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Good Food Vs. Bad Food Debate and Eating Disorder Recovery

Posted on May 9, 2018

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When it comes to succeeding in eating disorder recovery, one stubborn misconception needs to be discredited—the good food versus bad food debate. Mainstream culture has propagated the idea of attaching morality to certain food groups by idealizing some and demonizing others. But this paradigm is nothing more than a fabricated social construct with destructive implications. When a food is labeled either “good” or “bad,” it suggests the person who consumes that food must take on a similar virtue. But the reality is, character is not based on someone’s diet. Integrity cannot be measured by asking the question, “Did you eat a salad or cheeseburger for lunch?” What you eat doesn’t define you. Foods should not be forced into categories any more than humans should. In order to prioritize eating disorder recovery, it’s time to stop the good food versus bad food food debate.

Why the Good Food Versus Bad Food Debate Is a Problem

If you’ve gnawed on a carrot stick and felt a sense of moral superiority, or scarfed down a slice of pizza only to experience regret afterward, then you’re familiar with the distorted mindset of good food vs. bad food. When you attribute success, praise and worth to eating fruits or vegetables and failure, weakness and shame to indulging in dessert, you become judgmental and restrictive of the foods you’re allowed to consume. You berate and criticize yourself when these diet rules are broken, and in the process, you feel condemned to a rigid existence where food is a necessary evil rather than a source of nourishment and enjoyment.

That’s precisely the reason this good food vs. bad food debate is so problematic—it fuels an eating disorder mentality. The more food groups you write off as negative, the more suspicious and anxious you will become of sustenance in general (Food Anxiety Overview). This fear-based approach to food is how eating disorders originate all too often, and it can plunge you into a toxic cycle of deprivation and subjugation to an illness that will not hesitate to ruin your health and even threaten your life.

Maintaining ED Recovery in the Midst of the Good Food Vs. Bad Food Debate

I confess that I struggle to prioritize eating disorder recovery when all around me it seems like this good food versus bad food debate is gaining momentum and credibility. From wellness gurus touting the benefits of a clean, organic lifestyle to media exposés broadcasting the evils of refined sugar, I am tempted to demonize certain foods and exhibit a self-righteous attitude when I reach for an apple instead of cheesecake. But I am also learning that one food choice does not morally transcend another.

Some foods contain more nutritional density, but this doesn’t inform how “good” they are. Likewise, it has no bearing on the character of a person who decides to ingest those foods. Although my eating disorder would love nothing more than to remove cookies, pizza, burgers and Chinese takeout from my diet altogether, I’ve found that moderation is healthier than elimination. I can fuel myself with green smoothies or quinoa salads and derive guiltless pleasure from an ice cream sundae too. Both options are flavorful and beneficial. In fact, the body needs that balance of nutrition and indulgence. This practice of freedom around eating can sustain long-term ED recovery and silence the good food vs. bad food debate.

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Author: Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer

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