Avoiding “The Good” and “The Bad” Approach to Food

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Some things in life require a very black and white answer such as “Will you marry me?”, “Am I pregnant?”, “Do I have cancer?”.  While you need definitive answers to questions such as these, it is a fallacy to apply the same psychological approach when giving nutrition advice to clients.  As individuals mature mentally and physically, they move from dichotomous thinking to more abstract thinking as is evidenced by adults ability to carry on conceptual and critical thinking. Many individuals feel that foods can only occupy one category and they can only be good or bad, without taking into account that almost all foods health consequences are based on the amounts consumed. Take for example Conjugated Trans Fat (CLA) that is naturally found in ruminant animals sources. While most trans fats are classified as “bad”,  this trans fat hasn’t been shown to have adverse health effects in healthy populations and can have beneficial effects on cardiovascular, diabetes, immune, energy distribution and bone health.  So adopting an all or nothing approach in this case would be foolish.

When individuals view foods as absolutely good or bad they attach too much importance to consuming low nutrient dense foods on occasion; this can be detrimental to dietary plans they are on. They feel that having one serving of the food negates all the other foods eaten.  This often causes a loss of hope in succeeding and they give up and then indulge in foods that should only be consumed in moderation. This can also cause stress and anxiety in the individual and increased levels of both of these have been shown to work against efforts to reduce or control body weight because of the physiological changes associated. What makes this situation difficult  for many nutrition professionals is that the media around us sensationalize single ingredients or compounds, disregarding a balanced approach to reporting the facts. It is a much easier task to teach people if they only have two options, but any diligent professional realizes that a more thorough explanation is needed to allow clients the best possible prospects of future health. So what are some techniques we can employ to use more advanced thinking methods in choosing a proper diet? Here are some ideas…

  1. Increase client’s knowledge of the subject

  2. Teach coping skills (alternative behaviors)

  3. Allow individuals to retain certain foods they love to increase palatability of the diet

  4. Promote self empowerment and personal choice (the client can choose to eat a food, or have small portions of it on occasion)

Employing these techniques and showing a personalized interest in all of your clients can help them feel empowered and motivated to stick to their diet plan. This will help them develop advanced thinking skills which will also be beneficial in other areas of life. Remember life cannot be only answered by ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, we must effectively communicate our knowledge to reach people’s minds and hearts.

Written by Andrew Grover. Andrew Grover is a Foods and Nutrition: Dietetics student: He loves to learn more about the how the human body functions and its interactions with food and the possible therapeutic value in many foods. He graduates this June and hopes to work as a clinical dietitian and then move into management or corporate wellness.

Part of our Featured Writers series student writers independent of the dedicated Food Digest team have an interest to write and share their thoughts. If you would be interested in writing an article for Food Digest, let us know!

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