The following guest post was generously created by Brittany Balke, who I bonded with initially over lack of sleep in motherhood and chronic pain on instagram. We share a background in the field of physical therapy and share a similar perspective on health and wellness, so if you enjoy my content, you will value hers as well. Brittany is an experienced mom who helps others let go of the guilt and focus on their wellness according to their values, not what society or someone else is telling us.
Few things turn your world upside down like becoming a parent, whether for the first time or the umpteenth time.
Good health becomes more valuable than ever as you expend your energy between babies and big kids and everything else in your life. And yet, the time and mental energy you have for taking care of yourself is also more limited than ever!
So I’m not here today to add rules to your list. In fact, I’d actually like to tell you about three health rules that you can just drop ASAP. I’ve listed a few guidelines for what you might do instead, but they are exactly that: guidelines.
“There are good foods and there are bad foods.”
We can also replace the words “good” and “bad” with words like “healthy” and “junk” or “clean” and “garbage” (all vocabulary I’ve heard in real life). This is called moralizing of food choices, and it can pack some hefty unintended consequences. There’s benefit to changing to a mindset that food is just food, and there are multiple ways it can nourish us, even if it is not the most nutritious option. Food can and does nourish us nutritionally, but it can also nourish us socially, emotionally, and spiritually.
This is called moralizing of food choices, and it can pack some hefty unintended consequences
Typically, people will label food as “bad” or “junk” because it is perceived as being less nutritious. I say “perceived” rather than “is” because sometimes food moralizing comes with unsound claims about nutrition. For example, carbohydrates are typically demonized; however, they are highly important for multiple functions of the body, not the least of which is mood and energy regulation. Chemicals are another misunderstood component of food, particularly because the definition of “chemicals” isn’t consistent among different claims. If you want to learn the basics of nutrition needs, ChooseMyPlate.gov is a great place to start. If you need more personalized help, a registered dietitian can help you best address your individual needs while honoring science and research evidence.
“Okay that’s fine, but what happens when I emotionally eat this whole box of cookies because I’ve decided they’re no longer bad?” The funny thing about that is restriction—such as occurs when we moralize foods as bad or junky—is more likely to lead to that binge than a more mindful approach. It’s also more often associated with negative self talk: “I ate the garbage food, therefore, I’m gross.” Now of course, that’s not true: eating “bad“ foods doesn’t make you “gross“ any more than eating “good” foods makes you a Nobel Peace Prize candidate. But this is where our minds tend to wander the moment we label our foods this way, and this can also contribute to overconsumption. The book Intuitive Eating and its workbook explain this in further detail.
Now, with that said, I DO understand the importance of not letting social or emotional nourishment overshadow your nutritional needs. Instead of seeing food as good and bad, you can begin to mindfully notice what kind of nourishment you’re seeking and receiving. Spend a couple or a few days recording what you ate and why. (The I Ate app is an awesome way to do this. It’s pre-set with prompts about your emotions and hunger and other circumstances). How hungry were you? How did you feel before and after you ate? If you’re consistently turning to food for emotional or social nourishment and ignoring the nutrition component, that information can help you make more choices to nourish those areas of your life with things other than food.