Oct. 15. 2021
Mindset
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped® and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

Some foods are good and some foods are bad, right? 

It honestly sounds like a fact at this point — we label some foods good, and some foods bad.

We’ve heard food labeled in this way from health practitioners, social media influencers, parents, friends, and coworkers alike. While they may be well-intentioned in their statements and explanations, they’re unknowingly perpetuating an imbalanced and negative mindset with food.

The “good food versus bad food” mindset is doing much more harm than good in the long term of creating balanced eating habits. 

Here’s why. 

Good Food Versus Bad Food

What does good and bad food even mean? 

In the context of dieting, “good food” is often characterized by foods that are nutrient-dense. Good food may also be called “clean”, “correct”, “right”, “perfect”, etc. It’s typically defined by foods that are associated with positive health outcomes when consumed regularly. Think of proteins, fiber-rich starchy carbohydrates, fruit, non-starchy carbohydrates, and health-supportive fats. 

On the other hand, “bad food” is usually used to describe food items that have little to no nutritional value, or those that may be associated with negative health outcomes when consumed regularly. People will typically label “bad foods” as “dirty”, “wrong”, “not good”. Typically we think of “bad foods” as being those food items like traditional pizza, ice cream, candy, hot dogs, chips, etc.  

The question becomes, are any of these foods listed actually good or bad?

What Is Food Morality? 

When we believe certain foods are good while others are bad, what we’re unintentionally doing is assigning morality to our food. 

If one choice is good while the other is bad, emotions and feelings start to get mixed in with food choices.

To further demonstrate this way of thinking, if you eat food items that are good, you may then believe that you made a correct, right decision in doing so, and you, therefore, may feel pride, excitement, and feel that you are a better person or good for doing that. 

Whereas if you eat food items that are bad, you may then believe that you made an incorrect, poor decision and doing so, and you, therefore, may feel guilt, frustration, resentment or that you’re less than, not good, or a bad person for eating that food. 

Why You Should Stop Labeling Foods This Way

So what’s the problem with labeling food this way? 

When we assign morality to our food, those emotions, and feelings we just talked about, begin to control the food choices that take us away from balanced eating. 

If we’re presented with two options: a “good” option and a “bad” option, the dieting messaging we’ve been told for years tells us to choose the good option and judge and dismiss the bad option every time. Right?

When it comes to food, discouragement often manifests itself as a restriction. 

Let’s discuss restriction with an analogy of a little kid in a candy store.

The little kid is walking through a candy store and picks up a candy, before the kid even has a chance to ask whether or not their ability to buy the candy, the parent says, “Don’t even think about it, we’re not buying anything today.” 

In turn, what do you think the little kid is thinking in response…”I want the candy SO badly!” Right?

The exact same thing happens with adults when food is restricted as a result of assigning morality to food. Research has shown when we diet, restrict or regulate our food choices, we end up increasing our focus and attention on that food item making it more desirable. 

What Happens When You Assign Morality to Food 

Food items that are bad and therefore off-limits, wrong, incorrect, or not allowed, seem so much more enticing than they normally would.

We can’t have them, so we want them even more! Especially if they’re food items that we inherently enjoy. 

As humans, we are not hardwired to restrict any certain food forever. Eventually, we’ll encounter or choose to have those food items we’ve restricted once before, and when this happens, and you finally get your hands on those food items again.

The 3 most common scenarios we see take place with Mindful Nutrition Method students are loss of control, rationalization, and irrational guilt.

Let’s use pizza as an example for these scenarios. 

After restricting pizza, we finally find ourselves in a position when we’re having it. Maybe it’s at a party, a work event or we simply give in and buy it for ourselves. 

1. Loss of Control

In the first outcome, we’re so excited about finally having it, that we lose all control. We end up eating so quickly and have so much, that before we know it, we’re overly full, the pizza is gone, and we don’t even remember what it really tasted like. 

Where does that leave us? Feeling stressed, guilty, overwhelmed, and upset. 

So what do we do in return? Restrict once more. 

“I can’t believe I had all that pizza, that was way too much. I’m never having pizza again.”

And the cycle repeats itself. 

2. Rationalization

In the second scenario, we go into the situation knowing that we’re doing something “bad”, so we try to rationalize with ourselves. 

“Ok, I’m not supposed to have pizza so I’m just going to have it all right now, finish it off, and never have it again.”

The result? You’re left feeling overly full, guilty, stressed, and confused. “Why did I eat so much, I didn’t need that! I’m never having pizza again.”

And the cycle repeats itself. 

3. Irrational Guilt 

Lastly, maybe you don’t lose control. Maybe you don’t rationalize with yourself. Instead, maybe you have what you would describe as a normal amount of pizza.

But still, after the fact, you’re riddled with guilt. You still feel as though you made a terrible mistake and that you’re never going to reach your health and wellness goals. 

And once again, the cycle repeats itself. 

It’s important to understand the distinction between morality with food, having a health condition where certain foods need to be managed, and also understanding food and how it impacts your physical body. Yes, there are foods that are more nutrient-dense that we should consume on a regular basis to support our long-term health, and also make room in our diet for foods that may not be as nutrient-dense, but we really enjoy them.

How to Remove the Good Food Versus Bad Food Mentality

So how do we prevent these scenarios from taking place? We remove morality from food, support our mindset around positive vs. negative thinking with food, and implement key tools that will remove the good vs. bad food mentality. 

Instead of viewing food as good or bad, right or wrong, we view food as simply food. Food is nourishment, enjoyment, or a combination of both. Morality has no place in our food decisions.

Eating in this way is exactly what we teach in our Mindful Nutrition Method. We teach you how to reflect and take intentional, mindful action that creates the right amount of balance between nourishing yourself and enjoying food.

We walk you through the steps for healing your relationship with food and teach you how to build a new relationship that allows for growth, stability, and support.

You can watch our free masterclass to learn how to be more balanced with your food choices so you can be free from food and diet obsession, maintain a balanced weight, and cultivate a positive relationship with food and your body.