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How to stop over-analyzing what food is 'good' and 'bad' for you

I know you've Googled it on at least one occasion. I'm going to tell you how to stop over-analyzing what you put in your mouth.

I've had patients in my office, or even acquaintances, go through a list of foods asking, "Is ____ good for me?" or "Is it bad if I eat more than one cup of grapes in a sitting?" or "How many times a week can I really eat ice cream?"

Only since the past 50-60 years have people been so concerned with exactly what to eat, how much to eat and how often to eat it, increasing in rigidity to the point that no one really knows how to eat anymore. And I don't mean that no one has yet uncovered the secret of precisely how to eat, but that so many are throwing up their hands in the air and giving up on eating healthfully entirely.

So what's the problem with over-analyzing everything we put into our mouths? Well, there are several:

  1. It breeds anxiety. Have you ever worried about what you should be eating before you eat, and then worried about what you just ate after eating it? Chronic stress is rough on the body, and emotionally draining. Anxiety and guilt or shame around food choices adds unnecessary stress. Anxiety, guilt and shame around eating are also disordered. Disordered eating, if conditions are right, can manifest into a full-blown eating disorder.
  2. It limits your diet. Once you start finding reasons to eat less of a food, limit how often you eat it or eliminate it entirely, your list of allowed foods becomes, sadly, very short. That means you'll be lacking nutrients and pleasure and satisfaction from eating. It also means you're setting yourself up for over-doing it when you do eat that food, which creates anxiety, guilt and shame.
  3. You'll stop trying altogether. Just as a pendulum swings from side to side once it's put into motion, when you eventually get sick of rigid eating you're likely to swing to the other extreme: not caring whatsoever. That can have physical and emotional detriments as well. Having no regard for the role of nutrition in health and ignoring your body's fullness and satiety cues can leave you feeling sick and sluggish. And there's that anxiety, guilt and shame piece again.

Listen to your gut - literally

So what's the alternative? Instead of striving for perfection in your diet, shoot for "for the most part." Include fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and dairy at each meal, for the most part. Aim to pay attention to and honor your body's fullness cues, for the most part.

Choose foods for the body more often than foods for the soul, but give yourself permission and take pleasure in eating for the soul. Eating should not add stress to your life. If you find yourself feeling anxiety, stress, guilt or shame around eating, seek the help of an understanding healthcare professional to help you sort through that.

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