a moral component to it. But, that is for a different conversation as this article aims to look at the things that we have already deemed food.
An example that I give to people quite often is if I trip over a chair, it's not because it's a bad chair. It's because I wasn't paying attention to where I was going. The same can be said for food. If I eat too much food and become overweight, it's not because the food I was eating was bad. It's because I wasn't paying attention to how much I was eating.
Let me expand on this example.
The chair in that example still serves a function, even if I'm not sitting in it at the time. It could be used by someone else who is tired and needs to rest or has been standing all day. Can the chair pose a risk to someone that sits all the time, sure it can. Does that make it a bad chair? NOPE.
Many times we get caught up in the black-and-white of topics and spend very little time looking at the context of the bigger picture. This goes for many topics regarding health, fitness, and nutrition. There are seldom one size fits all answers.
Terminology means everything
Let's take a look at how we identify things around us. Typically, when we use the word "good", often we are talking about it having desired qualities or that it has been approved. If we took it a step further, we could also add that there is a morality to it. As in it being righteous or virtuous.
Think about that for a minute. When you bite into an apple (typically identified as a good food), does that apple taste righteous or virtuous?
Let's look at each word now
So what about the word bad? When we use this word, we are usually identifying something that is of low standard, poor, or unpleasant. Or if we took this one a little further, it could be sinful, villainous, or heinous. Basically, the opposite of how we would identify good.
When you bite into a candy bar or raise that spoonful of ice cream to your mouth, do they taste sinful or heinous?
Now let's take another look at those same foods and how they make you feel after you eat them. When you eat an apple, you probably don't think to yourself throughout the day as having done something wonderful and it improves your day. If you do, kudos to you that's some strong positivity at work. For the rest of though, there is little to no impact on our feelings or mood for the day.
However, if we switch the apple for a candy bar. Think about all the times you have eaten a candy bar or had a bowl of ice cream. You probably thought about it periodically throughout the day. You may have even felt some guilt or shame because if it. Here in lies the problem.
Unless you have an allergy or intolerance to a food, there is no reason for feeling guilt or shame when eating. These feelings can most often be linked back to foods being called good and bad.
Hold on one second
Before I move on, I want to also point out that the way we identify things or the terminology that we use, matters. In a lot of ways, it's how we identify ourselves. Think about what people call themselves that watch professional sports, practice a certain religion, or even how they talk about politics. People draw clear lines as to who they are and who they are not. It's harder to do that with food since its essential to life.
Should we label food as "good" or "bad"?
By now it should be pretty clear that we shouldn't be labeling food good or bad. When we use those terms, there is so much more that's being implied than just whether we should be eating them or not. Let me give you an example.
Let's look at the potato.
There's a huge difference between french fries, potato chips, and a baked potato. For some reason though, potatoes often get categorized as being a bad food because of the perceived amount of calories it has. When we compare it to a banana, we actually see that a potato has just as many benefits a banana has. Potatoes actually have more potassium than a banana.
Let's look at juice.
We've been told for decades that fruit juice is a great source of vitamin C and other vitamins. However, we know now that drinking your calories probably isn't the best idea. Juice is one of those beverages that is easy to over consume, but wouldn't set off any red alarms because it's "good" for us.
The point here is that there are a lot of misconceptions about nutrition. Sometimes it can be easy to get lost in the details and lose sight of the bigger picture. Remember that there are some topics that require context in order to get a clear picture.
I get it, but aren't there bad foods?
To be honest, there is only one thing I would categorize as a "bad" food and that would be trans-fats. Honestly, I wouldn't even consider this a food, though we can derive energy from it so unfortunately it's considered food for the time being. Aside from that, food is neither good nor bad, it just is. How and what we use it for is dependent on us and what we are trying to accomplish through it use.
What it comes down to
Understanding that the terminology you use while managing your current situation can hinder your progress. There is a psychological aspect to the terminology that we use when defining things that is a constant reminder to us of certain things. This constant reminder can impede progress in ways that will be difficult to over come.
No matter if you are drinking juice, eating cereal, or eating yogurt, keep in mind that they all serve some kind of function. What that is depends on you. With that said, you can't ignore the fact hat they all have calories, and they do impact your overall health. Even soup can have a lot of calories if consumed enough of. This doesn't mean that you have to avoid these foods because they are bad. It does mean that you have to be conscious of the choices that you make.
Where do we go from here?
Developing a healthy relationship with food is paramount. The constant demonizing of food isn't doing anyone any favors. If I'm honest, I believe that it's doing us harm on an immeasurable scale. My hope is that if we move away from using terms like "good" and "bad". Then maybe we can begin to move forward with developing eating habits that help us to live healthier and more active lives.
Psychology Today - How the Idea of "Healthy Eating" can be Harmful
Institute for the Psychology of Eating - Mind Over Food