Labeling a Food “Bad” Can Make You Think About It More

So you’ve decided sugar is bad for you. What is the next step? Avoid it, at least when you are being good. How do you avoid sugar? You have to be on the watch for it. You have to notice it, everywhere, so that you can avoid it. And then what happens?

Sugar seems to turn up everywhere. It’s all over the menus. In fact, sugar is the first thing you look for on the menu. So that you can avoid it. It’s everywhere you look at the grocery store. It is even in your kitchen cabinets! The more you look for sugar, the more you, uh, can’t avoid it! Sugar is even on your mind more than ever. AAAGGGHHH. And that is scary! The very thing you are avoiding is what you are thinking about. Sometimes it even seems to call out to you. Then an odd thing happens. Somehow you find you are starting to crave it. More than when you weren’t avoiding it. You start to feel out-of-control around sugar. You begin to think you need a diet, or diet surveillance group, to get you through the day.

By setting up rigid parameters to keep yourself on track with eating, you have become out-of-control. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN? To understand, let’s move away from the topic of food and consider the same scenerio with a less emotionally charged thing.

Consider a friend who avoids flying. Maybe she is afraid, maybe she dislikes it. What is the first thing she thinks of when she wins a trip to Hawaii? “Oh, no, I can’t go if I have to fly.” She spends all her time thinking about the thing she has avoided. Will she have to fly, is there another way to get there, can she cancel the trip, can she get some Xanax? Now consider a friend who doesn’t love flying, nor does she hate it. Sometimes its fun, mostly it’s neutral. She wins a trip to Hawaii. And she spends her time thinking about who she is taking with her and what beach they will be visiting. Who thinks about flying the most? The person who is trying to avoid it!

The same thing happens with food. The more you try to avoid it, the more you think about it. Maybe not today, but eventually. And there are additional problems with these rigid divisions of good/bad, healthy/unhealthy, and/or legal/illegal food. When you label a food, you instantly suppress the natural flow of information coming back from the body. Your body regularly sends rich and complex messages back to you about the food you choose, and the quantity you eat. But you can’t hear it because you are caught up in mental calculations of the damage the food is doing. For example, 12 year old Elisa eats 15 homemade chocolate chip cookies then complains hat her stomach hurts. Her mother may say, “Eating that many cookies is bad for you, no wonder your stomach hurts.” The message: “That was a bad thing to do.” Often interpreted as “I am bad for doing that.” Which often results in eating more cookies to feel better. What if her mother said, “Yes your stomach is hurting, that’s natural when you put so many cookies into it.” The nonjudgmental message: “It’s natural for my stomach to hurt with so many cookies.” Elisa is affirmed, and since there was no “bad”, no guilt, she is free to decide if she again wants to eat so much her stomach hurts. She probably won’t.

Moralization around foods stops the feedback process. And that same feedback process is crucial for self-awareness. And it is nonjudgmental self-awareness that will bring you self-control.

Yes, food can have both positive and negative impact on your health. Some foods have more health benefits than others. Some can detract from health when eaten in quantity. But dividing foods into “good” and “bad” is not making American’s eat healthier. Consider making all foods neutral, and begin to pay attention to your body’s feedback. Slow down and listen. Chances are you will get a subtle message when you eat “junk” food for lunch that that didn’t feel so great. You will also get the message that having some birthday cake after dinner is not such a bad thing after all!

About the Author:

Karin Kratina, PhD, RD helps women and men escape diet prison and learn to manage their weight naturally. She co-authored “It’s the Calories, Not the Carbs” and “Moving Away From Diets.” Get the complimentary e-zine, Stay Attuned,â„¢ for inspirational eating, body image and weight tips. To subscribe (join), email To unsubscribe (be removed), email

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