Why It’s Healthy to Eat “Unhealthy” Foods Often
First, I have to say that the quotation marks around “Unhealthy” in the title of this post are not to be taken lightly. We live in a society where we are good for eating salad and bad for eating pizza – where one food is “healthy” and the other is “unhealthy.” So much so, that many people are literally afraid of foods like pizza, cake, cookies, ice cream, French Fries, etc. These are all what I call “fun foods,” and what the majority of our society deems “unhealthy foods.”
Don’t get me wrong – foods that I call “nutrient-dense” and that the greater part of our society calls “healthy,” including veggies, fruit, whole grains, salmon, and so on – are some of my favorite foods and they should absolutely be included in our everyday food intake.
But … so should the fun foods. And I don’t mean once in a blue moon or just on the weekends.
Why? Here are some reasons:
Putting fun foods off limits gives those foods power over us and strips us of our ability to trust ourselves around those foods. For example, if someone is to tell themselves they are not allowed to have dessert or sweets at all, he/she is going to want them more, those foods will occupy his/her thoughts more than they should, and he/she may find themselves feeling anxious and out of control around those foods – and maybe overdoing it with them. And there is almost always a layer of unnecessary guilt and/or shame that comes along with the vicious cycle of restriction and “giving in.” Bottom line: food is just food – nothing more. Once we restrict ourselves of something, it gets put in a place of power where it does not belong. When we can bring all foods onto neutral ground and give ourselves full permission around ALL of it, that’s when we take our power back.
Rigidity around food promotes more physiological stress and disease risk than eating fun (“unhealthy”) foods. Diets and restriction of food cause stress in the body and the mind. Chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation, which is linked to many chronic diseases, such as heart disease. And then there’s the psychological aspect – dieting and food restriction is a form of disordered eating and can lead someone down a dark hole into a life-threatening eating disorder. So, no one fun food causes disease, but obsession about avoiding that food can.
Food is a source of pleasure in life! Yes, it’s fuel but it is also enjoyment and connection. While it is certainly not the only source of pleasure, it is definitely one of them – and we all deserve that pleasure – regardless of body size. Also, when we deprive ourselves of pleasure in one area of life, like eating, chances are that we are also doing that in many other areas. Our relationships to food parallels our relationships to ourselves, to other people, to money, to sex, etc.
Many fun foods have nutrients we need. I’m going to use pizza as an example because this is a classically restricted food in diet land and in eating disorders. I tell my clients and patients this all the time and it seems to help: Pizza is just carbs (crust), fat (cheese/meat) and protein (cheese/meat). We need all of those macronutrients at every meal to thrive. Plus, there are micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in pizza, like calcium in the cheese and vitamin B-12 in sausage. Then maybe you get some more vitamins and minerals if you throw some spinach or other veg on there, or have a salad on the side.
If we have full permission around all foods, our bodies will tell us what it needs, which is a relative balance of everything. And our bodies do not want too much or too little of anything. This includes fun foods (eating fries at every meal would get old after a while) and nutrient-dense foods (eating too many veggies throws your GI system out of whack and makes you gassy!).
I could go on and on with this but these feel the most important at the moment. Thanks for reading, and if you are struggling with your relationship to food, body and self, please visit my Nutrition Counseling page — I’d love to work with you.
In true health,