The Dangers of Labeling Food as ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’

2016-09-13

It seems like I can’t make it through a day without seeing ads for fitness plans that include “clean eating” or diets that consist of only “good” foods. The media and general population alike have been pushing the idea that certain foods are “good” or “bad.” However, assigning moral value to the foods we eat is dangerous and can easily become consuming.

When you say that one food is good, you are giving yourself permission to feel okay about your meal as if you need to justify eating. Calling a food “bad” puts you in a position to shame yourself or feel guilty after eating.

Labeling foods feeds a shame cycle where you start to question what you eat and wonder if it meets an arbitrary standard of being “good” or “clean.”

Assigning moral value to food threatens self-esteem. Our sense of self is not dependent upon what we ate or didn’t eat in a given day. The foods we eat, how much we exercise or a number on a scale cannot determine the value and worth we hold as human beings. We are inherently worthy of love and belonging regardless of how we eat or what our bodies look like.

I have to wonder what purpose it serves to call a food “good” or “bad.” From what I gathered, it seems like we call a food “bad” in order to shame ourselves out of eating it. Instead of shaming ourselves out of eating something we want, it is healthier to eat what we want in moderation instead of trying to make ourselves feel guilty.

 

Guilt might be a short-term solution to help you stick to a diet but it has (negative) long-term consequences on mental health.

We can make food choices based on nutritional value and hunger cues. If we are hungry and have something in mind, it’s okay to eat that. We do not need to give ourselves permission to eat by making sure it meets some sort of “clean” or “good” standard. It is okay to want chocolate, ice cream as long as it is in moderation. It is also okay to want fruit, vegetables and whole grains in moderation. Both extremes can become unhealthy if you are not seeking balance.

I have heard opposition to calling foods amoral because it has helped with weight loss in some people that struggle with being overweight. However, there are better ways to obtain a healthy weight without self-imposed shame. Controlling and overanalyzing every bite of food you eat comes at the expense of holistic wellbeing.

It is possible to look at food and think how nourishing it will be for your body without giving it moral value. It is possible to look at a food and say that you want something with more nutritional value instead of calling it “bad.” We can make food choices based on wanting to nourish ourselves out of self-love instead of punishing ourselves with shame.

More from Alyssa McKeeman, NCC, LAPC