Good and bad food, good and bad me!


Very frequently I hear a client explain their eating habits since their last visit in terms of “I’ve been good or I’ve been bad”! The belief that some foods are better than others, indeed that some foods are inherently good while others are inherently bad, has become a well-accepted underpinning of current nutrition lore. In particular the weight loss, fitness and even the nutrition industries fully endorse and encourage this perspective. What does it mean to speak of a food as being good or bad? Is this a helpful perspective to have and, anyway, how do you tell if the food you are eating is good or bad?

Where does it come from?

The labelling of a food as good or bad is usually justified on the basis of the nutritional quality of that particular food and/or how the components of that food contribute to or detract from our health. Or more frequently it is justified on the basis of the calorie content of the food, the perceived decadence of the food or even the degree of “sinful pleasure” it provides.   While at first glance this may seem quite reasonable, upon closer inspection, there are important problems with these perspectives.

First of all, states human behaviourist and former co-editor of the journal, Health at Every Size, Jonathon Robison PhD, our scientific understanding of the health impact of any particular food is extremely limited. Most of the information we have collected to date on the relationship of individual foods to health comes from studies that look at the diets and the incidence of disease in large populations over extended periods of time. Extrapolating this information to the effect of individual foods on individual people is an extremely inexact science at best[1].

For example, a damning study in the British Medical Journal[2] showed that – after all we have been told to the contrary – saturated fat is good for you. Far from being the great risk to our health and hearts, it turns out that most people who eat butter, milk, cream and full-fat yogurts generally have better heart health, less risk of Type 2 diabetes, and are even slimmer than those who eat fat-free. It seems that there is a connection between our 30-year war on saturated fat and our terrifying obesity epidemic. Experts are saying instead that carbohydrates are the real killer. Though in my opinion its all of the refined and chemical ingredients in processed food not just carbohydrates.

Another example is eggs. Some people still believe eggs are full of cholesterol and should be avoided. What we now know is that repeated studies have shown that dietary cholesterol has little impact on blood cholesterol levels. Eggs are full of all sorts of nutrients and vitamins, and are very good for you. They are rich in protein, so may also keep you fuller for longer and help with appetite control.

The second justification for labeling a food good or bad is based on a judgment of its calorie content (especially empty calories) or the indulgent of “sinful” nature of the food. There are a couple of reasons why basing our assessment on calories or indulgence may be unreasonable. Firstly, as mentioned above, the story about fat making us fat and unhealthy is turning out to be untrue. Now let’s qualify here that there is a vast difference between processed fats and natural, whole fats but the argument isn’t about calories, it’s about quality. A quality avocado, coconut cream or cashew butter is going to have a very difference affect in the body than a donut fried in processed vegetable oil or a chocolate cake made with margarine. So, to complete the argument against labeling foods “bad” because they look indulgent let’s look at two chocolate cakes. One made with organic butter, coconut sugar, fresh organic eggs and freshly ground spelt flour is very different biochemically than a packet cake made with margarine and white sugar even though they may actually have exactly the same calories.

Additionally, indulgent foods have in previous generations, been associated with celebrations: A cake at birthdays; an icecream on Sundays; rich food with hours of preparation at Christmas or when family arrives in town. These days many of us allow ourselves indulgences or treats on an almost daily basis. So the joyful, social aspect of occasional indulgence in rich food is denied us. How could mum’s beautiful birthday cake lovingly made and delivered to us with such pride and joy ever be “bad”. So there are times when “bad” foods are not bad. In that case we prove the point, foods are not inherently good or bad until me label them so.

Extending the judgment

The good Vs bad judgment doesn’t end with the food. What human beings tend to do is extend the judgment to themselves when they consume the said good and bad foods. So, I ate a “bad” food turns into “I am bad for having eaten the bad food”.

As Robison puts it “Good foods will not only make us healthy, but also righteous and bad foods will kill us and also make us sinful. The end result is a population in a constant state of high alert for foods that will kill them or cure them and confused and anxious about everything they put in their mouths.

