AAs a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), I constantly hear about people’s diets and previous diet attempts. And I’m not just talking about my customers – the people I’ve just met will tell me with no prompting (literally, zero prompting) what they do and what they don’t eat. (I’ve found that comes with the territory of telling people you’re in this profession.) And the one question I’m almost always asked by clients, family members, friends (and new acquaintances) is “what shouldn’t I eat?” People always want to know what foods to cut out of their diet to be “healthier”.
The diet industry has led us to believe that we need to restrict certain foods and food groups to be healthier, happier, have more energy, etc. And there always seems to be a new list of “foods you should never eat”.
But depriving yourself is not the way to achieve a healthier lifestyle. We may think that we need diets and food rules to control us, but this scarcity mindset where certain foods or food groups are forbidden actually makes us more likely to overeat these foods (or any other foods at hand) in the future.
Depriving yourself is not the way to achieve a healthier lifestyle.
It’s not because we “lack willpower” or “failed to follow a diet”, it’s because making a food is actually forbidden increase the lure of it until there is permission to eat it. We can see a “forbidden fruit” effect. It’s part of the vicious cycle of diets where we cut out food, feel guilty if we eat it, swear never to eat it again, then crave it and eat too much over and over again.
Why changing the narrative around the foods we shouldn’t eat is so important
Once we let go of our food rules and give ourselves permission to eat the food we want, we remove the power that those forbidden foods held over us. We are no longer unable to keep these foods at home or end up at the bottom of the pint, bag or box after a bad day. This unconditional permission to eat whatever we want, whenever we want (not just when we’ve “been good all week” or “when the diet is over”) is considered an abundance mindset.
Instead of looking for ways to cut things out of our diets, we should be looking for ways to enrich them.
While this limitless view of food might seem a little scary at first (maybe you think I’m not going to eat ice cream all the time?!), it’s actually what stop prevents us from obsessing over and losing “control” over food and helps us move towards a more positive relationship with food and our bodies.
This is one of the reasons I believe in taking a different approach to health and wellness. Instead of looking for ways to cut things out of our diets, we should be looking for ways to enrich them. Instead of “what shouldn’t I eat?” we should really ask ourselves, “What can I add? »
Here are 3 things you can add to our diets to enrich your health and well-being
When looking at a client’s daily intake, I first check to see if there are any nutrients or food groups that are low or missing. For example, are they getting enough quality protein? What about fiber, healthy fats and carbs? Does he eat fruits and vegetables? More often than not, these are some of the areas that are lacking in our diets, whether due to personal preferences, reduced time to prepare or think about food, or dieting mentality.
For example, we tend to fear carbohydrates because of the bad reputation they have received, so we limit or avoid them in our diets. But one major detail the diet industry omitted from its carb scare campaign is that our bodies need carbohydrates to survive. Carbohydrates are the brain’s preferred source of energy and provide energy to every cell in the body. Even the particularly demonized ones like bread, pasta, and other grains have benefits like providing us with fortified nutrients like B vitamins and iron.
I also often find that people don’t eat enough throughout the day, whether it’s due to busy schedules or a diet mentality of choosing the lowest calorie foods or eating as little as possible. This often results in overeating at some point, usually in the evening when we get home from work and our energy and blood sugar levels hit.
If we ate more balanced meals throughout the day, such as yogurt and fruit with toast with peanut butter for breakfast, and a snack between lunch and returning from work, we would feel much healthier. energized and less irritable and hungry at the end of the day.
Eating enough foods from all food groups is not only necessary for proper physical and mental functioning, but also to provide satisfaction and avoid feelings of deprivation. Once we achieve a balance between the food groups in our diet, we can begin to change those food choices for more dietary diversity.
It’s very easy to get into the habit of buying the same foods every week, but there are major benefits to changing up your grocery list. It may seem obvious, but by eating a variety of foods from all food groups, you receive a variety of nutrients. For example, if you always pack carrot sticks and hummus for your workday snack, you’re getting great nutrients like vitamin A (beta-carotene) and K, but if you change your diet and add slices of red pepper occasionally, you also get other nutrients like vitamin C and vitamin B6.
Switching things up also helps you reap a variety of health benefits from food. For example, phytonutrients give plants their color and provide health benefits like antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. There are over 25,000 phytonutrients in plant foods, so the more colors we have in our diet, the more of these helpful little phytonutrients we get.
Additionally, when certain foods are eaten together, they may have synergistic effects where specific nutrients are better absorbed or become more bioavailable (more than if the foods were eaten separately), which may help increase their positive effects such as their ability to fight diseases. Pairs that go best together include guacamole and salsa, green tea and lemon, broccoli and tomatoes, and turmeric and black pepper.
Variety not only helps provide a nutrient boost, but it prevents mealtime monotony. When we eat the same breakfast, lunch and dinner over and over again, we can easily get bored and be less satisfied with our meals. This makes us more likely to eat mindlessly, not noticing our hunger and fullness cues and potentially overeating or eating more out of boredom. Running on autopilot in this way also makes us less in tune with our personal preferences, because we don’t stop to ask ourselves, “What am I in the mood for?” This brings us to my third mealtime must-have.
There are two benefits to being satisfied with meals: satiety and pleasure. Having a balance of food groups at meals – starches/cereals, proteins, fats, fruits/vegetables will provide more satisfaction than if only one or two food groups were present. For example, eggs and plain toast for breakfast might hold us back a bit, but if we were to add avocado to our toast and a side of fruit, it would be more filling and satisfying. (The fiber in the fruit and the fat in the avocado are to thank for that).
Fats particularly increase satisfaction because they are energy dense, so they are more filling, keeping us full longer, and their creamy texture and savory taste make meals more enjoyable – imagine the taste of dry toast compared to toast with butter or avocado).
Balanced and satisfying meals can also help us avoid overeating, as can eating foods we enjoy or desire. For example, have you ever ordered a salad when you really wanted the pasta dish? You may have found that you then ate more bread or snacks on the way home from a restaurant because the meal you chose did not satisfy your taste buds. Avoiding cravings or depriving ourselves of the foods we enjoy can eventually lead to overeating and keep the whole guilt-limiting-overeating cycle going.
We often get so caught up in choosing the “best” food choices that we forget that eating is not just about feeding our bodies, it’s also meant to be a pleasant experience. That’s why it helps to ask how we can feel more satisfied or find more pleasure in our meals.
I believe that adding to our diets so we eat enough, getting food balance and variety, and incorporating foods we enjoy are ways to not only avoid the pitfalls of dieting, but also to take care of us and to show our self-respect. That doesn’t mean you have to do a complete overhaul of your daily diet. You can just take a look at a meal or snack and see what you can add for more balance.
So let’s say you always have the same salad with chicken for lunch, try adding a grain like cooked barley, quinoa or farro for extra nutrients and extra textures. Or if you have toast with peanut butter for breakfast, maybe try adding blueberries, a pinch of cinnamon and a drizzle of honey to change things up and add a boost of fiber, antioxidants and satisfaction.
Or maybe you crave something sweet after dinner but only allow yourself a piece of fruit. Give yourself permission to enjoy the dessert you love instead, or add something delicious like chocolate peanut butter cups with your fruit to take baby steps to an abundance mindset.
Whether it’s big or small changes, incorporating more balance, variety and satisfaction will make the eating experience more positive, exciting and nourishing for your body and mind.