THE BLOG

How Unhealthy "Health Food" Is Derailing Your Diet

09/23/2014 12:40 EDT | Updated 11/23/2014 05:59 EST
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To quote a friend, unhealthy choices are often just "easier and more delicious." I get it! Until you are in a "health groove" (and let's face it, even sometimes when you're in the groove) take-out and sitting on the sofa can come more naturally than a trip to the gym and a home cooked meal!

Since making healthier choices takes continuous mindfulness and dedication, especially at first, it can be extremely frustrating to discover you are sabotaging your progress with supposed "healthy" choices.

It just plain sucks to give it your "all" and still not reach your goal.

Do you relate? If you are struggling to lose weight and / or adopt a healthier lifestyle, you may be inadvertently sabotaging your efforts by making "unhealthy health choices."

Let me give you some context. When a client wants to change a health habit, whether it is to lose weight or decrease their risk of cardiovascular disease, I encourage them to track their activity and food choices for a week in a food journal or health tracking app. When we discuss their results, I am interested in not only what they eat, but how MUCH, when and WHY they eat.

Clients usually don't need me to suggest they cut out sweets and fried foods. The fact that foods like chocolate bars and french fries are unhealthy is fairly common knowledge. Obviously, actually cutting out sweets and fried food is hard work, but knowing they need to be eliminated (or at least reduced) is usually a no-brainer.

When a client journals they ate something like ice cream, they know are aware that they made the choice to have a treat. I obviously suggest portion control and/or alternative options, but in general they don't need me to point out the potential health problems of that choice.

This next part is going to sound odd, but stay with me. I am often less concerned with discussing junk food consumption, and more concerned with the less obvious sub-optimal choices being made. These less obvious culprits -- what I call "unhealthy health food" -- tend to slide under the radar and inadvertently sabotage progress.

There are two categories of "unhealthy healthy" food.

The first category consists of foods that are high in sugar and / or salt that masquerade as a "health food." Basically, these are wolves dressed up in sheep's clothing! Think store-bought muffins (just cake in the shape of a muffin), juice (liquid sugar), most store bought granola (sugar and fat), frozen "healthy" dinners (preservatives and salt), most gluten-free desserts (just because they don't have gluten doesn't mean they are healthy), many restaurant style salads (dressing, cheese, bacon) and "fat free" snacks (usually devoid of nutrients and full of artificial crap).

The second category consists of foods that are very healthy in moderation (as in, if you eat one or two portions), but are not healthy when consumed willy-nilly. Think almonds, peanut butter, crackers, high GI fruits (mangos and pineapple) and hummus. This second category is especially significant for people who want to lose weight. The key to weight loss is not only food selection, but portion control. Too often, when one knows something is healthy, one is less mindful and doesn't worry about portion control.

It is true that nuts such as almonds are healthy, but too many of us grab handful after handful in a day. An entire large bag is not part of a nutritionally balanced day. Copious amounts of almonds (although, yes, more nutrient dense than copious amounts of potato chips), are still not helpful to your health quest, especially if one of your main goals is to lose weight.

Again, yes, an apple and almond butter is a great snack, but I can't tell you how many people discover after journalling their food for a week that they are consuming over 500 calories of almond butter a day during their "healthy" afternoon snack. For an average size woman, 500 calories is not a snack.

Don't misinterpret my words -- I am not suggesting that you might as well eat seven pieces of chocolate cake. Obviously, blatantly unhealthy foods like doughnuts are still unhealthy. All I am trying to say is that you should be mindful of what, how and why you eat! Don't try to "scam the system" -- a gluten-free cookie can be made of as much crap as a regular cookie. Plus, no matter what you are eating, portion control is key! Don't stand at a party or at your kitchen counter and snack mindlessly. Sit down and enjoy what you are eating. If you decide to have an amazing piece of cake, great. Enjoy your treat. Just have one small slice, not seven.

Challenge yourself. Journal what you eat and how you feel before, during and after the meal. For example, if you take a large second helping, snack at night or over indulge at a party, ask yourself, did you eat or drink because you were tired? Lonely? Sad? Insecure at a party? Basically, it is not enough to know what we eat, we need to be mindful of how much we eat and WHY we eat.

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