Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bad foods

Like 68% of Americans, I am overweight and have been for most of my adult life. It's been an ongoing source of shame and frustration. I am fully aware of the health and societal consequences and yes, I've tried and continue to try to do something about it with mixed results. I exercise regularly and eat a moderately balanced diet.  But I've encountered what all the weight loss fads prefer not to admit: Losing weight is really hard. For many of us, our bodies like to hold onto fat because, in the whole of human history, we're more likely to have too little than to have too much. And "bad" foods just taste so good.

We are programmed to crave and enjoy carbs and fats, the very things that make us fat. It makes sense, evolutionarily, that our palates are tuned for the sources of nutrition that most effectively keep us alive when food could be scarce. It's our very abundance that's killing us.

In all of my weight-loss success and failure, what's been emotionally hardest is the guilt when I don't succeed and the frustration over labeling certain foods "bad." At the moment, I'm not interested in writing a woe-is-me post over weight-loss frustration. Instead I'd like to re-examine what it means for a food to be bad.

In weight loss circles, a food is bad if it has a high calorie to volume ratio. A small portion of something with a lot of calories makes it bad, be it sugar and other dreaded carbs or fats. I know this is a gross simplification, but I have come to believe thinking of foods as "bad" is also a gross simplification.

Yes, there are some things we just really shouldn't eat. Cheetos, delicious though they may be, have a lengthy ingredient list full of more chemicals than a cheese-ish snack really should have. But what about bread? Is that bad? Flour, water, yeast, salt, a smidge of sugar.

For some people, sure. Everyone's body is different. But I'm coming to realize that when I call a food "bad" I give it, and my appetite, more power over me. It's more likely to become a forbidden fruit or a vehicle for self-disgust should I eat it, than if I simply remember that it's a food I am healthier without. The food by itself is neither good nor bad, it's my reaction to it that makes it that way.

Instead of labeling foods good or bad, I need to balance my thinking. I need to remember that any food, made with real ingredients and a minimal amount of processing, is simply food. It's what I do with it that makes it more or less wholesome for me. By choosing to not think of food as good or bad, but as healthy or less healthy, dietary modification becomes less restrictive and more about choosing to live bigger.

(c) 2011 Laura S. Packer

2 comments:

PostMuse said...

I am often 10-15 pounds overweight, and didn't typically have trouble taking it off, at least before I turned 50. Now I just can't get it off, and it is settling in places where it never settled before. It is frustrating. I know, for me, it is more about getting more active, but that's not easy. I don't know why. It should be easy. I have the time.

I've also come to think in terms of healthy/not healthy instead of "bad" foods. I have always avoided foods with lots of ingredients, but now I also won't buy food with high fructose corn syrup or enriched flour (even enriched wheat flour). Eliminating those two things means I'm reading labels, and that is healthy. Perhaps it isn't a focus on weight but a focus on reading that we need in the US.

Millie said...

You are a wise woman, Laura Packer. I have realized that there are foods that I just can't have (like the Cheetos). As time goes by, I don't want them either. When I do eat something I once thought of as "bad", it usually doesn't taste very good to me.