“I know they’re bad, but I love them too much!”
“Once I start…I can’t stop.”
“I'm being good when I don't eat cookies.”
Likely, you’ve heard some phrase around cookies, or any dessert really, insinuating that they are bad - bad for us, bad to eat, and bad to enjoy.
I think this labeling of food comes from a good place. It comes from a place of wanting to eat better and being empowered with information to make a decision for ourselves. It's easier to label foods as “good or bad”, “on or off plan”, rather than think about the ingredients, where the foods are coming from, or what the situation around us might look like.
We forgot about our own intuition around food as we follow the guidelines that came from the experts themselves.
While it's not a problem at first, over time we take these guidelines to heart and completely eliminate our own intuitive sense of eating.
Our guidelines become enriched with guilt.
Food is morally neutral. The word “cookie” is not a bad word. It is not inferior to the word “salad”. It is not evil or out to get you.
“The notion of good foods and bad ones in largely unscientific…the metabolic value of any foodstuff is profoundly influenced by factors that aren’t inherent in the food but issue forth from the eater – relaxation, quality, awareness, pleasure, and so on.” – Marc David in the Slow Down Diet.
Sure, certain foods will enhance our health while other foods may detract from it. But morally, there is no good or bad food. We are not morally good for eating a salad or morally bad for eating a donut.
And yet, so much of our self-worth is dependent on what we eat.
When it comes to the nourishing properties of food, the food itself loses power when compared to every other nutritional tool at our disposal – such as relaxation, quality of ingredients, awareness, eating environment, pleasure, and thought.
I once made two different batches of the same food. In other words, all the ingredients were the same, cooked for equal time, and in the same manner. The only difference was that one batch was more flat (cookie like) and the other batch more round/lumpy (energy bite like). I only used quality ingredients, including eggs, honey, vanilla, oats, bananas, and almond flour.
I finished the energy bite batch in a matter of days, while the cookie batch was still sitting in the fridge weeks later barely touched. I was persuaded to eat (or not eat) based on the label I gave each batch.
This labeling of “bad and good food” affects not only what we eat, but how we eat it. It often implies a feeling of guilt or a need for punishment after the fact (such as low calorie no fun diet).
Furthermore, when we label foods as “bad” off the bat – without considering the environment in which we eat these foods or even any of the ingredients within these foods – we are inviting the stress response to enter our eating experience. We invite feelings of guilt for eating something bad and even feelings of judgment, self-hate, and unworthiness. We invite our bodies to take on the stress state, the state where we burn fewer calories, decrease metabolism, shut down digestion, and store fat.
“Moralizing about anything or anyone severely limits our knowledge of the world and causes us to dwell in fear, ignorance, and judgment.” – Marc David in the Slow Down Diet.
At this point, you might be wondering how exactly one gets rid of any good vs. bad food thoughts. The answer is surprising simple.
You must change your beliefs. You must stop going “on/off plan”, stop talking about food as “good/bad”, and make a commitment to change your way of thinking. You must continue to practice an acceptance of all foods – without moral judgment – in order to free yourself from the constraints of guilt, restriction, and the dieting cycle. In the world of intuitive eating, this is known as making peace with food.
You are not a bad person for eating a donut. You are not being bad if you decide to have ice cream. You did not fail because you enjoyed a cookie, fall off the wagon because you ate pasta, or give up on your desires because you ate a pop tart.
Your self-worth is not dictated by what you eat. Only you are the expert on you and therefore only you can decide how to properly use food.
“Healthy habits driven by fear are not so healthy after all.” – Marc David in the Slow Down Diet.
Why do you eat what you eat on a daily basis? Is it out of fear or out of nourishment and love?
For a moment, think about why you do what you do in relation to food, body, weight, fitness, and self-care.
- Why do you work out the way you do? Because you enjoy the movement you do? Or because you hate your body and need to punish yourself for not being the size you want?
- Are your healthy habits motivated by fear of weight, guilt, judgment, or unworthiness?
- Or on the other hand, are your healthy habits motivated by love for your body, curiosity for food and movement, and desire to enjoy a better quality of life?
- Do you have thoughts during the day that drain your energy?
- How about thoughts that seem to take away from your happiness or hinder your quality of life?
- What thoughts take you out of the present moment or cause you to feel restricted, deprived, or guilty?
- Which thoughts cause you stress and are running loops in your head (aka you can’t stop worrying about them)?
In order to change your beliefs and use the power of thought to your advantage, you must replace these thoughts with something that increases your quality of life – whether that might be love, relaxation, pleasure, fun, exploration, curiosity, playfulness, moral neutrality, no such thing as perfectionism, respecting your journey, or anything else.
To begin to deep dive into your own limiting beliefs and barriers around food and body, use the following questions as a prompt.
- What do you say to yourself when eating a cookie?
- What do you say to yourself when eating a “healthy” food, such as a salad?
- Why do you exercise the way that you do – or for the amount of time that you do? Do you like the movement you choose to do?
- Why do you eat the foods that you eat?
- How do you want to feel on a daily basis?
- What do you expect food to do for you?
- What fears do you have about body, weight, food, and exercise?
- What rules do you live by in relation to body, weight, food, and exercise? Are their limits or constraints on what you eat and how much you work out?
- Is food the enemy?
Next, think about how you can replace energy-draining, time-consuming, or life-limiting thoughts with thoughts that feel open, positive, and relaxed. How can you replace the restriction you feel surrounding food, body, and fitness with a greater sense of freedom?
- “I am nourished by food.”
- “I make a choice to eat. Any food eaten in the right manner can be beneficial.”
- “Food is the ally.”
- “I let go of my fear of gaining weight.”
- “I can invite more freedom around food, including a curiosity to try new things with limit.”
- “Movement is an exploration of the body, not punishment.”
Over the next few days and weeks, make an effort to consciously monitor your thoughts. Catch the negative and restricting thoughts and replace them with thoughts that serve you better. Reaffirm these positive thoughts while you eat, when you wake up, while you exercise, and before you go to sleep. Reaffirm these new thoughts while you look in the mirror or on your way to work. Make a conscious and directed effort to change your beliefs around food, body, fitness, and weight.
Take, for example, a few thoughts/fears that can hold me back.
- I fear quickly gaining weight like I did my first week on prednisone. I felt completely out of control around food and within my body. I am scared of feeling this way again.
- I worry that I won’t be accepted for my true self. I hold back due to this fear of being truly seen. I'm scared of having a deep sense of confidence, even though I crave it more than anything.
- I fear rejection and can in turn label myself as inferior to others. I’ll settle comfortably in second place because I’m scared to push past my barriers for first. I’m scared to chase that next level (where I can no longer blend in with the crowd). I fear pain, rejection, and defeat.
To replace these thoughts, I write new beliefs.
- I let go of my fear around gaining weight. Food is nourishment. My self-worth is not dictated by my weight.
- I am enough just the way I am. I am here to serve others by sharing what I’ve learned and overcome myself. I accept myself completely for who I am and what I’ve been through.
- I love and accept myself for who I am. I am enough. I am strong. I can take care of myself. I am a leader. I am a role model. I am worthy of success.
Take inventory of each healthy lifestyle action you participate in – such as movement, what you eat, and relaxation. Then, think about whether these actions stem from fear or love.
Does your inspiration for living a healthier lifestyle come from fear or from love?
“The moment you take responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you gain the power to change anything in your.” – Hal Elrod
You have the power to change your thoughts.