Food is not good or evil…
If you have ever been a patient in my office, you know that I hate to refer to foods as “bad” or “good”. I think giving food a label like that can be very destructive. If we refer to cookes as “bad” then when we eat one, it is all too easy to then define ourselves as “being bad” – which is crazy!
My youngest son wants to own a bakery someday. Consequently, when a special occasion comes around, he is the first one to volunteer to make something elaborate and complex – and never do we make these things from a box! Lemon meringue pie, homemade cheesecake, key lime pie (do you know how many of those little tiny limes you have to squeeze to get enough juice to make a pie? It’s insane!). Regardless, when Tanner slaves away in the kitchen to make something for a special event, I have a piece. Of course! The food isn’t “bad” and I’m not going to think of myself as “being bad” when I indulge in that celebratory food.
Now, I would never call those things healthy or refer to them as being good for me – they serve a purpose. A celebratory purpose. Under no condition do I tell myself stories about how they are: “not that bad because at least they were made from scratch” or “kind of healthy because at least they contain real fruit.” Nor do I justify eating them with statements like, “at least I only ate one piece” or “my son would be crushed if I didn’t have a piece”.
No way. When I have them, I have them. They aren’t good or bad. Eating them doesn’t make me good or bad. And I certainly wouldn’t call these celebratory foods health foods or weight loss foods!
Most of the time it is pretty easy to classify foods as unhealthy or healthy. Donuts – unhealthy. Brussels sprouts – healthy. However, it still isn’t a good/bad scenario. I consider plain greek yogurt a very healthy food in general – but it isn’t very healthy for me. For reasons I can’t fully explain, yogurt wreaks havoc in my body. For others, it probably makes them feel phenomenal.
When we are laying out an eating plan for our patients, we typically point out that some foods are healthy and great for weight loss and other foods are healthy but not great for weight loss. Broccoli – healthy and great for weight loss. Sweet potatoes – healthy but not great for weight loss.
One of the things that we do say over and over again is:
“if it’s a carb and it’s white, it’s not right”
Eating simple carbohydrates is rarely going to help anyone lose weight. If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you should be aware that I don’t subscribe to the calorie balance hypothesis. In other words, I don’t think that excess weight is a consequence of eating too much and moving too little. I’ve actually got tons of science to back this up and we talk about the biochemistry of the body a lot in the office.
Eating simple carbohydrates typically causes a huge insulin spike, which is exactly the opposite of what we want when we are trying to get rid of excess weight. It doesn’t really matter how many calories are in the food that caused the insulin spike – it’s the fact that the insulin spike happened and now the body has to deal with it.
Spiking insulin levels over and over again is not going to result in weight loss. In a controlled experiment where the subjects are locked up – yes. In an environment where foods are abundant and easily accessible – no. It’s biochemistry.
Biochemistry drives behavior. The biochemistry comes first. Once we accept that and move on, it’s a lot easier to redefine our foods and our relationship with them.
I can look at a piece of homemade key lime pie and acknowledge that the pie is going to wreak havoc with my insulin level. Action-reaction. Cause-effect. It’s natural. It’s expected. It’s not “bad” – it just is what it is. And when the celebration justifies the pie – I don’t feel guilty.
However, I can balance those crazy insulin spikes with days upon days of minimal insulin stimulation. The spike is the outlier – not the normal. The spike is the exception.
What’s your normal? Could it be healthier?
This stuff is complicated. If you need more help figuring it out, you know where to find me!
Courtney Younglove, M.D.