When Eating Something Bad Can Be Good for You

You can have a treat now and then

Eating cake

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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? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) supports the idea of eating certain foods in moderation. That means it's acceptable to eat something that isn't good for you as long as you only eat a small amount and not very often.

Don't Focus on Each Food as Being Totally Good or Bad

Labeling foods as either good or bad ​isn't all that helpful. It can also be triggering for people who have or had an eating disorder—bringing about shame and guilt, and resulting in a bad relationship with food.

Some foods have tons of health benefits, while others don't have health benefits and can be bad for you when eaten to excess. 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. They say categorizing particular foods or food groups as good or bad is too simplistic and could lead to unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders.​

Sometimes eating is just meant to be fun, such as 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.

Orthorexia is an obsession with healthy eating. You are distressed if you violate your own rules, and it negatively impacts your daily functioning at home, on the job, or in social situations.

Can You Eat Whatever You Want?

Not really. It's important to maintain a healthy dietary pattern. Focus on eating lots of healthful foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish, seafood, low-fat dairy (or another calcium source), lean meats, and poultry. 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.

If You 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. Be kind to yourself when you struggle at first. If you give in to 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, choose something healthier or get a smaller portion.

Drinking Alcohol

Enjoying an adult beverage 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 from an organization like Alcoholics Anonymous.

1 Source
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  1. Freeland-Graves JH, Nitzke S. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Position of the academy of nutrition and dietetics: Total diet approach to healthy eatingJ Acad Nutr Diet. 2013;113(2):307-317. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2012.12.013

Additional Reading

By Shereen Lehman, MS
Shereen Lehman, MS, is a former writer for Verywell Fit and Reuters Health. She's a healthcare journalist who writes about healthy eating and offers evidence-based advice for regular people.