WHY WE NEED TO STOP LABELING FOOD AS ‘GOOD’ OR ‘BAD’

The challenges of having a healthy relationship with food stem from the moral labels we’ve placed on eating. It’s time to stop pitting ourselves against the very thing that nourishes our bodies.


BY: CRYSTAL KARGES, MS, RDN, IBCLC

Many people wrestle through the challenge of foods being labeled as good or bad. Because, let’s face it, everything we choose to put in our bodies has been predefined in some way, shape, or form by the culture we live in.  Does any of this sound familiar?

Sugar is so bad for you.”
Gluten is evil, don’t touch that stuff.”
Saturated fats will kill you.”
Eating clean is so good for you.”

And we all know that the list doesn’t stop there.  

It’s always something new, and the fear-mongering way we talk about food and our bodies shows how inherently backwards our perspective on food has become.  

Since when has food become a moral issue?

If you find yourself saying “I was so bad this week” in reference to a food that you ate, really think about what ‘bad’ might actually mean in another context.

Did you rob a bank? Did you run over your neighbor’s pet? Did you steal something from anybody?

These are the things that one may label as “bad”; yet we also equate this response with food we choose to put in our bodies.   

So what are the dangers of food labeling?

On the surface, this type of thinking and food labeling may not seem like a big deal.  For many people, this way of thinking might actually seem like a helpful way to narrow down overwhelming food decisions during the day.

When the line is drawn in the sand and food choices become more black and white, this requires less thinking on our part and more minimal decision making. It’s quite easy to see why we gravitate toward labeling food as “good” and “bad”, but what happens when we try to attach an intrinsic value to food?

Food then becomes an object of chaos, something that is difficult to manage if we step outside the boundaries of good or bad.

When a “bad” food is eaten, there is usually a tremendous amount of negativity that follows, usually in the form of guilt, shame, or embarrassment. This may lead to more detrimental eating habits that ultimately sabotage our relationship with food and our bodies.  

So how do you begin to strip the food labels and establish a more neutral approach to food, one that doesn’t involve making you feel completely inadequate about the way you are eating?

By saying yes to what your body wants.

Start to listen to your body and make food decisions based on the things you like, want, and crave, not what you think you should eat based on rules or arbitrary labels that diet culture has slapped on food. After all, it is not what or how we eat that truly defines our character or worth as a human being. 

Ultimately, this brings us back to the foundational truth about food: it is simply meant to be both nourishing and pleasurable. It’s not something that should torment our will to live or prevent us from enjoying family meals or dessert with our little ones.

We are constantly bombarded with “information” about the best way to feed ourselves and our loved ones, but often times, this information is conflicting with our own desires or even with other ideas of what we think may be best for our overall health and wellness.

In times of confusion, remember that you innately have the wisdom needed to guide you on how to best care for yourself and your body –

No food rules, lists, labels or diet guides necessary.

Adapted from the original article.

Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a San Diego-based private practice dietitian helping others embrace their health for themselves and their loved ones.  Focusing on maternal/child health and eating disorders, Crystal creates the nurturing, safe environment that is needed to help guide individuals towards a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies.

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