The Problem with Food Acceptance

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I’m calling it the Food Acceptance Movement. If you search for the hashtag on Instagram, you won’t find much, so I’ll explain it here. The Food Acceptance Movement is this new-fangled (look at me – 27 going on 87) idea that there are no bad foods, only bad habits.

The last few years or so have been comprised of fitness experts all over the interweb showcasing themselves chowing down on Pop-Tarts & ice cream, giant beers & wine. Sometimes, it’s a ploy to sell some online book about IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros). Other times, it’s just meant to push readers a little more toward moderation instead of deprivation.

But lately, I’ve seen quite a few of these same fitness experts backing down from these posts, opting instead for posts that exhibit their true nutrition habits.

Even I’m guilty of it. I’m sure our own members could quote me as saying, “There are no bad foods, only bad habits.” Probably verbatim.

But it’s way more complicated than that.

Health isn’t just physical

Health is comprised of physical, mental, and emotional aspects. Let me break that down real quick.

Physical health is the obvious kind of health that your primary care doctor looks at. It’s blood pressure and cholesterol and heart disease and diabetes and osteoporosis.

Physical health is your strength and endurance and work capacity and flexibility. It’s easy to measure and simple to improve.

Mental health, on the contrary, is very difficult to measure. It’s a complicated mix of psychology and cognition and is difficult to diagnose or even perceive.

Emotional health (by this personal trainer’s professional definition) deals with our feelings and relationships. Building and maintaining close relationships with other human beings is fixed in our DNA and is an integral part of being human.

And the complex part of health is that this is all connected. You can’t just sacrifice one piece for another – all three components affect each other.

Your mental health can be improved by being physically active. Exercise improves mental clarity & cognition and can reduce stress. Exercising in a group can help us build and maintain close relationships with others, with our coaches, family members, and friends.

On the other hand, ignoring your mental or emotional health can cause your physical health to suffer. Think about how much better the aging process is when somebody maintains meaningful relationships with others.

All three facets are connected in a web, so it’s important to be cognizant of all three.

It’s about standard deviations

In training, we know that there is no such thing as musculoskeletal neutrality. Your pelvis, your spine, your feet, none of them will ever be symmetrical in any plane of motion.

The same is true of health: there is no such thing as perfect.

Rather, health exists on a continuum. And let’s say (just for the sake of this article) that health, where you’re relatively free of significant pain or disease, subsists within one standard deviation on either side of what you might consider “perfect health”.

The trick is to remain within one standard deviation on all three scales: physical, mental, and emotional.

So forgoing all social invitations because of the presence of alcohol, dessert, and excessive amounts of mashed potatoes would eventually leave your on the outskirts of your emotional health continuum. You would lack in close relationships with both family and friends.

On the other hand, skipping all of your workouts to hangout with your friends would do the same to your physical health scale.

Working too much is no good for any facet of your health because you don’t have time to workout, are outrageously stressed, and don’t spend nearly enough time with friends and family.

Why food acceptance doesn’t make sense

“There are no bad foods, only bad habits.”

False. Of course there are bad foods. Let’s make a quick list:

  • Carcinogenic processed meats
  • Alcohol
  • Refined sugar & carbohydrates
  • Trans fatty acids
  • Artificial sweeteners

And these are just a few. So yes, doughnuts, soda, chips, ice cream, beer, white bread, and pizza are all bad for your body. And for a multitude of reasons.

There are bad foods. But eating bad foods doesn’t make you a bad person.

What about moderation?

Everything in moderation, right? Well, not exactly.

See, we’re actually looking for excess. We’re looking for excessive healthy choices.

At it’s best, everything in moderation leads us to this place where vegetables come around once in a while and exercise only occurs a few times each week. It includes nightly margaritas and weekly bottomless mimosas. We soak up emotional health at the expense of our body, which affects our emotional health down the road.

At it’s worst, everything in moderation becomes an excuse, a justification.

The hard truth is that we don’t need everything in moderation. As they say, “Everything in moderation, even moderation.” If you were ever confused about the meaning of this phrase, it is this article.

What to do instead

Here’s the solution (and it’s one that I’ve proposed for years). Whenever you’re in a situation where unhealthy food presents itself, it’s important to ask yourself, “What’s the occasion?

Sunday afternoon at your nephew’s bar mitzvah? Don’t stress, that’s an important family event. Saturday night watching college football (or RuPaul’s Drag Race, whatever keeps your attention) with your friends? Go ahead, have a few beers.

Health is a continuum and when you consider that “optimal” health exists somewhere within a standard deviation of perfection, you’ll realize that bad food can have a place.

Stressful day at work? Don’t drown your anxiety in liquor. This is the second part of the solution: you shouldn’t sacrifice one aspect of your health when there are other ways to arrive at the same result. For instance, a stressful day at work could be overcome with meditation, reading, exercise, or writing.

Let’s go back to your Saturday night with your friends. Could you still hangout with your friends without the beers? Yes? Then don’t bother.

As I’ve said before, fitness isn’t about punishing yourself because you hate your body or you think you’ve been “bad.” Healthy choices are the result of you caring about your body, your health, and the people around you that are affected by it.

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