Polarised thinking

Labeliing foods good and bad is only possible within a thought paradigm that allows it. For example, good and bad thinking comes from a form of polarised thinking also known as All or Nothing or Black and White thinking. It’s an essential skill in being able to corral large amounts of information into 2 very large categories. But if we get stuck in it, we can have an inability to see the multitude of shade variations between black and white, known as grey!

Then, we suffer from All or Nothing thinking. So, instead of being ok with one or two exercise sessions a week, we think that anything less than 6 days a week is a waste of time. Or despite our best intentions we break a diet with a treat and then give up entirely thinking that if we can’t do it perfectly we shouldn’t do it at all.

Professional coach and founder of Equilibrio Coaching Company, Michelle Duval puts it this way, “Conceptually, all or nothing thinking creates artificial either/or dichotomies. When this pattern is in play, we are only able to see, hear, feel or think in terms of black and white. We are unable to perceive degrees of black, white or grey. Some examples include concepts such as: love/hate, good/bad, right/wrong, success/failure, rich/poor, light/dark, win/lose, us/them, etc.

A Healthier Perspective

Good and Bad thinking can keep us in a perpetual rut of unhappiness. The healthier way to think, called continuum thinking releases us not only from the emotional constraints of black and white thinking but also liberates other extremes including: our perceptions of food; our emotions (there is more to us than mania and depression); being able to take a wellness journey without requiring instantaneous results overnight; developing new skills and being able to move from incompetency through to mastery without giving up.

How does this help us with dysfunctional eating and labelling food good and bad?

Duval says, “In developing new skills, capacities and talent, continuum thinking supports us to experience development as a process, not something that occurs in one massive leap [eg going from being someone who is obese to someone who is naturally slim]. We do not move from incompetent to competent or from competency to mastery in a blink, or without having to go through essential stages. As we are able to see development and learning as a process and then the steps and stages, it helps us to align realistic expectations, clarify our intentions for each specific stage and allows us to count, acknowledge and celebrate the stages. Without being able to see performance in degrees you will have difficulty counting and validating your children, your loved ones, your team members and especially yourself. You will have no patience for yourself and will unconsciously fulfill your own prophecy of failure.

Becoming someone who is a naturally slim

On the surface, what we want is to just lose those horrible 15 [insert your own number] kilos! But what we really, really want is to be free of the weight struggle and to become someone who is a natural, healthy eater, happy with who we are and able to fully express all aspects of ourselves. The key to achieving the second is to not be seduced by the first! Quick fix dieting actually undermines progress keeping us trapped in a vicious cycle of unrealistic hope then failure. In addition our focus can be entirely taken up by food and weight thoughts!

There are clearly defined habits associated with people who have a healthy relationship to food. Many of these are discussed in detail in publications by Geneen Roth – expert in recovery from dysfunctional eating[3]. One of these habits, that of eating everything in moderation, stems from a belief that no food is evil or forbidden. All food is neutral until we label it good or bad. We may choose not to eat a certain food because we’re aware of the consequences. Those consequences, such as feeling sluggish, or getting an upset stomach, are not ones we wish to experience.  It’s a perspective that changes your chances of success for the better! It’s a perspective based on self-care and self-love rather than reward and punishment.

At the risk of being all or nothing about this topic, I’m going to stop here!

In summary, I’d like to encourage you to consider a different approach to your weight issue. Your struggle with weight can be your biggest teacher. Everything you dream of becoming can be found through the portal of your imperfect weight challenge. But don’t do it alone. We need the objectivity and impartiality of a witness in this process, someone who can guide you back to self-care and who can help you identify unhelpful thought patterns. Coaches are trained to do this and will fast track your results

By Brenda Rogers

Nutritionist | Naturopath | Life Coach

Brenda Rogers Rebrand 2015 FA






[1] Downloaded October 30 2015.

[2] Downloaded Oct 30, 2015.


Brenda Rogers

With over 25 years experience as a corporate trainer, naturopath, yoga teacher and wise woman educator, Brenda is the head clinician and coach at Quintessence Health.

"A healthy mind and body simply ensures you have the time and energy to fully express and manifest your life’s purpose – it facilitates the unfolding of joy."

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