What's the worst thing you can eat?? Here's a hint - it's not food.
We've all seen the headlines.
"5 Foods You Should NEVER Eat"
"What Hidden Ingredient Should Be BANNED"
"How ______ Is Secretly Killing You"
Hopefully we all recognize these headlines are dramatic clickbait. But even if you know how silly they are, there may be part of you that wonders if you're unknowingly eating foods that are destroying your health.
I'm frequently asked what's the absolute worst thing you can eat or some iteration of that question. Certainly, I can think of many foods and additives that absolutely have a profound effect on the health of our nation. If I could wave a magic dietitian wand and make soda disappear, for sure I would! But on an individual level, I don't think any food is of limits.
And so to answer that question, I don't think the worst thing we eat is any specific food. It's guilt. Because guilt has more dangerous consequences for health than any food you can ingest.
Feeling guilt for eating something "bad" leads to what I call the "to hell with it" effect. If you've already screwed up, might as well continue eating or eat more of those off limits foods, regardless of whether you truly want them or not. While the initial "bad" food you ate is highly unlikely to have any significant effect on your health (or weight), the cascade of "to hell with it" eating certainly will.
When you're eating a side of guilt along with your food, you're not able to truly taste or savor the food you eat. Think about it - when you feel guilt for eating that brownie, do you notice the melty chunks of chocolate, the hint of espresso powder in the batter or the crackly crust? No, probably not. Because you're too focused on the guilt, which is causing you to shovel it in so quickly you can barely taste it. And if you're not tasting it, how can you ever satisfy your craving? This makes me think a "sweet tooth" isn't always a biological or psychological need for sugar - it's just a craving that hasn't ever been satisfied!
The other crazy thing about guilt is that it can actually upset digestion. Guilt leads to stress, which is a disaster for gut health. There are so many complex connections between the gut and the brain that the gut is often referred to as "the second brain." Stress has a major impact on it's health, impacting gut motility, permeability (leading to food sensitivities), changes to the microbiota, and increased perception of pain. You can just imagine what a flood of stress hormones hitting your body the same time food hits your stomach can do.
Need help banishing guilt from the dinner table? Check out this video I did last week for strategies on how to stop feeling guilty when eating. Be sure to head to facebook later today where I'll be doing another facebook live on how to deal with diet talk. If you have any intuitive/mindful eating, wellness or nutrition questions, email me at AnAvocadoADayRD@gmail.com for a chance to be featured. Just put "facebook question" in the subject line and I'll let you know if it gets chosen!