Over a recent lunch with friends, the conversation turned to healthy eating. Which got me to thinking, what does ‘healthy eating’ even mean?
You may have noticed over here that we don’t label foods as healthy. In our early blogging days, we may have referred to this blog as a healthy recipe blog. That evolved into a healthful recipe blog and then to what it is now – a delicious, simple, family friendly recipe blog.
Sure, I am a dietitian. And of course, I think it’s great to eat your fruit and vegetables. But are you unhealthy if you don’t? Is enjoying a satisfying bowl of pasta or eating a slice of chocolate cake unhealthy?
What Does Healthy Eating Really Mean?
Every day we are flooded with hundreds of messages around how we should eat, what we should eat and what constitutes healthy eating. For many, healthy eating seems to imply ‘eating clean’, ‘eating organic’, or even downing glass after glass of celery juice.
But how do you actually define healthy eating. And more importantly, why do we need to? Why do we need to label foods, our food choices, or our eating patterns one way or the other? Is this even healthy?
Here’s what I think. There is no right or wrong definition for healthy eating. It’s going to look different for each and everyone of us because we are all very different and unique individuals. Whatever makes your body feel satisfied and nourished, that’s healthy eating. Whatever food tastes delicious to you in that moment, that is the healthy choice. Sometimes that will be a salad and sometimes it will be a cookie. Do some foods offer more or different nutrients than others? Absolutely! Does that make them better or healthier? I would argue it does not.
Sticking to a list of rules that make up our own idea of a healthy diet can lead down a dangerous road of disordered eating. Constantly thinking about food and all the stress and anxiety that comes along with those rules and restrictions is definitely not what I would define as healthy.
Food Choices Aren’t Moral Issues
When we start to view foods as especially healthy we begin to place them on a pedestal, making them good choices. And we may start to feel bad about ourselves when we choose the unhealthy choice, no matter what we are craving in that moment. For example, I was recently at a conference and the presenter kept referring to potatoes and potato chips as unhealthy. Now, had I been enjoying some potato chips at that moment, I likely would have felt badly for eating them. I possibly would have even stopped eating them, even if I still wanted some, and maybe even tried to hide them for fear of someone else seeing. Feeling shame over the food we eat or feeling like a bad person for eating certain foods certainly does not do any good for our mental health.
So why not stop labelling foods and just call them what they are – food! As humans, we need a wide variety of food to be healthy. If all you ate day in and day out was mounds and mounds of kale, you would be missing out on a tonne of other nutrients. Those lists we see, especially now as we gear into summer, titled “The Top 5 Foods To Avoid” or “The Top 10 Healthiest Foods” create more and more fear when it comes to our food choices and eating patterns. I don’t care how much kale you eat in a day, if the thought of eating a donut or a plate full of french fries gives you serious anxiety, that’s not healthy.
It’s not easy to let go of these labels, the labels that we think help us to become a healthier or better person. But our worth is not and should never be determined by the food we eat or don’t eat. Moral values, like good or bad should never be tied to food. And that is exactly what this type of labelling does. I say that the healthier option should always be the option we want to eat, never the option we think we should eat. Letting go of that guilt surrounding food and all that anxiety and stress that comes with it is one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves.