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Why Labelling Food "Good" and "Bad" Could Be Harmful

Why Labelling Food "Good" and "Bad" Could Be Harmful

It seems that every time I’m online I see one fad diet or another that labels certain foods or food groups as “good” versus “bad” foods that stresses why it’s imperative to your health that you immediately rid your life of them.

We might not realize it, but by categorizing certain foods or food groups as good or bad, we’re forming a negative relationship with food that can adversely affect your eating habits and can also lead to disordered eating habits.

A study conducted at Arizona State University discovered that negative messages, including labeling foods as good or bad, lead to backfire effects.

Study 1: In the first part of their study, they found that after reading negative messages about certain foods, the participants were actually more likely to eat the foods labeled as bad.

Study 2: In the second study, participants who saw a negative message about cookies ended up eating 39% more cookies than participants who saw a neutral or positive message.

Study 3: Finally, the third part of the study examined how participants reacted to messages containing both positive and negative information about food. This study showed that participants who saw the two-sided message (with both positive and negative information about food) chose 47% fewer “unhealthy” snacks than the participants who only saw the negative message.

So what does this mean? It’s almost like a Romeo and Juliet situation. By labeling foods as “bad,” we might be making them more desirable; after all, we all want what we can’t have right?

Vilifying certain foods has deeper consequences than just desiring them more. By giving certain foods a negative connotation, we can easily develop disordered thoughts and eating habits surrounding the food we consume. When we do something “bad” and we know that it’s “bad,” what happens? We feel guilty. We beat ourselves up because we did something wrong. Associating eating with doing something wrong and placing guilt upon ourselves for eating is extremely problematic. Our bodies need calories. We need to eat so that our bodies can continue to function normally. All foods provide our bodies that energy. Yes, some foods have more sugar or fat than others, but that’s okay. Cutting out certain foods or food groups puts you at risk for eventually binging on those foods, feeling guilty after the fact, and then restricting your food intake to “make up” for eating too much. That is a dangerous cycle to get into and can lead to the formation of an eating disorder.

Bottom line? No, you shouldn’t eat pizza, ice cream, and cookies to satisfy your entire caloric intake. You should try to have a diet that balances your carbs, fats, proteins, fiber, and sugar and also allows for indulgences. Never feel guilty for enjoying something as simple as food. That can be so much easier said than done, trust me I know, but you can do it.

If you or someone you know has or suspect that they may have or be developing an eating disorder, please get help here.

By: Kayla Harwick


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