Food Isn’t Good or Bad—And Neither Are You

My earliest grocery shopping trips were motivated by the delight of carrying around a box of animal crackers like a purse and stealing vanilla wafers from the bulk bin. While my mom probably didn’t love carting three kids to the local Safeway, I loved this time with her.  

It was this, the time spent with my family, that created my deep love for food. I have always loved shopping for it, looking at recipes, pulling carrots, zucchini, potatoes, strawberries, and cucumbers out of the garden, playing restaurant, combining flavors, and sitting down on our stone patio to eat together during hot summer nights. 

Of course, not to be forgotten, I love(d) eating the food too. For me, food is deeply tied to my memories. Food is something that invigorates every single one of our senses, something that I think makes it so special. 

I loved the way oranges tasted in the middle of a soccer game and how the popsicles dripped sticky syrup all over the place afterwards; the way a s’more tastes cooked over a campfire while laughing with friends; how gravy puddles into a perfect yorkshire pudding as you share moments with family at the holidays; how a croissant, cheeseboard, and glass of perfect French wine taste with your best friend on the streets of Paris; and how the melty cheese and grease drip off late-night pizza after you’ve had a few too many margaritas. 

As one of my favorite National Geographic editions, The Joy Of Food puts it, Food is more than survival. With it we make friends, court lovers, and count our blessings.”

But as society’s intense focus on our physical appearance has grown, especially with the advance of digital culture, and the millions of “eat this, not that,” food rules, and trendy diets popping up everywhere our dialogue and relationship with food has changed too.

 

 

How many times have you heard (felt, or said)….

“OMG I was so bad this weekend…”

“I shouldn’t have that pizza, burger, ice cream, but I’ll be better next week…” 

“I can’t have that, it has too much [insert perceived bad ingredient].”

“I love this because it tastes good and is super low-cal.” 

“I’m doing a juice cleanse before I have to be seen in a bikini.”

 

Or even things like…

“I’m so full, I overate.” 

“You’re only having that? I’d be so hungry if I only had that.”

 

Guilty as charged! I have too. In the moment, my intentions were never bad, but more recently I have taken notice of how this type of dialogue has affected my confidence, body image, and mental health. In short, it doesn’t make me feel good.

How do you feel when that dialogue starts? Maybe, if you’re lucky or have already done the work to get there, it doesn’t affect you. You feel confident and empowered in your lifestyle choices, safe in your own skin, and compassion for the many that don’t.

But if you’re like me and the millions of women AND men who have a challenging and sensitive relationship to food and body image, something else happens. You feel a little twinge in your gut, maybe you blink a few extra times, and you become more self-conscious wondering, “Am I doing it all wrong?”

This intense focus on right or wrong and giving food a moral definition of “good” or “bad” as if they then make us, as people good or bad too, has robbed us of the joy of food that cultures and societies have been built upon. Not to mention the negative impact it can have on our body image and relationship with eating.

This has impacted me in a really big way. Probably even more than I realize. I’ve been on this “journey” for a while now, but a year ago I decided I really did not want thoughts on food or food being “good” or “bad” to consume my thought processes. I enrolled in Lisa Hayim’s F*&K the noise fundamentals to come face-to-face with myself and some of the issues that I face. 

 

 

What I learned is that food is neither “good” nor “bad” and neither are you. 

Let’s clarify.

Are there more nutrient-dense foods that your body needs in order to function, prevent disease, and live well? Yes! Food has the power to do so much for our health.

Should you eat more of those nutrient-dense foods than packaged, processed, inflammatory foods? Yes! Michael Pollan was not mistaken when he said, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

When you put good things in, you get good things out. It’s that simple. 

What I mean is that we need to stop beating ourselves and each other up about our dietary choices because the impact is more severe than our waistlines. It puts our mental health on the line. When we overthink our eating, it causes stress. Stress causes cortisol levels to rise, and well, we’ve all heard by now that “stress is the new smoking.”

I thought to myself, “when and how did my love and joy for food — the process, the art, the science, the togetherness, disappear.” It’s high time we bring back the joy and for me that meant becoming more cognizant.

 

What is food?

Food is energy. Whether that’s big ole’ Sweetgreen salad or a bag of Cheetos, your body extracts energy from food in the form of calories enabling you to move, think, and feel. With the simple understanding that food is energy and understanding how your body feels when you consume it will help you make food choices that you feel good about. 

 

READ: Curb The Cravings: How to Train Yourself to See Food as Fuel

 

“I’ll have what she’s having” might not be what you need.

Have you ever looked around a restaurant or even your own dinner table wondering what “she” eats in a day that makes her look so great? 

I definitely have! I used to love reading those “What I ate Wednesday” blog posts so I could see what all the “healthy” people or people I wanted to emulate were eating. But ordering a salad when I really wanted a square, warm, full meal only left me feeling unsatisfied and going back for more.

You’re unique, and what you want to eat will be too.

Some people feel great eating lots of grains and others not so much. Some people thrive eating more animal protein, while others can get all the energy they need from plant-based options.

Understanding what works for you and your body isn’t easy. Our bodies are dynamic and our needs are constantly changing. Because I know what makes me feel good, (most of the time) I feel confident making these choices for myself without feeling the need to apologize to myself or others.

 

 

But what you eat does not define your personality or set your net worth.

 

 

Listen to your intuition.

Easier said than done, I know. It can be hard to eliminate what you see and hear on Instagram or the rules that we’ve become accustomed to over time. Mindfulness is a practice, and just like a sport, it takes time to get better at it. Try breathing exercises, meditation apps, or journaling to start to notice how your body feels in certain situations. You’ll find that over time, it becomes more natural to hear what your body is asking for and be able to honor its desires, whether it’s a kale salad or a big piece of chocolate. And take note, either of those are completely OK to eat.

You might even surprise yourself by finding that your body actually craves vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. This will help you develop a deeper sense of trust and confidence. 

 

Choose your words carefully.

Even though we don’t have bad intentions when we make comments about food or our bodies, the words we choose can propel the “good” or “bad” dialogue. Start to take note of how the words of others affect you. Your awareness will help you have a more positive relationship with food instead of falling into the negative self-talk cycle.

 

Unfollow

Click that unfollow button to anyone who makes you feel less than on Instagram. If those charts telling you how many calories are in your food or those perfect workout videos or “want to get skinny?” make you feel uncomfortable or insecure unfollow them. What makes us feel insecure or uncomfortable will be different for each of us, but the accounts we follow should give us energy, not take it away. 

 

Love YOU

You are one amazing human being. I think it is normal and totally OK to care about your appearance and to want to put your best foot forward. But what you eat does not define your personality or set your net worth.  

You are filled with intelligence, compassion, integrity, motivation, and have so much to offer the world.

Food is fun. It brings us together, it nourishes our bodies, and it’s downright delicious. I think it’s high time we love ourselves enough to stop using “good” or “bad” food as a moral compass and bring back the joy. Who’s with me?