Eating a healthy diet is important, but do you need to eat only healthy foods at every meal and every single day? Isn't a treat now and then OK? I certainly think so, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) also supports the idea of eating certain foods in moderation. That means it's okay to eat something that isn't good for you as long as you only eat a small amount and/or not very often.
Don't Focus on Each Food as Being Totally Good or Bad
Labeling all foods as either 'good' or 'bad' isn't all that helpful. Yeah, sure some foods have tons of health benefits, and others don't have health benefits and when eaten to excess, can be bad for you. But that just means you just have to avoid excess consumption of the wrong ones. The AND says there's room for all types of foods in your daily diet as long as your overall eating patterns are healthy, and in fact, categorizing particular foods or food groups as good or bad is too simplistic and could lead to unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders.
After all, sometimes eating is just meant to be fun. Like when you're celebrating a birthday or another major event. Feeling like you can only eat healthy foods all the time might cause you to avoid fun events and make you feel like your whole life is focused on how you eat. In fact, there's a term for that type of eating behavior; it's called orthorexia.
Does This Mean I Can Eat Whatever I Want and How Much I Want?
Not really. It's important to maintain a healthy dietary pattern. So focus on eating lots of healthful foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish and seafood, low-fat dairy (or another calcium source), and lean meats and poultry.
Then as long as you follow a healthfully balanced diet, it's okay to indulge in a piece of candy, a cookie, a serving of potato chips or your favorite dessert once a day. It's important to watch your portion sizes when you consume these treats.
What If You Go Overboard and Eat Too Much?
It can happen now and then. Eating a mostly healthy diet can take a little practice, especially if your diet is out of shape. So be kind to yourself when you struggle at first. If you give into the temptation to devour a whole banana split today, don't grieve at your dietary failure; just skip the treats for a few days. Next time you get dessert, just choose something healthier or get a smaller portion.
What About Drinking Alcohol?
Enjoying an adult beverage or two in moderation is fine as long as you're not pregnant and don't have any health conditions that require you to abstain from drinking. If you think you might be drinking more than a moderate amount, you can get help: Signs and Symptoms of Alcoholism.
Freeland-Graves JH1, Nitzke S; Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Position of the academy of nutrition and dietetics: total diet approach to healthy eating." J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013 Feb;113(2):307-17. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.12.013.