VARIETY REALLY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE!
Given all the restrictive food fads that have come and gone over the years – no fat, no wheat, raw food, only liquids – it’s time to acknowledge that they do not work long term. More importantly, they don’t help people adopt better eating habits. When I meet with a client who has tried to avoid eating a particular food or beverage as a way to lose weight or improve their health, they often confess their abstinence didn’t last very long. They then tell me that once they ate the “forbidden” food again they felt so guilty about their “failure” they lost hope of ever improving their diet, and ended up eating more carelessly. It’s a story that gets repeated over and over.
Unfortunately, many people believe weight management is about having the willpower to give up certain foods, but research has shown deprivation does not yield results. The calories in everything we eat and drink count, so learning to balance them all is what matters most. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states, “In studies that have held total calorie intake constant, there is little evidence that any individual food groups or beverages have a unique impact on body weight.”
WILL POWER vs WON’T POWER
Dietary change and compliance are easier when we keep the familiar and favorite foods and beverages on the table. It is also a misconception that food elimination is necessary for good health. Unless someone has a medical reason to omit a specific food or ingredient, such as a diagnosis of celiac disease requiring the avoidance of gluten, every other food and beverage imaginable can be included in a balanced diet. The goal is to establish healthy and sustainable eating habits, and that requires adjustments in the amounts and types of foods you eat and how often you eat them, not removal of any specific food. These modifications are the key to having an eating plan you can live with for life.
Planning your meals in this more inclusive way has many advantages. The most important of all is that it accommodates the many generational and cultural food traditions that are part of our diverse population. I can’t imagine asking a family of Mexican heritage to stop making flan because it contains too much sugar or telling a woman of Indian descent that the Masala Chia she serves with pride is too sweet. And for my clients who enjoy a soda now and then because it’s what they grew up drinking, it means they don’t have to give it up altogether.
WE DON’T ALL LIKE THE SAME THINGS
It’s important to balance all of our food and beverage choices to best meet our nutritional needs. This may mean decreasing certain foods and increasing others, but eliminating all sugar, red meat or cheese does not solve anyone’s weight maintenance challenges. The Dietary Guidelines also state “a healthy eating pattern is not a rigid prescription, but an array of options that can accommodate cultural, ethnic, traditional, and personal preferences and food cost and availability. Americans have flexibility in making choices to create a healthy eating pattern that meets nutrient needs and stays within calorie limits.”
In the end it helps to ask yourself what makes more sense: never having that piece of cake (can of soda, order of fries, whatever) again for the rest of your life, or enjoying it once in a while as part of a balanced diet. I choose the cake!