Looking at the picture above do you immediately formulate an opinion about which side is “good”and which is “bad?” Have you ever felt guilty after eating a certain food or dish because it is ‘bad’ for you? I’m betting the answer is yes. What if I told you that you don’t have to feel that way again? The truth is, thinking about foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ needs to become a thing of the past and may actually be hurting you in the long run. As humans, we really love binary thinking. Black and white, good and bad, healthy and sick, high and low, etc. It’s an easy way for our brains to divide things up into categories and make potential choices seem easier. Now this is not to say that some food is indeed “healthier”than others when we look at its total nutritional composition, but in this article we are specifically talking about the ideology of the terms “good”and “bad”. When it comes to food, we LOVE to talk about which ones are “good” (Superfoods! Yay!) and which ones are “bad” (Oh No Junk Food! Eek!). But what if I told you, it’s all just….. Food?
THE PROBLEM WITH ‘GOOD’ VS. ‘BAD’
The main issue with this black-and-white way of thinking is it’s subjective. Who exactly makes the rules, anyway? Of course, with all of the options out there, it would be much easier if it worked this way, but unfortunately, you can’t just be right or wrong by eating a certain food.
“For example, a Paleo diet advocate will tell you that meat is good for you, while the plant-based diet experts believe it is bad. Ketogenic diet followers tell us that grains are bad for your health yet followers of a Mediterranean diet say they are a good part of the daily diet,” explains Dr. David Friedman, clinical nutritionist and author of “Food Sanity: How to Eat in a World of Fads and Fiction.” “With so many differences of opinions, everyone does seem to be on the same page when it comes to few things: Food is “healthier” if it’s non-GMO, chemical-, antibiotic- and hormone-free.”
Though it may seem crazy to think that you can follow a healthy diet and still enjoy some of your favorite indulgences, I have a secret: It is possible thanks to the principles of a balanced diet and eating in moderation and if weight loss is your goal strictly monitoring those calories in vs calories out and not so much as where they are coming from. (Spoiler alert)
So what about a balanced diet?
It’s natural to think of a balanced diet as those food pyramids we used to see in textbooks, but those recommendations are proving to be outdated. In fact, Friedman calls this pyramid the ‘BUYased diet’ because it was created with the money of big companies and endorsements. He adds that even in the food industry, money talks.
“There is room for all food in a balanced diet,” urges Amanda Turner, MS, RD, owner and sports dietitian at Active Fueling in Denver, Colorado. “Eating pizza or ice cream on occasion does not automatically put an individual at risk for chronic health disease. Also, avoiding specific foods can lead to feelings of deprivation that may precede overeating or binge-eating type of behavior.
The problem with creating a baseline / standard for a balanced diet is that there is no one size fits all approach. It really all comes down to your body’s physiology and your personal goals, a 125 kg male body builder age 25 with 6% bodyfat, is going to have a much different “balanced diet” than that of a 65 kg 40 year old female with 15% body fat who is a long distance runner. Just about anything edible can have a place in your overall diet. The only “bad” food for you is one you’re deathly allergic to. That one should most definitely be avoided! But all the other stuff, including cake, bread, pasta, rice, donuts, ice cream, bacon, and muffins, can be included in the overall spectrum of a healthy diet.
Food has no moral compass
A food cannot be good or bad all by itself. How a food impacts your overall health has more to do with the REST OF YOUR DIET and your lifestyle habits than it does with that individual food choice. In the end and of course over simplifying it when it comes down to “weight loss”. It really is just a math equation of calories in vs calories out. If you look at fast-food restaurants and immediately tell yourself “that’s bad food”. Or walking down the snack aisle at your local market and see Oreo’s, Snickers, and other assorted candy and come to the same conclusion. Maybe these 2 articles will help shed some light.
Lose more than 25kg eating McDonald’s 3 times a day.
John Cisna, a high school teacher ate McDonald’s everyday for 6 months as an experiment for his high school science class and lost 61 pounds (27.6kg) in addition to a noticeable drop in his cholesterol. Simply by implementing a caloric restriction and closely monitoring his nutrients, he had his students develop a 2000 calorie meal plan consisting only of McDonald’s. On a typical day, he started with a breakfast of two egg white delight sandwiches, a bowl of oatmeal and skim milk then opted for a salad, fruit parfait and apple slices for lunch. But for dinner, Cisna went for a value meal – usually with french fries on the side. Additionally, he made sure to get exercise by walking 45 minutes a day.
The Twinkie snack cake diet that lowers cholesterol and triglycerides
Next up we have Mark Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, who ate Twinkies, Nutty bars and Powdered donuts every three hours, instead of meals. To add variety in his steady stream of Hostess and Little Debbie snacks, Haub munched on Doritos chips, sugary cereals and Oreos. His premise: That in weight loss, pure calorie counting is what matters most — not the nutritional value of the food. He went on to loose 27 pounds (12.2kg) in 2 months.
Food choice is a big ol’ spectrum of grey
Now, just because there are no foods that are all good or all bad, that’s not to say that some foods aren’t healthier than others. I think we can all agree that spinach is healthier than a Snickers bar. If we want to move away from thinking in black/white, good/bad extremes, we need to open our minds to the full spectrum that is the grey area in between.
If we can focus our efforts so that the majority of our food choices fall on the healthier side of the spectrum, then the occasional foods that are on the less-nutritious side aren’t going to do much to tip the balance. Likewise, if we’ve come to notice that the majority of our overall diet falls on the less-nutritious side of things, we can choose to make a few choices on the healthier side to move ourselves up a bit on the spectrum.
The trick is to eat nutrient-dense “healthier”foods most of the time and your favorite foods some of the time; some people think of this as the 80/20 rule. No matter what you call it or how you slice it, its important to not beat yourself up based on your food choices. Find your own personal balance, if you want to eat “healthy” 100% of the time or 60% of the time, it all boils down to your goals and how your body is responding. If your medical check up says everything is fine, and you feel good / have energy to do daily activities and the ability to walk a 5k if you chose to, then to that i say Eat, Drink and be Merry! Remember that if your short term goal is strictly weight loss, then you need not be concerned with where your calories are coming from, however I think we can all agree that long term our body’s will require some “healthier”food choices sprinkled in.