I’ve written quite a few posts about eating disorders in the past few weeks, mostly Binge Eating Disorder, and I’ve touched on subjects such as the stigma of being fat, some of the feelings that trigger binges or disordered behaviors as well as social media and BMI. As I was browsing through all that content, I’ve noticed a recurring theme: bad food.
Bad food can only be understood, though, as opposed to good food or healthy food. Now, these subjects, as the title suggests, are as unavoidable as death and taxes. There is always an article somewhere to tell you about this food choice or this other one, ads that condemned cereal and fizzy drinks for their content in sugar and people sharing the latest on healthy eating, or the hundreds of healthy food bloggers and vloggers out there. You simply can’t escape the information because there is so much of it:
As you can see, there is 20 times more content on Healthy diets than on Balanced diets, and over 50 times more on what constitutes good food and bad food.
And you might say that I am nitpicking. Arguably, these are all subject titles that aim to provide the same information, different ways of talking about the same thing. This is, however, not necessarily true. If you’ve ever studied language to any extent, you will have studied that synonyms mean similar things but not exactly the same. This also can applies here.
Balanced diet Vs Bad food.
So what’s the difference? For me, it’s simple enough. A balanced diet is a guideline of what types of food and in what proportions one should eat to have as complete a nutrition as possible.
A list of bad foods is just that, a list of things that potentially are not good for you. Is this a bad thing? Not in itself, but if instead of trying for a balanced diet you just try to eliminat whatever it is that is considered bad for you today, you will end up short of something. The main reason for this is that, as I just implied, there is no fixed, all in, no doubts about it, list of foods that are actually bad for you. The ideas about food have changed through the years and continue to change every day. Think about eggs, for example. A few years ago, not that many, eggs were terrible for your health, full of fat and cholesterol. Now the powers that be have decided they are great for your health.
Another example, although this is a personal one, is bananas. My parents always complained I didn’t eat enough fruit. I did eat bananas, though. My mother insisted bananas are not fruit because they have a higher sugar content that other fruits. Although I insisted all my life that the sugar content doesn’t make a banana not a fruit, every time I see a banana, a voice in the back of my head goes “that’s not fruit” and it doesn’t even sound like my mother.
Now, I am not saying that this is inherently evil. I also don’t believe this started with the Internet. I can easily imagine our ancestors in their caves slapping a child’s hand full of berries that were “bad” for them because they were poisonous. This probably evolved to “that’ll give you stomach ache” to our current “that’s full of sugar/fat/chemicals”. I don’t think our generation or the next ones have invented anything but we are coming to extremes where we are indoctrinating our children with our own beliefs around food, like it happened to me and bananas.
The thing about these concepts of good and bad related to food is that, when you develop an eating disorder, it’s all that rules your life. They also translate into “doing well” and “doing badly”. For some time I’ve been in a Facebook group for BED sufferers and it’s insane how many times I’ve read “so proud of myself, I haven’t binged in five days” or “I did awful today, I ate a whole bag of biscuits”. It is difficult to understand why this is a problem if a) you’ve never suffered from an eating disorder or b) you do but you are not in the process of recovery and, maybe even c) you’re not me, because sometimes I wonder if this is not just the way I process things. At the same time, if this way of processing things helps me, I am sure it can help others, which is why I’ll explain further why these kind of statements are a problem for me.
So no binging for five days, yes, it is great, but it is important to understand the measure of the feeling of achievement that’s attached to that fact when the person who has done is has BED. It’s not “oh, great, no binging”. It’s “oh my god, I haven’t binged in five days, that’s five days I haven’t been a total failure, oh god, I hope I keep this up, I need to keep this up, all that I am worth is dependent on me keeping this up” and I don’t think I am transmitting the magnitude of that feeling. There might also be tears.
On the opposite side is what happens when it all comes crashing down and a binge occurs. It’s not just “damn it, I have to start again”, it’s “I am a complete failure, I am completely worthless, there is no hope for me, I’ll just get fatter and fatter and they’ll have to take a wall down to take me to hospital, I don’t want anybody to see me, I don’t know what to do to get out of this bottomless pit”. And there will definitely be tears and more binging.
The thing is, there is no such thing as bad food or good food, they are just foods that are healthier than others but it’s a bit like cars. Some cars are safer than others, that doesn’t mean that you will beat yourself up because you bought the less safe car because that’s what you could afford or that’s the car you like.
It’s not all about the type of food.
Another factor to take in consideration is measure. For example, I have a pack of Bourbon Creams on the table. The Nutrition Information tells me there is a 31% sugar content in them as part of a 66% content in carbs. Is that a lot? It depends. If I eat 1 biscuit, it’s about 10gr of carbs. If I eat 20 biscuits, it’s 200gr of carbs, which becomes a lot. But there are other considerations. Are biscuits all I eat in a day? Do I eat biscuits every day?
Even if I did eat only biscuits all day, it’s still nothing to feel guilty about and, as I explained last week (read it here), guilt is that next spoke in the wheel that is an eating disorder, perpetuating the problem instead of fixing it. We attach these feelings of guilt and shame to the concepts of good and bad food, and we can’t help it.
What to do next?
Well, that’s quite the Hamlet conundrum. First of all, I’d say we need to start thinking in terms of foods that are better for you than others, rather than bad vs good.
Secondly, we need to prioritise common sense over external advice. For example, yes, fizzy drinks are full of sugar, so are biscuits and cakes, but with some common sense, this is not a problem. For example, it should be common sense that fizzy drinks should be kept as occasional treats, once in a while. The same goes for having a couple of biscuits with your tea but not ten. It should also be common sense that it’s fine for me to give a piece of chocolate to my children for their snack or dessert but tell them they can have chocolate again next day when they ask for more instead of giving it to them there and then. It is definitely common sense that treats are grand when you have a balanced diet which include all the food groups your body needs to survive.
Honestly, folks, common sense would save the world if everybody used it, so it can definitely save us from disordered eating habits.