A few weeks ago, during an online coaching appointment with a new client, I quickly noticed she frequently referred to foods as "bad." "I just love potato chips and they're so bad!" Or, "then, I ate a bowl of ice cream, which is horrible for me." Subconsciously, I started to count how many times she called a food bad. Then, as the number climbed, I actually kept tally. As our session neared the end I counted a whopping twenty-six negative judgements about food
When I pointed this out, she said "did I really?" and laughed at herself in surprise. Then she replied, "but they are bad, right?"
All of us, either consciously or unconsciously, label food as good and bad. In the short term, it makes dieting easier by simplifying food choices, but in the long term, it makes it more difficult by creating forbidden fruit. We've all got a little rebel inside, so as soon as we label a food as bad, it immediately becomes ten times more desirable.
We talked about the dangers of categorizing food for the rest of our session, and I asked her to be mindful and notice when these thoughts popped up and promised we would discuss further at at our next appointment.
Over the next couple days, our conversation about bad foods kept popping up in my mind. I realized myself that I too often label foods as good and bad and that I completely worked out my opinion on the topic. Are there any bad foods?
Consider Pizza Hut's Meat Lovers Stuffed Crust Pizza. A wad of refined, white flour dough piled high with cheese, sausage, bacon, ham, and beef, then stuffed with even more cheese. Or what about KFC's infamous Double Down Sandwich, which technically isn't a sandwich as it's made from two deep fried chicken patties rather than bread. Maybe you've heart of the quadruple bypass burger, sold at the appropriately named Heart Attack Grill, with 32 ounces of beef, over 8,000 calories and that's without the optional additional twenty slices of bacon. Oh, and three people have died after eating it.
Clearly, "everything in moderation" doesn't apply here.
But what about "everyday" foods. Take Mountain Dew with it's twenty teaspoons of sugar in a bottle. Then there's Pringles, which needs twenty-three ingredients to make something that should be only three - potatoes, oil and salt. We can't forget Oreos and all of their double stuffed, coated and dyed incarnations. These foods obviously aren't good, but should we label them as bad?
I think what makes a food good or bad has a lot to do with how you eat it. For many people, the taste of Mountain Dew reminds them of the summers of their childhood. Drinking a can to wash down your lunch at the family's Fourth of July barbecue might not be good for your health, but it may be good for your soul. Indulging in a small can of Pringles and making duck faces could be a fun way to break up a long road trip. For me, the special edition white chocolate covered Oreos, or snow covered Oreos as I called them, were a special Christmastime treat. I still buy a small pack to savor each December.
By her next follow up appointment, I had come to a few conclusions. Clearly, there are good and bad foods. We shouldn't sugarcoat things to the point where it interferes with reality. Drinking soda is bad. Eating fast food is bad. Devouring a sleeve of oreos in front of the TV at night is bad. However, that doesn't mean you are bad for liking these foods or struggling with these habits. It's important to be able to be able to look back at your food choices and constructively critique, but without judgement. Judgement is a distraction that keeps you from considering what caused you to make that poor choice and what you can do to prevent it from happening again.
Furthermore, just because a food is bad for you, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy it on occasion. If savored mindfully on a special occasion, the pleasure and joy you feel easily outweigh whatever quantity of ingredients or calories or sugar the food contains. We all have guilty pleasures, but you'll experience a lot more pleasure if you drop the guilt.
Thoughts? Do you ever feel guilty for indulging in certain foods?