By louiseodriscoll, Nov 10 2014 09:00AM
If you are a similar age to me you will probably remember adverts for cream cakes years ago, with the tagline 'naughty but nice'. The thought of this makes me cringe now - how on earth can a food be 'naughty'? How crazy! But as a result of our culture's fixation with dieting and healthy eating, most of us have perceptions of food falling into either the 'good' or 'bad' camp like this, and by association, we ourselves become 'good' or 'naughty' according to which type we choose to eat. This is a strange and scary amount of power to give to food - moral qualities! Of course no food is morally good or bad, how could it be? Nor is the person who eats certain foods morally superior or inferior to someone who eats differently. It's just food!
Whilst there is no question that some foods are nutritionally better for us than others, thinking of foods as good or bad leads to a thought process and relationship with food that can be damaging. I wrote in the 'change one thing' blog a few weeks back about relaxing when you eat, and how this is so beneficial when it comes to how our bodies digest and metabolise food. By mentally sticking a 'bad' or 'naughty' label on food you instantly create a sense of 'shouldn't' when you eat it, thereby putting your body in an anti-relaxation, mild stress response, which makes the food even less nutritionally valuable than it is in its basic state! It also sets up an idea that certain foods should be restricted and for many people this leads to a consistent willpower battle, invariably culminating in binges which are not only detrimental to health and weight but also our mental state. Typically a binge on 'bad' food is immediately followed by a sense of regret and self loathing which helps no one. Wouldn't it be better if we could all chill out a bit about food and when we really want a cream cake or burger, simply have one, enjoy it and move on? If you are someone who is on, or is constantly thinking they should be on a diet, or eating only certain foods, imagine how much headspace would be freed up if you could do this? No longer would you have to have the distraction of drawn out mental negotiation about it prior to consumption and the regret and vows to do better afterwards, imagine all the things that you could achieve!
Instead of 'shoulds' and 'shouldn'ts', how about thinking of food from the perspective of what you feel you need from it at any given moment. What are you craving and why? What will the food provide you with? Most of the time we hopefully want to nourish our bodies as best we can, with the most nutrient dense, high quality food we can get. A basic understanding of nutrition and what different foods do for our bodies will help us choose these. But occasionally, we want to nourish our soul too, with food that perhaps comforts us and reminds us of childhood, or gives us a sweet hit we feel in need of. This type of eating is as valid and valuable as any other, providing it is used in a relaxed and responsible way. When we tip over the edge into using food as our only source of comfort or pleasure, eating the nutritionally poor food on a more regular basis than nutrient dense, high quality foodstuff, then and only then does it become a 'bad' thing. Like wine, which can benefit our health but also damage it if we drink too much, the dose of any food makes the poison. If we are turning too often to food as comfort, we are likely to be lacking nourishment in the form of creativity, intellectual or physical stimulation, love and affection, or healthy self esteem and need to look at these areas of our lives. But - health conditions such as intolerances and allergies aside - there's no need to cut it out completely!