Morality is important but I try (and fail) to figure out how morality and food ever came to be put together. How often have you heard the following?
“I’ve been so good this week – salad every single day.”
“I know it’s naughty, but I can’t resist a square of chocolate after dinner.”
“I can’t wait for my cheat meal this weekend!”
The second you start using words like “good”, “bad” and “cheat”, you are ascribing a sense of morality to whatever it is you are talking about. “Good” is positive, “bad” is negative, and “cheating” implies connotations of infidelity and betrayal. Except you are talking about food.
The block of chocolate you want to eat has 100 calories. So does one large apple. The little bowl of nuts you have portioned out to be ‘good’ over is actually more intensive in calories than a scoop of ice cream might be. Avocado is super healthy – and super calorie dense.
A calorie is a calorie. And everything – everything you eat – has them. Calories are necessary because they provide the fuel that powers your body to do all the things it needs to. Like digest your food, power your brain while you think through challenges at work, walk on the way home, keep breathing…you know, the usual. Your body needs calories.
So then how did some food become good and some become bad? A slice of bread doesn’t make you a bad person, nor does a spoonful of butter. If that’s all you’re eating, you’re not eating something that’s bad – no food is ever going to be put on trial for its lack of goodness – but you definitely aren’t taking in the full spectrum of nutrients that your body needs.
The calories in a spoon of butter that you use to sauté a giant bowl of vegetables won’t be regarded as bad but if you have that same spoon of butter on a dinner roll, then you’ve been ‘naughty’. The calories in both are equivalent – the calories in both are capable of sustaining you.
It’s just that you’ll probably be a lot fuller after the bowl of veggies than you’ll be after a little buttered bit of bread. But that doesn’t mean your meal was good or bad – unless you’re talking about flavor, in which case, sure – call it like you see it.
But don’t – ever – think that you are a bad person because you like sweet things or that you’re automatically a good person just because you would rather eat some broccoli than a toasted cheese. You might have some extra fat. That doesn’t mean you are fat. You may not have eaten something that’s bursting to the brim with nutritional value, but it has no bearing – none – on the kind of person you are.
Try to think of food as fuel instead of reward or punishment. Think of exercise the same way. Moving is how we celebrate our bodies – how we can build up our strength, our speed, and our endurance. Exercise is not punishment for being bad and eating something delicious that you felt a craving for. You do not have to run on the treadmill like a hamster for an extra half hour because you decided to accept a slice of birthday cake in the office.
Move your body in a way that is fun and fulfilling for you. Eat food that gives you nutrients (the brighter and more varied you can make the colours in your fresh produce is usually a good bet) and don’t be afraid to eat other, less nutrient-dense foods if you want to. They’re not treats for good behavior. You are not a dog. You’re a person who is alive to do more than pay bills and lose weight.
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