Diet-Recovery Tip: Stop Labeling Foods Good or Bad Now!

diet-recovery tip: stop sign
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Possibly the best diet-recovery tip I can give you is to stop labeling food as “good” or “bad”. Though a common habit among dieters and people struggling with disordered eating, this type of thinking can derail your recovery.

Maybe you’ve heard of “all or nothing” or “black and white” thinking? Psychologists’ fancy title for these thoughts is: cognitive distortions. Whatever you call it, I’m talking about thinking in extremes. Often this categorizing happens in our heads without us even realizing it. Examples are labeling things as either “good” or “bad”, “healthy” or “unhealthy”, “sick” or “well.” Thinking there is a “correct” way and an “wrong” way of doing, being, and acting.

So my biggest diet-recovery tip is: stop categorizing foods as good or bad.

Why is labeling foods as good or bad a problem? 

A key part of intuitive eating is the legalization of all foods. When we label a food as “off limits” human nature makes us think about that food even more. Imagine someone brought you a box with a lid on it, and told you, “Do NOT look inside this box.” I bet you’d have a strong desire to look. What if you placed an item in front of me and said, “Don’t touch this.” Chances are, I now want to touch it. As humans, we tend to be drawn to whatever is deemed “off limits” to us. 

Labeling foods as good or bad also adds a layer of judgment to our food choices.

Recovery depends on separating your worth from what is on your plate.

We have to start seeing our value as humans distinct from our body size, daily intake, or exercise routine.

Eating a certain food doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t speak of your morals, your heart, or our value as a person. It’s just what you ate. Nothing more.

Other Problems With All Or Nothing Thinking

This way of thinking is actually encouraged in our capitalistic world. As children we’re taught to work really hard so we’ll be “successful.” As if there is a destination called “success” we can only travel to if we “work hard enough.” And once we get there, we can unpack our lives and move in forever. With our fairy tale happily ever after ending.

Labeling every person, situation, and action creates a false sense of safety and control.

We believe if we choose the “right” things, we’ll be “OK.”

For those of us struggling with dieting and disordered eating, the destination we often seek is being “thin enough.” Obviously this causes many problems. For one thing, there is no “thin enough.” The closer we get to the destination we seek, the farther away it moves from us. Also,

Life simply doesn’t occur in all or nothing most of the time. 

Our lives and the world are actually full of gray. Nuances. In between spaces where we can have a mix of various feelings and experiences.

Applying This Diet-Recovery Tip:

All-or-nothing thinking permeates our attitudes towards food. Unfortunately this pattern of thought can take over our entire lives. When we stop labeling every food, every moment, every action, and every circumstance as either “good” or “bad”, we make room to allow the nuances in. The way we think is super important when it comes to recovery. Take this example:

I’m working really hard to listen to my body and eat intuitively. When suddenly I realize I’ve eaten several Hershey kisses in a row, without even feeling hungry. If I’m committed to black and white thinking I may think, “I can’t eat intuitively ever. I suck at this. I’m a failure.” 

This could go in two different directions. Perhaps I just continue eating the chocolate because I feel like shit and subconsciously know tomorrow I’ll get back on the “only eat when I am hungry” bandwagon. Or perhaps I banish all chocolate and restrict myself even more the rest of the day. (Thus setting myself up for more of the vicious cycle.)

Letting go of all-or-nothing thinking

In the example above, instead of labeling myself a failure, I can notice- “Wow- I’m aware I just ate chocolate without even tasting it. I’m struggling to eat intuitively right now.” Once again, without labeling myself as a complete failure, I make room for the ebbs and flow we all encounter along the path to recovery.

Making way for the grey

Recovery is a long process that requires recognizing life as we’re living it isn’t working. Then we open ourselves up to making changes. Internalizing this Diet-Recovery tip begins with noticing all-or-nothing thinking. This is the first step to changing this dangerous thought process and finding freedom from dieting and disordered eating.

Here Are Some Clues You’re Thinking in All-Or-Nothing Terms:

  • You’re using the words “always” or “never” Next time you catch yourself thinking “I never….” or “I always….” challenge yourself. Is it true or are you getting swept up in faulty thinking?
  • Labeling foods, situations, or even yourself as “good” or “bad” Remember- humans are complicated, multifaceted, and imperfect. And in recovery- all foods fit. No one food is going to make or break your health or your recovery. Allowance of all foods is key to finding freedom from dieting and disordered eating.
  • Thinking or saying “I can’t” My favorite dance teacher had an expression. She always said, “Can’t doesn’t come through the door.” Saying you “can’t” do something is so solid. So final. And not necessarily true. Telling yourself you can’t eat a certain food, accept your body at a certain size, or even find recovery can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just because you haven’t reached a goal, taken a risk, or stepped forward yet doesn’t mean you can’t.

So remember- it IS possible to find freedom from dieting and disordered eating. Practice compassion for yourself. And make space for the gray.

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