I have a laundry list of foods that I know I’m “supposed to” eat because they’re “good for me” but that I just can’t bring myself to actually eat. Many of these are so-called “superfoods,” a clever marketing term for foods rich in nutrients that are supposed to be beneficial for our health and wellbeing. My list includes things like:
- Goji berries (gross except hidden in smoothies)
- Spirulina (always disgusting)
- Super dark chocolate (I can’t get behind the bitterness)
- Matcha (I wanted to like this, but it just tastes like grass to me)
- Beets (nope)
- Coconut (I like coconut milk, but not the coconut itself)
- Eggplant (so beautiful, yet so unfortunate tasting)
- Prunes (I. Just. Can’t.)
- Collard Greens (GOD NO)
You get the point.
I have done a lot of work to improve my relationship with food such that I don’t feel much guilt anymore for not liking many of society’s current “holy grail” foods and choosing not to eat them, but I hear from women all the time that struggle to let go of the messages of “should” and “have to” around food.
A lot of women I’ve spoken to obsess over eating (often expensive) foods that they don’t even like the taste of or get any satisfaction from. Sometimes women are even eating foods that make them feel crappy because they think they’re supposed to. Why?
[Are you sick of getting wrapped up in the newest diet and gaining and losing the same weight over again? Get my FREE Intuitive Eating Quiz & Quickstart Guide HERE to see if Intuitive Eating might be right for you.]
In Our Current Culture of “Wellness,” Superfoods And Other Health Foods Are Seen As Non-Negotiable
The underlying messages behind the “wellness” culture we’re living in now are “Do X and you’ll live a longer, healthier life” and “Do Y and you will DIE.” If that sounds dramatic, it’s because it is. In particular, these messages tend to be seen around food and exercise.
Never mind how you’ll sometimes hear both messages about the same food. Remember this past year’s coconut oil controversy? Or the frequent conflicting headlines that come out about red wine and alcohol in general?
And it’s not just self-identified health and wellness social media influencers and gurus (*cough cough* Gwyneth Paltrow *cough*) who are perpetuating these black and white messages about food. Major news organizations are completely caught up in the wellness frenzy, too. Here are some headlines about food from just the last few months:
- “The Ascension of Cauliflower” (The New York Times)
- “Is Fish the Food of Love, and Babies?” (The New York Times)
- “It seems like every fruit and vegetable is being snack-ified. But are these chips healthy?” (The Washington Post)
- “‘Guilt-free’ foods are a lie” (The Washington Post)
- “The Great Egg Debate: Are They Healthy or Not?” (The Wall Street Journal)
As a culture, we have become so obsessed with the perceived power of individual ingredients and foods to act as our elixir of life that we are losing the bigger picture. Our insistence on categorizing foods as “good” and “bad,” “clean” and “dirty,” or “safe” and “forbidden,” is leading to a mental health crisis around the experience of eating food.
We’ve been sold the idea that if we’re not purchasing and eating all the superfoods, filling our grocery carts with as much organic kale as they can hold, and abstaining from things that are fried, processed, or use white sugar and white flour, we are not doing enough for our “health” and thus we are bad people.
Even if we ignore for the moment that the operating definition of health is a narrow one that is steeped in classism, sizeism, and ableism, this concept is ludicrous. The foods we eat do not determine the kind of people we are. While what we eat can have some effect on our physical health, we have way less control over our physical health than the media would like us to believe. I can choke down all the cauliflower bread, green juice, and turmeric capsules in the world, but that doesn’t change the fact that I could still get diagnosed with cancer due to something I was exposed to as a baby or simply die in a car accident tomorrow.
Food Is So Much More Than A Way To Control Our Health And Weight
I refuse to buy into the “food is fuel” mentality that has become so pervasive. Yes, on a cellular level we need food to keep us alive and keep our bodies functioning. Yes, the foods we eat have some effect on our physical health and body size. But food is so much more than that. Food can be political, historical, cultural, pleasurable, and memorable. It can create community and cultivate fun. Food goes far beyond what we can glean from a nutrition label.
Further, our physical health isn’t the only piece of our health that matters. Our mental health, social health, and fiscal health are important, too. So to say that a piece of pizza is “unhealthy” or “bad” ignores things like what kinds of foods a person can afford, what kinds of foods are available at gatherings of friends and family, and what kinds of foods taste good to an individual and bring them joy.
Sure, a donut doesn’t have the antioxidants you can find in a handful of raspberries, and eating fried foods isn’t recommended to do every single meal, but that doesn’t make the donut valueless. And if you find that it’s delicious and makes you happy, then you shouldn’t have to feel like a moral failure for choosing to eat one, or two, or ten donuts.
When we start to fear some foods and put other foods on a pedestal, it often gives us tunnel vision and takes away so much of the joy that food can give us. When we become obsessed with eating only the “right” foods and restricting ourselves from the foods we really want, we end up feeling guilty and ashamed when we inevitably eat the foods we’ve been told are “bad.” This can lead to a cycle of binging and restricting and other harmful forms of disordered eating.
[Would Intuitive Eating benefit you? Grab the FREE Intuitive Eating Quiz & Quickstart Guide HERE to find out.]
Eat Foods That Taste Good And Make You Feel Good, And Screw The Rest
Focus on eating foods that you like and foods that make you feel good, and build your diet around those foods. If you only eat pizza and donuts, it will definitely taste good for a while, but it won’t be long until you don’t feel very good. And if you only eat limp salads and lean chicken breasts, never allowing yourself to have foods like pizza and donuts, that’s not going to taste very good and eventually you won’t feel good either.
A great example in my life is that I’ve always hated beer, and you won’t ever catch me drinking it. In college I was pretty good at beer pong, but I always made my partner drink all the beer (sorry to my many wonderful beer-pong partners over the years – thanks for taking one for the team). Beer simply isn’t enjoyable for me, and drinking it doesn’t make me feel good. In the same vein, if kale tastes like dirt to you, don’t eat kale. If the thought of eating chia seed pudding for breakfast makes you want to vomit, then stop buying chia seeds. Leave the extremists behind and start carving a middle ground for yourself in the food wars.
Ask yourself what foods you actually enjoy and will satisfy you. Now, this is not permission to never eat fruits and vegetables and declare that you hate all plant foods. There is an abundance of fruits and vegetables out there, and I’m certain that with some experimentation you will find the ones you like and the ways that you like to eat them. And when you do, I recommend making sure they’re a part of your diet.
Keep an eye on your energy, cravings, hunger, and fullness, and you’ll get a sense of how the foods you’re eating are serving you. If you’re not feeling good or if you’re not feeling satisfied, make some tweaks and pay attention to how things change.
Eat superfoods if you actually like them, but try to avoid getting super obsessed with the idea of them. If shots of wheatgrass are the difference between living and dying, then just bury me in a pile of candy now so I can at least go down with a smile on my face.