As humans, we love to label and categorize things, whether it’s people, ideas, our schools, our workplaces, our clothing, and so on. And why not? This is how our brains process information.
Food is another one. However, with food, I tend to see many food rules, especially in what we eat and what we should eat. Here are a few examples:
- Baked sweet potato = good. French fries = bad.
- Vegan plant beverages = good. Dairy = bad.
- Fruit = good. Dessert squares on the buffet table = bad.
In fact, food rules are everywhere. From the ketogenic diet, the vegan ketogenic diet, gluten free, paleo diet, to the taco cleanse (yup, it’s a thing) – our perception on what we should eat has been largely skewed. It’s hard for anyone to enjoy a meal without feeling some kind of food guilt or anxiety when it comes to making the best choice for themselves and their families.
Who makes these rules? More often than not, our diet culture has altered how we see and enjoy food; if we even enjoy food anymore! More often than not, food rules come from a diet.
People are often surprised to hear that I am not a fan of diets. In fact, I am very much a non-diet dietitian. I see how food rules and restrictions have given people food anxiety, seen how this obsession of healthy eating can manifest into an eating disorder known as orthorexia nervosa. I see how confused people are with conflicting nutrition information. I also see how meal plans designed for weight loss do not work, as most people will regain the weight they lost once they go back to their normal eating pattern. More studies on that here, here and here!
Do you wrestle in your mind with whether you’re going to eat any of them?
Do you think, I need to be “good” today, and not have any?
Or think: My body is a temple, and I’m not going to put those “bad foods” into it?
Or do you indulge eat as many desserts, those “bad foods” as you can, feel sick to your stomach, and then feel guilt and shame after?
Or… do you avoid them at all costs, and then judge others for eating them?
I know I used to be that person. Before I found mindful and intuitive eating. This was many years ago in my teen and early 20s when I was less kind to myself when it came to my food choices. That translated into how I also judged other people’s food choices.
Here’s a thought: What if you focused on the nourishment from these desserts, instead of nutrient breakdown, of the calories, fats and sugar?
Foods are not simply good or bad. Yes, those yummy desserts are higher in calories and fat. But they also might:
- Bring back memories of baking dessert squares with your grandmother
- Be super delicious, or
- Make you happy.
The diet culture we live in has conditioned us to see foods in a very black and white manner, labelling them as good or bad.
Like with most things in life, all foods fall into a bit of a grey area. And at the end of the day, it is JUST food!
What to Do Next Time You’re at the Dessert Buffet
- Next time you’re at the dessert buffet table, ask yourself:
- Am I hungry? Do I really want a dessert square? Or maybe two? Or three?
- And if you do choose to eat it, can you try to enjoy it? Can you slow down and focus on the sight, the smell, taste and texture of the dessert?
- Can you focus on the present, instead of focusing on the guilt or anxiety you have about eating dessert?
- Can you focus on how it makes you feel (ie. happy, nostalgic, calm, excited, nervous), instead of thinking about the fat, sugar and calorie content?
- Can you stop thinking about your weight? Truly enjoying it, without thinking about how it’s “bad” and will make you “gain weight?”
These are some of the principles of mindful and intuitive eating. Coming from a different perspective, that doesn’t categorize foods as good or bad or create guilt or shame for food choices.
Remember that health is more than calories in, calories out. Food has the ability to also nourish the soul, the mind and the heart.
Think about this the next time you see the dessert table.
Unlearning the diet culture that we are confronted with every day is the only way we can move forward and be at peace with food, our minds and our bodies.