Let’s think differently about “healthy” eating

healthy eating

When I saw this message yesterday about healthy eating meaning having a healthy relationship with all the food you eat, I smiled. Over the past little while, I feel inundated with moralistic messaging around food.

I don’t mean the vegan kind of moralizing, where people actually might have a point. No, I mean that familiar and wearying “I’m so good because I ate salad with lemon juice” and “I’m such an epic failure because I had pizza.” I despise that kind of talk.

For the love of everything, food is beyond good and evil. You’re not good because you ate “clean” (oh, please stop with the “clean eating” thing). And you’re certainly not bad if you ate french fries or cake or potato chips.

It’s food. We all eat it. Move on.

I know what it’s like to obsess about food. I used to do it all the time. But over the past few years, I have put serious effort into developing a healthy relationship with food. So dedicated have I been to that project that I cringe now when I’m subjected to overt or even slightly cloaked versions of the message that there are good foods and bad foods. And good people eat the healthy, good foods. Bad people eat the “junk.”

This kind of talk makes me sad and annoyed at the same time. I never know whether to say something when a friend gets into that mindset, or just let it go and mind my own business.

Our food choices don’t determine our worth. And we do get to eat what we want, in the amounts we choose to eat it, at the time of day we desire to do so. And when we do that, we are neither more nor less worthy or virtuous after we’ve eaten than before we ate.

What does a healthy relationship with food mean to you? How do you respond to people who engage in the good/bad talk where food is concerned?

13 thoughts on “Let’s think differently about “healthy” eating

  1. Depends on the person and the circumstance. Sometimes I engage but mostly I ignore good/bad food talk. I like this way of reclaiming “healthy eating” to mean a healthy relationship with food.

    1. It’s hard to engage because people get defensive. I mostly try to ignore, but occasionally I say something like “do you really think that eating a piece of cake makes you ‘bad’?” Sometimes when you explicitly as a person that, saying it out loud, they hear it mirrored back and realize that it can’t possibly be true. The sadder thing is, and I didn’t get into this in the post, is that the reasoning is actually something like: “I’m bad because I’m fat, fat is bad, cake makes you fat, “healthy food” makes you lose weight, therefore, I’m bad for eating the cake.”

  2. I am trying to do exactly this with my approach to diet, training and work and life in general at the moment. Making the best choices based on the available information and need at the time, and not getting hung up on always having to be perfect. If I want cake, I’ll have cake. If I want kale and quinoa for dinner, I’ll have kale and quinoa. I pay for it and cook it so I can have what I damn well want!

  3. I agree and disagree but I guess I’m not in the mind set that I am bad because I ate a chocolate bar or chips but make no mistake those food are “bad” for my body. They are not bringing my body nutrition, they are actually causing damage to me. I’m not going to pretend that they aren’t so that I don’t upset people. Yes we are all grown ups and we can all eat what ever the hell we want. But I try and choose to fuel my body with “clean foods” ( I’m not sure why this phrase is not acceptable ?) clean to me means it’s as organic as possible, it was grown not made in a factory not full of chemical preservatives and food dyes. It is food that my body will use to fight off the deseases that are constantly trying to enter my body. I just want to feel happy healthy and strong and I don’t think eating a bag of chips every couple days is the way to get to optimal health.

    1. People get to make their own choices, that’s true, but a bag of chips never killed anyone, chocolate is not actually “bad for” the body (unless you have an allergy), and fearing food is not mentally healthy. My views on the language of “clean eating” are here: It’s just another “purity” narrative used to condemn some food choices and position others as virtuous and worth admiring. It’s then a short journey from there to thinking of the people who make those choices as “better than” the bad, weak (?) people who eat “dirty” (?) foods. I don’t consider it a neutral use of language and after much reflection I’ve come to the conclusion that it inspires unhealthy rigid eating practices (practices in which I myself used to engage and made me miserable, but maybe others enjoy the idea of forbidden foods, in no small part because it makes the eating of them so much more decadent and delightful!).

  4. I see food as some foods are “better” for my health than other food types. The biggest difference is better food if eaten in appropriate amounts (emphasis) in relationship (emphasis) to other accompanying foods over time for overall food choice balance and consumption as it relates unique to each person’s body.

    Consuming a lot of white or brown rice on several consecutive days doesn’t contribute to my wellness. I just feel unwell because my body can no longer break down rice efficiently. So I feel sugar-high crash.

    But someone else who eats same amount of rice, would be fine.

    So rice is not “bad” by itself.

    What ticks me off, is inappropriate use of gluten-free. Gluten-free diets is best reserved for celiacs ..people who have diagnosed by their doctor to eliminate gluten from their diet because they physically get a dangerous reaction and end up in the hospital nearly dying because they consumed gluten.

    Not for someone like myself who just needs to moderate my intake of carbs from wheat, etc. I’m not going to sashay down the street claiming I need gluten-free diet.

  5. This food post is outstanding!!! As a young adult, and also growing up with problem after problem with food, blog has helped my mindset with my mindset and relationship, love, and hate with food!! 🙂 Great writing!!

    1. That’s great to hear! Good luck continuing to develop a healthy relationship with the food you choose! Thanks for your comment.

  6. Wish I would have seen this post years ago before I developed a bad relationship with food! Since recovering from an eating disorder, I can’t STAND when people day things like “good/bad” food. It kills me! I think looking at all food with a sort of neutrality is the way to go. Consider how healthy it is, but if it tastes good, I say eat it!

  7. Food does not make a person worthwhile or not worthwhile, but there are definitely more or less healthy foods. There is a lot of science regarding foods that are helpful and those that are harmful ( The message that you can eat anything you want without consequences is just as harmful as the message that a particular food is “good” or “bad.” Only in the last 75 years or so has our food choices become problematic as corporate greed has taken over. Information about healthy whole plant foods is overwhelmed by unhealthy processed “food” because there is much less money in fruit and vegetables than in highly processed and highly advertised junk. There are also food industries (meat & dairy, for example) that have financial interests in peddling inaccurate information. Food manufacturers use very sophisticated science to make many products as enticing and addicting as possible.

    The truth of your blog is in the danger of food becoming a source of emotional well-being. When food becomes your primary emotional support, as with any potentially addictive substance, you are looking at the wrong solution for your emotional needs. It’s not the food per se that is the problem, it’s what you want it to do for you. If you feel guilty or are self-critical after eating something, that can lead to more eating for emotional reasons in a vicious cycle. That pattern does not mean you are a “bad” person, it means you have an unhealthy pattern that may require help to change.

    Thanks for initiating an important discussion.

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