When it comes to eating healthy, it’s often seen as black or white, bad or good. The good side of things is often associated with organic foods, with fruits and veggies, complex carbs. The bad side tends to focus on one thing: junk food.
However, a recent study proves otherwise. There may, in fact, be a grey area when it comes to healthy eating. While a diet of chocolate bars and cheeseburgers washed down with a Coke is inadvisable from a nutritional standpoint, these foods are not likely to be a leading cause of obesity.” In other words, they’ve found that junk food consumption is not connected to one’s body mass index when looking at 95% of the population. The numbers are there, and they’re telling.
Overall, researchers believe that people should not completely avoid their favorite junk foods because this is not directly related to their weight. (As for French fries, it seems that these should not be consumed on a day-to-day basis. Probably something we already kinda knew.)
In truth, the real problem lies in this: the amount of calories one consumes eats versus the amount one exercises. So, it all boils down to calories in, calories out.
Food is not “good” or “bad.” Food is just molecules. The sugar-glazed doughnut and the green smoothie are both just molecules. Some of those conglomerations of molecules simply fit together in a way that is more bioavailable and better able to nourish your body than others.
Think of a jigsaw puzzle. Some pieces fit properly into spots and others don’t; this doesn’t make them good or bad, it just means they don’t belong there. They’re not bad pieces; they’re just not the piece that your puzzle needs in that spot.
Further, what fits for one person might not fit for another. For example, freshly picked organic strawberries on a summer day might be deeply nourishing for you, but for someone who hates strawberries, or suffers from an allergy, they’re not the right fit.
People often believe that it’s important to approach eating with this kind of moral framework because it motivates us to stay on track with healthy eating when we can feel good about our “good” choices and bad about our “bad” choices. It’s the old carrot-and-stick approach. People aren’t actually all that motivated by doing the “right” thing. What they are motivated by is their goals and their thoughts about how great they’ll feel when they reach them.
Not only does this moral lens not motivate us, it actually contributes to self-sabotaging behavior.
When we believe that we’ve been “bad” with our food choices, we feel guilty. Guilt makes us feel worse, which turns on the reward-seeking area of our brain and we go searching for those things that we know will immediately make us feel better like sugar, salt, and fat.
The truth is that what you eat is not a measure of your moral character. And there is nothing inherently “good” about a kale salad or “bad” about a chocolate brownie.
So, the next time you catch yourself starting to slip into moral judgments and labels around food, leave the guilt behind and try to instead think about food as molecules or puzzle pieces.
Consider which ones are going to be a better fit to nourish your body, energize your mind, and support your overall health goals, and let that guide and motivate your choices.