Imagine you’re walking down a grocery store aisle searching for a bag of popcorn. Amid several options, your eyes land on one that says “guilt-free” on the bag. You might think to yourself, “Well I don’t want to feel guilty after eating my popcorn so this must be the best choice.” You grab the “guilt-free” option and keep walking.
Has this ever happened to you?
If you answered yes, then that marketing technique has paid off. The language used to describe what you eat matters, and it can make you feel a variety of emotions including guilt, shame or superiority. The language may even influence your buying decisions.
With a new year right around the corner, here are 11 nutrition words I want you to stop using in 2019 and why.
1. Clean eating
The term “clean eating” has no official government-regulated definition — as opposed to organic or gluten-free, both of which have specific parameters and guidelines. To some people, clean eating may mean eating more xyz foods, while to others it may mean avoiding certain products. Because there is no lawful definition and SO MANY different interpretations of clean eating, use of the term should be avoided.
Also, what is the opposite of clean? Dirty? So, if you aren’t eating clean, are you eating dirty or unclean? While this may seem innocent, this may actually establish feelings of superiority when eating “clean” and then subsequent guilt from not eating clean food. Have you ever experienced this?
2. Processed foods
Bread, pasta, beans, frozen and canned fruits and veggies, canned fish/meat, sauces and all dairy foods are processed. In fact, most foods have been handled in some way before they get to your mouth. This doesn’t make them inherently worse for you in any way.
3. “Good-food” and “bad-food”
Food is neutral. No one food is morally superior. Putting foods into categories of good and bad might make sense in your brain but it may also complicate your relationship with food. Fearing foods, feeling stressed about eating them, and/or compensating in any way are not healthful behaviors, and these often come up when you label foods as such.
Some people often site a lack of willpower as to why they chose to eat something. However, the will to eat is one of the most powerful responses in the human body — and rightly so, as we must eat to live. If your willpower is draining, it may be time to check in with yourself — not time to berate yourself. Ask yourself, are you hungry? Tired? Bored? Stressed? What do you really need in that moment? Taking that time to be curious, without judgement, is a way to practice self-compassion (a big part of Intuitive Eating).
Calories aren’t something to be feared; they are vital to our survival. Also, low-calorie options are often less satisfying. Ultimately, calories = energy. Can you replace “energy” for “calories” when you talk about food?
6. Guilty pleasure or guilt-free foods
Food should not be guilt-provoking. If you eat something and feel guilty for doing so, then there may be some unexplored food rules that need addressing. Remember that health is not only about what you eat, it should also meet your emotional, social and mental needs.
Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of energy and include foods such as grain products, legumes, dairy foods, fruits and veggies — all of which are important food groups. Low-carb diets may be popular right now but that doesn’t mean avoiding carbs is the best option for you.
When it comes to food, you don’t need to cleanse, detox or otherwise remove toxins from your body because your liver and kidneys do it for you. Be wary of products claiming to do so, as they are often not backed by science, are extremely low in energy and nutrients and may even cause harm.
9. Cheat day or cheat meal
If you feel like you need a cheat day or a cheat meal, then that might mean your dietary pattern the rest of the time is too restrictive. Only allowing yourself to eat certain foods on a specific day may set you up for feeling guilty or ashamed if you eat them at other points throughout the week. It may also cause you to feel out of control around those foods. Allow yourself to eat the things you’re craving throughout the week, as to not create a good food/bad food mentality.
Food is awesome but it’s not medicine (sorry Hippocrates). Be on the lookout for any food labels that claim to alleviate everything from digestive symptoms, to allergies, to pain, to improving energy levels, etc. These sweeping claims are often untrue and just a clever way of marketing a product.
When it comes to nutrition, trusting your friends, family or the random man on the bus is problematic. By nature, humans are extremely individual. There is no one-size-fits-all nutrition or exercise plan. Remember, just because something “worked” for someone else doesn’t necessarily mean it’s best for you.
A simple way to help clear up confusion around these terms is to be as literal as possible. Additionally, taking the negative and positive connotations out of the language surrounding food can make it more neutral, and thus less confusing, stressful and guilt-provoking. And keep in mind that pleasure and satisfaction from food is important and that true health addresses the whole person, not just what you eat.
Thoughts? I would love to hear from you!
Want to learn more about Intuitive Eating?
I work with people one-on-one virtually throughout the US to help them ditch dieting forever, and make peace with food and their bodies. Learn more about coaching here, and reach out if you ever have any questions!