Why We Need to Stop Labelling Our Food

It's time to ditch the labels, and embrace a healthier relationship with what's on our plate.



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by Bexx Henderson in Food
Why We Need to Stop Labelling Our Food

Broccoli’s good. But chocolate’s bad. Salads are healthy. Pizza’s unhealthy.

Sound familiar? Seems like a pretty reasonable way to talk about food, right?

Labelling our food: we do it all the time. In magazines, restaurants and on food labels. In conversations that happen daily in offices up and down the country. At the gym, on Instagram – and as you’re prepping your evening meal.

It seems quite normal, and innocent – but how much does the language we use influence our relationship with food?

As it turns out, quite a lot.

In fact, using words like “good” and “bad” to describe your food could be the very reason you’re struggling to achieve your goals – and I’m going to attempt to explain why in this post.

Reason #1: Our thoughts influence our behaviour.

Last week, I polished off a big plate of food from the chippy – followed by a peppermint tea and a chocolate biscuit.

It was awesome.

In the past, a meal like this would have sent my thoughts spiralling – with words like bad, unhealthy and unclean dominating my headspace.

This language would then negatively influence my behaviour.

Although I’d feel guilty for eating a ‘bad’ or ‘unhealthy’ meal, it would feel like I had no control over my behaviour. My thoughts would lead me down a path of self-sabotage and binging:

“I’ve failed now. I might as well eat all the biscuits. I’ll start again tomorrow.”

For the rest of the night, I would act like it was the last time I was going to see chocolate and/or biscuits – and devour the lot.

Inevitably, I would feel even worse the next day – physically and mentally. I’d promise to try harder, and introduce more rules and restriction to “make up” for my indulgence. Inevitably, I wouldn’t be able to maintain my new diet for more than a few days, and the cycle would start all over again.

This pattern of behaviour is extremely common. The first step to overcoming it is to work on your thought processes – including the language you use to describe food!

Reason #2: When we’re labelling our food, we’re not looking at the bigger picture.

If I ate fish and chips every night, my body wouldn’t thank me for it. But one meal, in isolation, isn’t ‘bad’ for you.

Assuming you eat three meals each day, and a couple of snacks, one meal accounts for about 3.5% of your weekly food intake.

To go even further, that same meal accounts for about 0.7% of your annual food intake, and something ridiculous like 0.0009% of what you’ll eat in your lifetime.

It’s nothing.

Obviously, as a health coach, I advocate a healthy diet. Eating well has made such a huge impact on my own life, so I know first hand how important it is.

But there are still so many misconceptions out there about what it actually means to eat healthily. Eating pizza, or cake – or whatever the bloody hell you want to eat – doesn’t mean your diet’s not healthy.

In fact, a healthy relationship with food is just as important as what’s on your plate. If you can’t enjoy a bit of what you fancy every now and again, it’s probably not as healthy as you think.

Instead of getting fixated on each meal, try to look at your diet as a whole. Because that’s what really matters, in the grand scheme of things.

Bonus: Start making healthy changes, without ditching pizza or chocolate. Join the free 5 day challenge.

Reason #3: There’s no such thing as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ meal.

During the week, I eat a lot of porridge for breakfast. Not the most exciting, but it’s quick, cheap and full of nutrients.

Most days, I add whatever fruit we have lying around to give it some flavour – and maybe some spices or vanilla.

But this morning I was feeling nostalgic after finding my mother-in-law’s tin of golden syrup. So I ditched the fruit and went for a drizzle of that, instead. The temperature has dipped in Yorkshire, and my breakfast reminded me of cold, winter mornings – all snug at home, eating porridge in my Mum and Dad’s kitchen.

But I had to have a word with myself, because as soon as I’d finished I caught myself thinking:

“Oops! I shouldn’t have eaten that. What an unhealthy breakfast! Fruit would have been a better choice.”

The problem is, when we think like this, we’re getting fixated on one thing (i.e. the sugar) – and ignoring everything else.

Sure, fruit packs a bigger nutritional punch than syrup. I know that. But what about the oats? They’re loaded with nutrients like fibre, manganese and zinc – and have been scientifically linked to loads of health benefits, including:

These benefits aren’t diminished because you eat them with something less nutritious.

The same can be said for most meals – even those you think are super unhealthy.

To add to this, many dieting ‘systems’ attach negative labels to foods which are really bloody healthy. For example, according to Slimming World, 100g of avocado equates to 9.5 “syns” – literally making dieters feel sinful for eating one of the most nutrient-dense fruits out there. It really boils my piss.

Reason #4: We’re allowed to enjoy our food.

I shouldn’t need to explain this one much:

You’re allowed to eat – and enjoy – whatever you bloody well please.

Sharing a pizza with your best mate doesn’t make you a bad person.

Dunking a couple of digestives in your afternoon brew doesn’t mean you have no willpower.

Unwinding with a glass of wine won’t ruin your diet.

Even the occasional KFC isn’t going to impact your health long-term.

If you ever feel guilty after eating food you enjoy, please take this as a sign your relationship with food needs some work – not your willpower.

The bottom line: labelling our food, and thinking of our meals in such black and white terms, isn’t going to help us achieve our goals. Long-term, it might even prevent us from making sustainable changes.

If this is something you struggle with, and you’re interested to know how my coaching can help you, get in touch to find out more.

  • I really enjoyed this post. I found myself nodding along, I can completely relate. I was on Slimming World for a long time on and off and I’m not any more and you know what? I feel SO much healthier for it. A diet like that can send you into the exact mind frame you’re talking about. ‘Sinful’ food…good and bad choices, etc. xx



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