I’ve probably written about this before but I’m going to do it again – because it’s one of my pet peeves. At least one person every day comes into my office and begins a conversation with, “I’ve been really good except for the two times that I cheated.”
First of all, eating healthy food doesn’t make you “good” no more than eating unhealthy food makes you “bad”. Ascribing behavioral terms (positive or negative) to a pattern of eating isn’t helpful. Using the term “bad” to define a food isn’t helpful either. Just as no child is either “good” or “bad”, no food is simply one or the other. You can certainly make an argument that some foods are definitely unhealthy, but that doesn’t make them bad.
Second, the definition of cheating is to act dishonorably or unfairly to gain an advantage. Having cake on your son’s birthday isn’t cheating. You aren’t acting dishonorably by celebrating with him. Having pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving isn’t cheating either. You aren’t doing something wrong to gain an advantage.
When you choose to eat or drink unhealthy things, simply call them what they are. Change the way you talk about food. Rather than, “I’ve been really good except for the two times that I cheated,” call it like it is. A better statement would be, “I ate really healthy since the last time I saw you except for two instances when I deliberately indulged in unhealthy foods”. This conveys the same information but in a non-judgemental way. It also validates all of the healthy choices and still points out the two indulgences – in case you want to dive into them.
Not that we have to dive into every single deliberate indulgence. Having cake on your kid’s birthday is fine. You can still be a healthy person and have cake once in a blue moon. Having three more pieces after he goes to bed and another one for breakfast is probably taking it too far and needs to be addressed, but living life and integrating unhealthy food into a few moments in that life is normal.
In my clinic, we call these “champagne moments”. Because sometimes it feels good to celebrate. Some people drink champagne to celebrate while others eat cookies. To each their own.
Something to think about
As always, let me know if you need me,
Courtney Younglove, M.D.