Top ten foods that might be crippling your fat loss efforts! Is sugar slowly killing our children? Five foods that will detox your body and jump start your fat burning!
Do any of these headlines sound familiar? For some reason we love to give certain foods magical properties. If we’re not villianizing a food for sabotaging our health, we’re putting it up on a pedestal and overstating its health benefits in an effort to create hype. Things that may (or may not) have a kernel of scientific truth are taken way out of context and used to generate web traffic.
Fitness marketers and news/media outlets know how to get people’s attention. No one wants to read an article or see a news segment that tells them they’re eating too much or that they’re too inactive (wait, you mean it’s my fault? How dare you!). Instead people want to find an easy solution to their problems. Even though we know it’s likely too good to be true, we click anyway.
Why do we do this?
Do we really think that adding some green coffee bean extract to our diet will make us magically lose that extra ten pounds?
Unfortunately, many segments of the fitness community continue to place an unnecessary emphasis on specific food choices. In fact, many would say there’s a war going in the dietary world…
If it Fits your Macros (IIFYM) vs. Clean Eating
In one corner you have the “clean eaters” and in the other you have the “if it fits your macros” (IIFYM) crowd. For the sake of time and as a means of differentiating these two groups, I’m going to present the extreme examples, the “straw man” arguments, if you will, used to portray each respective group.
Clean eaters are presented as obsessive, ritualistic dieters who adhere to a very strict regimen of eating that focuses on the perceived quality of the foods they eat. “Eating clean” generally refers to having a diet that is composed totally of minimally processed, nutrient-dense food (the blander the better) and avoiding any foods that they have defined as “bad.”
IIFYMers are typically criticized for their naïve and overly simplistic assertion that “a calorie is a calorie.” Because of the fact that you will lose weight as long as you stay in a caloric deficit, people who practice IIFYM use this as an excuse to eat junk food all day, counting their french fries and strawberry milkshakes as their fruit and vegetables.
Now obviously both of these eating philosophies, when taken to the extreme, have some serious flaws. Overly rigid and restrictive diets make long term adherence extremely difficult and can lead to unhealthy relationships with food. On the other side of the coin, however, simply eating whatever you want without maintaining some semblance of balance is surely not a recipe for long-term health and well-being.
I’d like to present a third option.
As is often the case, the best path lies somewhere in the middle. We need to have the freedom to include foods we love and not feel guilty about eating so-called “treats,” while at the same time acknowledging the fact that we still need to provide our bodies with a variety of nutrient-dense foods.
This is easier said than done, however….
For whatever reason, our minds tend to gravitate towards black and white thinking. It’s simpler that way: Having a list of good and bad foods makes it very easy to make decisions on what to eat. Everything becomes a simple yes or no answer.
So, I guess if I want to have any hope of getting this message out I’ll have to take a page from the media’s playbook and make an equally shocking and controversial statement:
There’s no such thing as unclean or “bad” foods.
While this statement may seem a bit crazy, it’s really not if you think about it…
After all, what makes a food unhealthy? Is it because the food is considered “fattening”? Maybe it’s high in sugar? Does it have too many carbs? What about gluten?
The problem is, it’s impossible to categorize a food as healthy or unhealthy in absolute terms. There will always be exceptions.
If you’re starving to death, a Snickers bar will save your life. Conversely, if you’re allergic to nuts, something that’s generally considered healthy, like almonds, could kill you. Even something as innocuous as water is lethal at the right dose.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away, right? Well, if all you eat is apples, then you’re going to have a bad time (just ask Ashton Kutcher).
Two people go on a hike. One person brings trail mix and another takes the aforementioned Snickers bar. Who is being healthier?
Is a trail mix comprised of nuts, dried fruit, and bits of chocolate really that different from the Snickers bar? Sure the trail mix may have a marginally better nutrient profile, but it’s also pretty easy to eat 1,000 calories worth of trail mix, whereas the Snickers bar provides some built in portion control.
While these situations may seem contrived or unrealistic, I only mention them to point out the major flaw with defining a food as clean/unclean or healthy/unhealthy: The definitions change based on the situation and the person.
You have to have context.
We don’t eat foods in isolation, so why try to define them that way? Here’s a better way of looking at it:
There’s no such thing as bad foods, only bad diets.
No single food, in isolation, is going to ruin a diet. Whether you reach your goals or not is dependent upon your ability to stick to a pattern of eating that is right for you. A single "cheat meal" or even "cheat day" is like a drop in the ocean.
The problem with telling people to just eat “healthy foods” is that a lot of people don’t like healthy food! There are plenty of people who don’t eat fruits or vegetables, so when they hear that the key to maintaining a healthy weight is by eating the good, clean, healthy foods (none of which they like), they think it’s a lost cause. It becomes all or nothing. They don’t like healthy foods, so they can’t be healthy, right?
But what if they learned how to track their calories and at least limit the quantity of food they ate? At the very least this would give them a means to maintaining a healthier body weight.
Instead, these people are left to wander the aisles of their local grocery store arbitrarily picking out foods labeled as “low fat,” “gluten free,” “organic,” or “low sodium” because they’re trying to be healthy. Then, when they fail to get results, they’re left feeling like nothing works. They’ll try “everything” except the one thing that will actually guarantee weight loss.
To be honest, this happens to us all.
We get stuck way up on these nutritional “trees” and fail to see the forest.
Yes, food choices are important to a degree, but you also need to have a means of ensuring your overall caloric intake is in line with your goals.
So, if you’re interested in finally taking the steps needed to make real and lasting change, stay tuned! In part two of this series I will present a method of setting up your diet that is strong enough to guarantee results, but flexible enough to ensure long term adherence.