You can’t outrun your fork.-Some person, definitely a buzzkill.
You would have to run about 10 miles to burn off one pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. And I don’t know about you, but after some Ben and Jerry’s, I really do not feel like running.
As much as we might wish we could overcome a bad diet with exercise, it just simply is not possible. Trust me, I’ve tried many times. Numerous studies have shown this to be the case as well.
This is why it is important to get our diet in order when it comes to losing weight and staying healthy. So how do we know which diet is best for accomplishing this?
Starting Your Typical Diet
A diet is basically a set of guidelines that tell you whether can or cannot eat a certain type of food.
Keto/Low-Carb: Is this food primarily carbs?
Yes (don’t eat it) No (eat it)
Paleo: Is this something a caveman would have ate?
Yes (eat it) No (don’t eat it)
Slow Carb Diet: Is this food a fat, protein, or slow digesting carb?
Yes (eat it) No (don’t eat it)
Vegan: Is this food from an animal?
Yes (don’t eat it) No (eat it)
Pretty straightforward, right?
By limiting the foods you are allowed to eat, you will often find that you can lose weight. Is this because one diet is better than another? Not exactly.
Many of these diets help people lose weight because it forces them to cut out unhealthy food options that are loaded with calories. They then replace these foods with the stereotypical boring healthy foods, like plain chicken breast and broccoli, or eat foods that do not leave them full and satisfied.
These restrictive diets will help them lose weight, but they are bland and can still leave them hungry between meals. Eating boring foods and always being hungry can quickly weaken your motivation and willpower. This leads to craving those unhealthy and tasty foods again.
This leads many of us to find ourselves in a scenario where we have had one-to-many meals of chicken and broccoli and now we are around a tantalizing plate of chocolate chip cookies. By now, your willpower has been spread thin by starving yourself on bland healthy food. This makes the cookies irresistible and you bite on their temptation (ha, forced wordplay), and find yourself unable to stop eating more cookies than you should.
This can wreak havoc on our mental health as we beat ourselves up for not sticking to our diet. This can further wear down our motivation and willpower. Plus, when we are down on ourselves, we crave sweets even more.
Maybe this time we are able to get our diet back on track, but eventually, most of us reach a point where we give up on the diet entirely because of how negative those restrictions make us feel
Forcing yourself to eat foods that you do not like that still leave you hungry when unhealthy foods are just so delicious is just not feasible unless you have super human self control. Most people fail at diets because they are approaching their food choices in a way that is not sustainable.
Why Your Diet Fails
A successful diet boils down to burning more calories than we consume over several weeks or months. This long timeframe means many of us cannot maintain our chosen diets over these timeframes. There are food choices that we have available that can make this easier or harder, and many people are not aware of the easier ways.
The majority of people I see attempt a diet fall into two groups. The first group chooses boring foods while the second group chooses foods that contain more calories than they know. Sometimes, a poor soul will choose foods that fall into both groups.
The first group becomes increasingly likely to binge as their willpower is tested over the course of the diet. These binges can quickly destroy progress and make someone more likely to give up.
The second group tends to not notice any progress, or the scale keeps going up. This is equally as demoralizing and leads many people to assume they have slow metabolisms and that a healthy weight is just not within their reach.
The truth is, you probably do not have a slow metabolism. The majority of people are really bad at estimating how many calories they eat. How bad? Well, studies have shown that we typically underestimate the calories we consume by 30%+ . That is enough extra calories to stop weight loss, or even lead to weight gain.
This is why I recommend everyone spend at least a couple weeks weighing and tracking their food using an app like MyFitnessPal. This is an eye opening way to see how many calories are actually in the foods you eat. Plus, MyFitnessPal will give you an estimate of how many calories you should be eating to reach your goals.
Using MyFitnessPal will also help you notice which foods are deceptively high in calories. Condiments and dressings add up much faster than you realize. Plus, certain healthy foods, like peanut butter, avocados, cooking oils, “healthy” chips, and many other marketed “healthy” snacks, add up calories much faster than you realize. A single spoonful of peanut butter can have as many as 400 calories! Tracking your foods will point these foods out so you can make adjustments.
With that said, there are not exactly wrong food choices, but there are choices that are better than others. In my opinion, healthy yet bland options that do not leave you full and satisfied are the wrong way to go. A sustainable diet is one where you can enjoy what you eat and lose weight doing it.
What Foods to Eat on Your Diet
Believe it or not, there are ways to prepare food so that it is delicious, low on calories, AND keeps you full.
The secret to this starts with choosing foods that have a low calorie density. Since these foods have a large volume, they take longer to eat and fill up your stomach in the process. This will suppress the hunger sensation and keep you full for longer. Even better is these foods are relatively low in calories so you feel like you had a big meal but the calories are more equivalent to a snack.
Some standard low calorie dense foods are vegetables, fruits, and low-fat sources of protein. This is nothing groundbreaking, however, how you prepare these foods makes all the difference. If you eat them plain or with minimal seasoning, they can become boring quickly. It is worth the time doing some research on how to best prepare these ingredients in a delicious way and have multiple ways to do so. My personal favorites have been combining these ingredients in stir frys, fajitas, curries, and asain style dishes that I have modified to make lower in calories.
Eating healthy does not have to be boring. Check out some articles where I cover some of my favorite ways to love what I eat.
Furthermore, there are now plenty of ways to eat healthy alternatives to deliciously unhealthy foods that we love. While they will probably not taste as good as the sugar and fat heavy junk foods, they can get close enough to scratch the itch and save you the calories. By eating these healthy alternatives, we can appease our cravings and minimize the chance we binge on these unhealthy alternatives when we come across them. Check out my Munchies Monday series to see some of my favorites that I have tried.
I also believe that occasionally giving into a craving for an unhealthy type of food is a good idea. The periodic junk food will not ruin your diet and can actually help you sustain your diet for longer since you are not overly restricting yourself (since we always want what we can’t have). As long as you keep these indulgences in check and work them into your diet, you will continue to see progress.
If 80-90% of your overall calories come from healthy foods, you will have a successful diet and your body will feel great doing it.
Round It All Up
So, if it is not clear, I do not personally believe that there is a one-size-fits-all perfect diet. I do not follow any of the popular diets myself. Instead, I focus on meal prepping and eating whole foods which consist of lots of vegetables, lower fat protein sources, and slow-digesting carbs, cooked in delicious ways. My coworkers at my day job are always envious of the meals I heat up for lunch.
I eat the same foods when I am cutting weight or maintaining weight because they taste great. Plus, when I am cutting weight, these types of food help keep me full so I do not feel like I am dieting. Even better is these healthy foods give me energy instead of taking it away. When I indulge on a junk food craving periodically, I can feel it sapping my energy and making me lethargic. This usually just reinforces how much better my standard diet makes me feel and I know that I can stick to it for my whole life since I love what I eat.
Find a rotation of healthy meals that you enjoy and I promise you will love the results.
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