Today as I was thoroughly enjoying some dill pickle chips, a thought came to mind: I often hear clients say: “I had a cheat meal,” or “I had a cheat day”. This is what I tell every single client: There’s no such thing as a “cheat meal”.
Here’s why: Generally speaking, all foods can fit into a healthy diet. Framing food as a “cheat meal” is essentially a way of apologizing for having food that you truly enjoy. But why do we do this when it wouldn’t even occur to us to apologize for watching that movie we love for the millionth time, or doing that activity that helps us unwind at the end of a long day?
Society, unfortunately, has labeled certain foods as “bad” because they contain higher amounts of salt, sugar, fat, artificial ingredients, etc. This can cause some people to restrict intake of those foods for long periods of time despite truly enjoying them. This can lead to binge eating later on when they “give in to the craving,” and feelings of guilt and/or shame mixed with feelings of enjoyment, which is So confusing and conflicting and dysfunctional.
Two things to remember: 1. You Are Not a Reflection of the Foods You Eat or the Labels Society Has Put On Them.
Period. The End. Final Answer. You are not “bad” if you eat “bad” food. You’re allowed to eat it. You’re allowed to Enjoy it. You’re allowed to Tell people you enjoyed it. Don’t let you or anyone else tell you otherwise.
2. Context matters!No single food is inherently “bad” OR “good” because of its nutrient profile.
What may be unhealthy for one person due to an allergy or medical reason may be a totally appropriate choice for someone else. Boiled spinach, for example, is a “healthy food”, right? I mean, it’s a vegetable, so it Must be… While it is an excellent choice for generally healthy individuals, it may not be great for someone with kidney disease. Boiled spinach is high in potassium. Kidney disease can make it hard for the kidneys to remove excess potassium from the body. If potassium levels stay high in the blood this can lead to an irregular heart rhythm. Boiled spinach isn’t looking like such a great option for that person anymore, is it? This is why context matters!
So how do we undo this need to apologize for enjoying food? It starts with reframing the language we use when talking about food, and we need to show ourselves some compassion.
1. Call it what it is. You had a cookie. You had 5 cookies. You had a slice of cake. You had some chips. You had a lot of chips. Period. That’s what you did, and that’s 100% OK!
2. We need to Stop Labeling Foods as “good” or “bad” and start using meaningful and accurate descriptions, like “this food is high in sodium”, “this food is high in folate”, “this food is lower in sugar than that food”.
**Most Importantly: Be kind to yourself. Avoid labeling and judging yourself based on what you eat. You are so much more than the sum of what you’ve eaten today.**
By: Kelsey Gordulic, RD, Human Integrated Performance