Monday, December 13, 2010

"Bad" vs. "Good" Foods

I've shared this before, but this is not the first time I have lost a significant amount of weight. I have never been a yo yo dieter, but I have lost a significant amount of weight one other time. I gained all of that weight back.

While that was a terrible experience, it is one I have learned a great deal from. I have learned (and am to some degree still learning) not to be judgmental of those who are fat. I have learned that I am an addict, and that I don't think I will ever be completely "cured" of my messed up relationship with food (even though I can manage it and largely control it). Mostly, I just don't want to be arrogant or prideful about weight loss because I have done that before -- only to fail and set myself up for a larger fall.

One of things I learned from the first time I lost weight was that food is not bad or good. The first time I lost weight, I had all foods neatly classified into foods I considered "good" and foods I considered "bad". For example, I considered bananas good and Twinkies bad. My thoughts on this have evolved significantly.

I no longer consider foods bad or good. Food has no intrinsic moral character. However, foods do have properties (nutritional and otherwise) that can make them better or worse choices, but foods themselves are not bad or good. Do you see the difference? I am not sure if I am articulating this well.

If I view food as bad or good, it means that if I ever have a brownie or Twinkie or some other "bad" food that I have failed. I think this is faulty thinking. In redefining my relationship with food, I want to be able to enjoy all kinds of foods -- even the "bad" ones occasionally.

I also think that dichotomous thinking -- having foods be either "bad" or "good" -- is faulty. For example, if you have read my blog for any amount of time you know that cheese is my favorite food. Is cheese "bad"? Well, it's not great. It has a ton of cholesterol and, depending on the type of cheese, saturated fat. That's admittedly bad. However, cheese has calcium and protein too. Thus I think a "bad" label for cheese is unfair. While it's not the best choice, it's not the worst choice either. There are shades of grey in the "good-ness" and "bad-ness" of food just like a lot of other things in life. Plus a life without cheese is not worth living would be significantly less enjoyable for me.

Finally, I am taking control of food instead of letting food control me. It is MY choice whether I eat a food or not. Now sometimes I make good choices. Sometimes I make bad choices. The good choices are getting more frequent and the bad ones more infrequent, but I still do make both good and bad choices. However by viewing each time I eat as an opportunity to make a series of choices, I get control. I am not powerless to food.

I wrote about how last week I had several Christmas parties. At most of them, I had foods that I would have considered "bad" the first time I lost weight. I looked all of my choices and picked one or two of my favorites from among them. I limited my portions on them. I felt completely satisfied.

In the past with my dichotomous thinking, I might have considered that a failure since I ate "bad" foods. Now, I consider that a win. My thinking on this has evolved: I believe you can still make great choices to eat "bad" foods.

Now I'm not saying that this is the approach that will work for everyone. I believe (and respect the fact) that everyone is different and respect each person's choices as long as they are healthy and honor the body. However, I've realized that I want the freedom to enjoy whatever I like. This freedom comes with responsibility. I can't eat as much as I want of the unhealthy foods that I enjoy without consequences, but I love that I still have the choice to eat whatever I want. For me, it has taken away the allure of the "bad" foods I used to consume so much of so often. I know that I can enjoy them, but I just choose to enjoy other things -- like being able to walk around without getting tired, like being able to shop in normal-sized clothing stores, and like not hating how I look in the mirror or in pictures -- more.


  1. Sarah, what a great post. Thank you for taking the time to write it. I totally agree with the fact that food is neither good nor bad and when we label it as such, we are giving it way too much power.

    I do believe (at least for me) that there are certain "trigger" foods which can derail months of progress for me if I indulge in so much as a bite. It doesn't make them "bad" because my triggers might be something someone else is able to easily avoid. But what I have learned is that even though I don't think any food is "bad," if I'm going to be successful long-term, I'm better off eliminating them completely. I guess that's where the addiction part of dealing with food comes in. When I'm fully in control, it's just better for me to have none than just one! Any thoughts?

  2. I know what you mean Sharon. Oddly enough, hummus is one such trigger for me so I don't keep it in my house. I eat it sometimes at other people's houses, but I don't keep it because I know odds are that I *will* eat the whole thing.

    I am not sure how I feel about this overall. It is something I am still thinking about/working on. I hope that in time, I will be able to eat whatever and be in control of it -- but for now, for me that just isn't the case. I'm still a work in progress.


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