Home ยป Why Food Substitutions Are Bad For You: Changes You Can Start Today

Why Food Substitutions Are Bad For You: Changes You Can Start Today

Does This Sound Like You?

It is 10:30 am on a Saturday. You woke up, had breakfast around 7:30 am, and went for a quick walk. And now you are hungry.

A snack sounds so good. But you cringe at what you’re craving.

Potato chips. Why does it have to be potato chips? You’ve been avoiding them. They are only in the house because your husband eats them. You are only eating healthy alternatives to snacks.

So instead of chips, you stick with your diet and have baby carrots. You’ve read that carrots can be a good substitute for chips. They are crunchy and filling but not what you wanted.

You go through the rest of your day obsessing about chips. The joy in your Saturday is ruined. In fact, you keep snacking because your craving hasn’t been satisfied.

By the evening, you feel guilty about eating all day. You feel bad.

This is the food substitution trap. And you don’t have to fall in to it. Trust me.

Not sure if you are buying it?

Let’s take a deeper dive into food substitutions and how they are sabotaging your health.

What Are Food Substitutions?

Food Substitutions are a major component of diet culture. Food substitutions are a way to avoid unhealthy foods and replace them with foods that are considered healthy.

When you substitute one food for another, you are choosing to avoid foods that you are craving that might be classified as unhealthy. Instead, you eat a food that is similar enough to satisfy your craving for unhealthy food.

Have you tried the food substitution we talked about earlier? Some say that crunchy vegetables like carrots, celery, or jicama are substitutions for potato chips. Spoiler alert: they aren’t.

Diet culture created food substitutions so you only choose healthy alternatives to snack foods. Diet culture will tell you that there are good foods and bad foods.

But here’s the thing. There aren’t good foods and bad foods.

Let me say it again for the folks in the back. Good foods and bad foods don’t exist.

Here is a handy food substitution guide, just in case you forget.

Food substitution chart. Says give yourself permission to eat. If you want Pizza have pizza. If you want a salad, have salad.
Food Substitution Chart

Some Food Substitutions Are Necessary

Just remember, when we are talking about food substitutions that need to stop we are talking about changing foods because of diet culture. If you are using food substitutions for a chronic condition, it is important to continue. For example, if you are substituting gluten-free flour instead of wheat flour because you have celiac disease, you shouldn’t stop.

So Why Are Food Substitutions Used?

If good foods and bad foods don’t really exist, why do we talk about food substitutions so much?

Short answer? Blame diet culture.

Diet culture is so focused on getting you to weigh a certain amount or buy certain products.

How are they going to do that?

Here’s the kicker, the easiest solution is to make you feel bad about your food choices. Feeling bad about yourself is a powerful motivator. The worse you feel, the more likely you are to buy in to diet culture.

Woman in grey shirt with face covered feeling guilty
Photo from Canva.

So you have foods that are labeled junk foods. You have foods that are labeled as healthy alternatives to junk food. Food substitutions are born.

Think about it. Food substitutions clearly define what is “bad” and what is “good”. It makes it seem like healthy eating is easy. All you have to do is avoid the bad foods and make those healthy food choices.

You think, “This is great!” You like easy. You like clear guidance.

Unfortunately, substituting one food for another doesn’t actually help you or make you healthier.

Food Substitutions Create Food Obsessions

Think I’m exaggerating?

Substituting the foods that you want for foods that have a reputation for being healthier doesn’t make you healthier. In fact, ignoring your cravings can lead to food obsession.

Have you experienced food obsessions? Basically, this is when you think about food all of the time. There can be different reasons for them. However, they can all lead down a dangerous road. Find out more about food obsessions with tips for combatting them.

Ignoring Your Cravings

If you are like me, you’ve experienced powerful food cravings. There are real reasons that your body is craving foods. Sometimes your body needs certain micro or macronutrients. Your body is smart. It knows what foods have the nutrients it needs. So you will crave them to meet your needs.

Fortunately, your body doesn’t know which foods are on your good and bad foods lists.

Imagine you have a food craving, what do you do?

Remember the example we used earlier. You could have just had some chips, but instead, you ate carrots, celery and then thought about food all day. It ruined your day.

This is because, when you avoid food that your body is craving, your body doesn’t just forget that it was craving that food. It still wants it. So it keeps you thinking about it.

Yellow watercolor background that says "don't ignore your cravings"

A food substitution isn’t going to help you meet your craving. It won’t give your body the nutrients it needs. You may crave chips because your body needs salt, potassium, or fat.

Guess what carrots don’t have in them. Salt, potassium, or fat.

