How to Combat Ingrained Stereotypes about Foods
“I don’t eat pasta, that’s bad.”
“Carbs will make me fat.”
“Almond butter is Paleo, so I can have as much as I want.”
“Meat is bad for you.”
“You need to eat meats…. ONLY meats.”
Or we see headlines like this all over the place
Or charts like this:
These are just some of the food stereotypes that exist… blanket beliefs, some that even contradict themselves, that can get ingrained into our heads and sometimes makes decisions around food difficult.
A few weeks ago, I asked on my stories for topics that people wanted to see explored on the blog. One response asked for advice about combatting ingrained bad/good food stereotypes.
Wrestling with different ingrained beliefs can be especially challenging. Not to mention all of the random information that’s out there on social media that can compound on those beliefs, or make you question others!
So, what can we do to help ourselves navigate these beliefs and start to break down some of those ingrained pieces, if it’s appropriate?
Here are some strategies you can try:
STRATEGY 1: “What do I actually mean when I say that?”
This is one of my favorite recommendations. When you find yourself calling certain foods “good” or “bad”, or putting others on pedestals, you can pause and ask yourself, “What do I actually mean when I say that?” This allows you to pause, think about the actual food’s characteristics, benefits, ingredients, caloric and health values, and speak to the FACTS about that food.
Let’s take, “I don’t eat pasta, that’s bad” as an example. What do we actually mean when we say that? Of course, this might be different for everyone, but I imagine it might be something along the lines of: pasta is higher in carbs, it’s a food that can easily be over-eaten, we may eat more than the portion recommendation, depending on the type of pasta it may have a higher gluten or wheat content, when I eat pasta I experience stomach discomfort, etc.
These facts allow us to differently understand what pasta means for us and then make an educated adjustment to our original “pasta is bad” statement. Instead of avoiding or demonizing pasta, you might say, “I’m going to include a smaller XX-sized serving of pasta, because I really enjoy it and also want to be mindful of how much I’m having. I’ll add an extra serving of veggies on the side so I’m still full.” Or something like that.
You could also decide, after you think through the facts, that eating that food at that moment ISN’T right for you, and that’s fine too, but now you’ve used more factual reasoning to make your decision instead of one of those ingrained thoughts.
STRATEGY 2: Learn more about the actual food
This one might sound obvious, but I imagine it’s often overlooked. If there are foods that you’ve heard or been taught certain things about, or have ingrained beliefs about, simply learning more about that food can be hugely beneficial.
This can allow you to speak to the facts, as recommended in Strategy 1, even better! Once you better understand the actual content, caloric value, macronutrient split, and other information relevant TO YOU, you can continue to knock down those ingrained beliefs, and understand food for yourself.
Now you can say, this much pasta has this many carbs. A FACT that can help you make decisions about how much makes sense for you. Or, maybe it’s more like, this food has this ingredient which tends to upset my stomach. That kind of thing.
Knowing how to read a nutrition label is super important. If you’re looking to learn more about how to read one, what’s on it, and improve your ability to discern different information about food, check out the document linked here!
One last point on this. If you ever hear about some miracle food that causes you to lose 20 pounds overnight, or something like that, it’s worth digging deeper about where those claims are coming from. Here, again, learning about food, and in this case looking for some scientific evidence about the claims, is very important.
STRATEGY 3: Re-learn or Re-analyze where these ingrained beliefs came from
This one is huge. A lot of the ingrained beliefs we have about certain foods come from lessons we “learned” while growing up. This could be something that someone we trusted told us, that was modeled to you, or societal influences at the time.
For example, if your Grandma said, “Once on the lips, twice on the hips” whenever you ate ice cream, you might think ice cream is “bad.” And, understandably so! (That actually happened to one of my clients, by the way, and I’m sure there are far more examples of this kind of thing out there too!)
Anyway, if you think back to how you learned about foods, what was being modeled or told to you at the time? For example, was your mom ALWAYS on a diet, so you grew up thinking women were supposed to always be trying to get smaller and thus that impacted your beliefs around food? That’s significant.
You might consider:
How were you taught certain things about food?
What did you learn from Mom and Dad, guardians, family members, friends, society, etc?
What examples did your parents set around food?
What other comments, examples, societal images impacted your thinking about food and body image?
Once you have your list, remind yourself that this is simply what we learned! You have the power to rewrite this story, and that is what we are in the process of doing throughout this course!
Then consider how you can re-learn or re-teach yourself differently, where it’s appropriate.
Maybe you create a new manta for yourself, like: All food fits.
Or, you remind yourself that the occasional ice cream is perfectly fine and you can still maintain a healthy weight if you eat it.
Sometimes those declarations of re-learning, and continued use/repetition of them, are what we need to break down those beliefs.
STRATEGY 4: Make a List of Foods FOR YOU
This strategy might not appeal to or be appropriate for all, but I’m going to share it anyway; use your judgement.
Using your personal experience and what you’ve learned from exploring any of the strategies above, you can make a list with 3 columns. One that’s titled GO FOODS, one that’s titled SOMETIMES FOODS, and one that’s titled NO FOODS.
From there, you’ll put foods, or categories of foods, into these categories. GO FOODS will be foods that you can include at any time and are healthy and that we want to prioritize in our food plans. SOMETIMES FOODS are foods that you enjoy but may be less nutrient rich or more calorically dense and that you want to be mindful of intake of. NO FOODS are foods that literally make you feel sick or bad physically or that you’re allergic to; these will likely be avoided.
When making this list, consider how certain foods make you feel? Are they filling? Do they have health benefits? Are they appropriate in relation to your intake goals? Are they something you want to have all the time, or create reasonable boundaries around? Things like that.
It’s worth noting here that foods are not labelled as good or bad, there are no foods that you should avoid all together (except the ones that literally make you feel bad!), and that we’re using facts and personal feelings to make these decisions.
Okay, there are 4 strategies for you to try. I’d advise picking the one that seems most possible or most easily applied to your life and giving yourself some time with it to see what happens. After a few weeks, only if needed, you can add another one to see if that helps you further break down some of those ingrained beliefs. And, as always, if you need more help, I’d be happy to speak further with you about this and support you as best I can! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me!
If you know of someone who might benefit from reading these strategies, please share!
As always, thanks for reading!