Good or Bad?

Black and White Cookie

“…the black and white cookie. I love the black and white. Two races of flavor living side by side in harmony.”

Is this food ‘good’ or ‘bad’?  The food could be anything: eggs, bread, nuts, yogurt, coffee, chocolate.

Good or bad?  Seems like a simple question.  When people ask me, I rarely answer.  Normally, I redirect with “What’s your goal?”  If your goal is to get stronger, eggs are a good option.  If you already have high cholesterol, maybe eggs are a bad option.  However, I average three eggs per day for months periodically and my cholesterol stays optimal.

Black or white?  We want to see choices in simple terms.  Life is much easier that way.  

If I just know what’s ‘good’, I’ll eat more of that.  

If I just know what’s ‘bad’, I’ll eat less of that.

The drawback to labeling things so simply is that we tend to judge ourselves when we’re eating the ‘bad’ foods.  When you eat that piece of chocolate birthday cake, you might not fully enjoy it because in the back of your head you’re thinking

This is wrong.  Chocolate cake is ‘bad’.  But I want to be part of the group.  But I want to lose weight.  I can’t win.  AHHH!!!

In that scenario, eating the piece of cake and enjoying each bite might be ‘good’ for you mentally.  If you eat cake every day, that’s not good.

Eating junk food daily is the frequency I confidently label as ‘bad’.  Beyond that, I’m less certain.  Eating plenty of vegetables daily is ‘good’ for everyone, right?  Except for the rare people who struggle to process vegetables.  Personally, I limit myself to one or two cheat meals on the weekends and load up on vegetables, nuts, coconut oil, high-quality protein, and a little fruit.  That works for me but might not work for you.

So the answer to “Is this food good or bad?” is: it depends.  

I don’t like that answer either.  Life is complicated enough.  Is there a better model than “Is this food good or bad?”

Jocko

Jocko WillinkEnter Jocko.  Jocko Willink was the commander of Seal Team Three, Task Unit Bruiser, the most decorated Special Operations Unit in the Iraq War and subsequently the officer in charge of training all West Coast Seal teams.  I recommend his book Extreme Ownership to anyone who thinks they’re a leader, wants to be a leader, or just wants to lead their own life well.  If you want just the one-minute summary, check out this slideshow.  If you’re like me or my good friend Brian Lawrence, you’ll print out the twelve lessons from that slideshow on a single page and stick them to your wall.  

Marty who leads The Weekly Fight at CrossFit Inspire reminded me of Jocko a few weeks ago when they honored his service before their weekly Sunday morning workout for veterans.  Check out the video embedded below to get a feel for Jocko.  Marty told me afterward about Jocko’s podcast.  If you can find that ten minutes in the podcast where Jocko gives a mini-sermon on a topic, don’t spin off the road.  Just get fired up to take on the world.

Jocko wrote a book for kids titled The Way of the Warrior Kid.  This will be the next book I give my nephew Ryan, even though I haven’t read it yet.  From listening to this podcast (website, iTunes) where Jocko answers questions from kids, I know the book is worth the price for boys, girls, and even adults.  I already picked up on three lessons: 1) Do Pull-ups, 2) Study Hard, 3) Learn Jiu-Jitsu.  Who can argue with that?  At minute eight Jocko’s partner Echo talks about how he teaches his kids about food.  When his kids eat Cheetos or M&Ms, he tells them that food is making you ‘weaker’. That’s okay as long as most of the food you eat is making you ‘stronger’.

Weaker or Stronger?

Will this food make me weaker or stronger?  Phrasing the question that way is a subtle, but important difference.  We can remap our cognitive biases on foods this way.

Label ‘bad’ foods as weaker foods.

Label ‘good’ foods as stronger foods.  

Why remap? I’m less likely to judge myself harshly for eating food that’s making me weaker.  I don’t need to over-analyze every decision.  Now if I’m eating so many weak foods that I’m getting weaker, then I’ll analyze that behavior because I should.  I don’t want to be weak.  

But occasionally I can eat a piece of cake and stay strong.  The next time you’re overthinking your eating habits, try asking instead “Are 80% of my foods making me stronger?”  If not, it’s time to make a change.  Otherwise, enjoy your cake.