You’re eating that? I bet you never eat __. These are all common questions that I encounter as a dietitian. The truth is my diet is far from perfect. I can’t turn down dessert. I take cream in my coffee and often order a side of fries at restaurants. Do I feel guilty about this? Not at all. I strongly believe in the 80/20 rule when it comes to diet. 80% of the time I make good food choices, the other 20% of the time I allow myself to indulge.

Chips, cookies, ice cream, French fries etc. are often given the label “bad”. However, I think it’s important that we don’t term foods as “good” versus “bad.” When we label certain foods as bad, it’s associated with guilt when we eat them. But we shouldn’t feel guilty or “bad” about indulging in these foods. Guilt should be felt for committing a crime or doing some unethical. Eating ice cream isn’t a crime. Believe it or not, these “bad” foods even provide some nutrients. For instance, 1 cup of ice cream still contains a decent 170 mg of calcium.

On the other hand, there is not one food that is “perfect” or “good.” A diet which is just limited to “good” food is actually a very unhealthy diet. For instance, if all you eat is “good” fruits and vegetables, you’re going to be missing out on the vital protein and fats found in milk and meat products. A perfect diet is probably an unhealthy diet. No one food has the magical power to make you fat or skinny.

Why do I think it’s so important to include some indulgences on occasions? First off, completely swearing them off is not only unsustainable, but can also create an unhealthy relationship with food. For some people, the drive for a perfect diet can cause social withdrawal since it may be easier to turn down a social invitation than a “bad” food at a social engagement. When we swear off a food, it also puts it on a pedestal. It can result in intense feelings of cravings for these foods that can ultimately result in bingeing when we do finally give into our cravings.

Including indulgences can also help with long-term weight goals. Eating these indulgences and enjoying them helps stop long term cravings. We eat food not only for physical hunger, but also for enjoyment. If we continually eat foods that we don’t enjoy, then we can continually long for more food, even if we’re not physically hungry anymore. Eating indulgences like the occasional chocolate can help prevent these cravings and keeps us more satisfied.

Completely swearing off all sweets is just not realistic for most people. Perhaps, a more realistic approach is having one slice of pie instead of two or splitting an order of fries while at restaurant. Think 80/20. My challenge is for you to change your mindset when it comes to food. Try to stop categorizing food as “good” versus “bad.” Instead, view food as fuel for your body that is still meant to be enjoyed. If you decided to turn down pumpkin pie this past weekend out of guilt, go enjoy a guilt-free slice!