The real reasons behind cravings sound weird, right? But it is true.

And it is normal.

Sadly, food obsessions can get even worse.


Have you heard of orthorexia? Simply put, it is an obsession with healthy eating. While it isn’t an official eating disorder, it is a way to describe disordered eating.

You find yourself thinking constantly about good and bad foods. Coming up with healthy foods that can replace the foods you love is an obsessive ritual for you. When you shop, you only buy foods that meet your strict guidelines.

Frankly, thinking about healthy food all the time is not good for your brain.

Let’s face it, food substitutions are a prime way that you can obsess over your food choices. There are lists all over the internet to tell you what you should be eating and what to avoid. You hear talk about good foods and bad foods at work.

You may even hear about it at home.

Soon you find that with every food you eat, you are thinking about how you could make it healthier. And it’s a vicious cycle. The longer that you think about it, the harder it is to break free.

Food obsession cycle that says food obsession to eating foods that don't satisfy your cravings to all you can think about is food to food obsession

Does this sound like you or someone you love? Find out more about orthorexia at NationalEatingDisorders.org

Tips To Move Away From Food Substitutions

Believe it or not, you can break free from replacing the foods you love with foods that you think are healthier.

And it’s easier than you think. Check these tips out:

1. Practice Self-Awareness

First off, be aware that you are looking for so-called healthy alternatives. Take notice of how diet culture has impacted you.

Be aware of how you feel during certain activities. Does scrolling in nutrition social feeds make you feel bad? Do you feel like reading about food substitutions makes you want to do them?

Give yourself permission to curate your social media feed.

Remember, this isn’t your fault. Diet culture sucks and wants you to feel bad about your food choices.

2. Honor Your Hunger

Walk away from food substitutions by honoring your hunger. What does that mean?

It’s simple really. When you get hungry, eat. This means rejecting diet culture’s hold you and eating the foods you are craving.

Feel like you will be out of control if you give in to your cravings? Are you using food substitutions so you don’t overindulge? This is because you’ve denied your cravings for too long. When you deny your body food for so long, it can be hard to eat until you are satisfied without overdoing it.

Honestly, we all overdo it sometimes. And that’s okay. But when you avoid our cravings all the time, you are going to regularly overindulge to the point you may feel physically sick.

Start giving in to your cravings. End your obsession with so-called healthy food alternatives and you will feel so much better.

3. Recognize That There Are No Bad Foods

Pizza slices with text that says "give yourself permission" to Stop obsessing over food.

Let’s not forget that there are no good or bad foods. All foods can fit in a healthy eating pattern that supports your mind and body.

I get it. This can be a hard concept. But the secret is accepting it as a fact.

You don’t need to avoid a food because you heard once that it was bad. You don’t have to only eat carrots and never enjoy chips just because you think it’s better.

4. Follow A Healthy Eating Pattern

Take this one step further and follow a healthy eating pattern. You know that you need protein, fat, carbohydrates. You know that you need vitamins and minerals.

The basics of good nutrition are really simple.

  • Focus on the basics of a balanced diet.
  • Make sure you enjoy foods that you love.
  • Don’t deny your cravings just because they don’t fit with what you think you should be eating.

What Living Without Food Substitution Looks Like

Let’s rewind to that original scenario. You crave chips.

You deny yourself because they are bad. Instead, you look for so-called healthy alternatives to these snacks. You go after food substitutions. You eat carrots. You try celery. Nothing fills the cravings. You are miserable all day.

We’ve all been there.

Now consider it this way. What if you had just eaten the chips and moved on?

The world wouldn’t have ended. You wouldn’t have destroyed your health.

Simply, you would have satisfied your craving. You wouldn’t have spent all of your Saturday thinking about food. Maybe you wouldn’t have eaten those foods that you didn’t actually want.

The truth is you don’t have to be bound to diet culture. You can stop substituting foods you want for the foods you love. Constantly looking for healthy replacements for junk food can be a thing of the past.

I’m not overstating this when I say that ending food obsessions can feel like freedom. I think you deserve that freedom.

What do you think?

Get That Freedom Today

Bird cage opening with feather floating out.

Look, the bottom line is food substitutions are bad for your health. Save yourself the time and heartache.

Just stop today. And I know you can.

It’s as easy as using these strategies:

  • Practice self-awareness.
  • Honor your hunger.
  • Recognize that there are no bad foods.
  • Follow a healthy eating pattern.

Yes, you have to work on it. Breaking food obsessions and the rules you have set doesn’t happen overnight. But these steps are great ways to start making progress.

Of course, I am always here for one-on-one help. Just reach out.

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