Don't define your diet in terms of what you can't eat. Many diets may give you an idea of what foods should be avoided, but it makes so much more sense to define your diet by what you can eat.
Picture yourself at a dinner party and you sit beside someone you’ve never met before. Striking up typical small talk, you ask her what she does for a living and you get a peculiar response:
“I’m not an actress.”
What do you make from such a strange answer to such a simple question? She’s not an actress – that leaves a lot career options still on the table! You didn’t really learn anything about this woman.
That scenario might seem just a little strange, but many of us do something like this all the time. We don’t do it when someone asks us about our career, but we do it when we’re questioned about our diet choices.
Can you remember a time when you described your diet by stating that you don’t eat gluten? Or, that you stay away from dairy? Perhaps that you have recently cut out all sugar?
It’s not uncommon for us to think about our diet in the negative like this. We frame our eating habits based on the foods we avoid, not the ones we actually eat.
A recent client of mine is a perfect example. In a desperate attempt to lose weight (his goal was to shed about 50lbs), he became a vegetarian because his sister had done so and lost a lot of weight in the process. At first thought this sounds like a great move – Eating more vegetables can’t be a bad thing, right?
Unfortunately, there is a term coined for people like my client: He became a “Junk Food Vegetarian”, a term used to describe someone who claims to be a vegetarian but doesn’t actually eat any vegetables. These people have diets full of processed grains, cereals, bread, pasta, dairy, and maybe some fruit. Of course there’s room for some desserts in there, but there’s not a vegetable in sight!
This is just illustrates how many vegetarians may be in fact “non-meat-eaters”. Claiming vegetarian status has nothing to do with what they eat – It only indicates what food they are avoiding.
Why do we define our diets this way?
There has to be a reason why so many of us focus on foods we don’t eat. Here are two contributing factors to consider:
First, it feels good to create black and white rules that are easy to follow. It can be really daunting to achieve a diet that is full of nutritious foods at every meal, while limiting those that cause weight-gain and other health problems. This takes a lot of planning and mental work.
In contrast, how much mental effort does it take to be dairy-free? Not nearly as much! If a food has dairy in it, just say no. If it’s free from dairy then you can eat up. This approach to eating is really quite simple and can feel doable because there is really just rule to follow.
Second, we have been trained by all sorts of “health” companies and media outlets to be on the lookout for “dangerous” foods. It makes a good headline to demonize one particular food that the majority of the population may be eating.
“What? Eating carbs is going to make me fat? Tell me more!”
The Atkins Diet is an excellent example of how this can play out. About 15 years ago over 10% of adults in North America claimed to be doing some version of the Atkins Diet in an attempt to lose weight. How did it become so popular?
Well, the Atkin Diet rules were very straightforward. Basically any foods that were primarily made from carbohydrates were off-limits. This meant that grains, fruit, and many vegetables were all outlawed.
It was a very likeable news story: “Carbs are the enemy! Throw out your apples and indulge in some bacon and pork rinds. It tastes great and you’ll lose weight.”
Unfortunately for everyone on the Atkins diet, and most other diets that are focused on what’s being cut out, nobody took a close look at what was actually being eaten. People did achieve temporary weight-loss, but there was no way it could be sustained on such a limited diet. It’s not surprising that obesity rates have tripled in the past three decades when we so fixated on what we’re avoiding, not what we’re eating.
What do you really want to eat?
There can be some positive learning taken from all of this however. Establishing a healthy diet is very possible once you start focusing on what you actually eat. Here are 3 steps you can use to clean up your diet for natural, long-lasting weight-loss:
1. Keep a record
For three days keep a very accurate record of every food you eat, including all drinks.
2. Add one healthy menu item
After three days have passed, take a look back at your food journal. Are you eating lots of vegetables? Did you include some fruit in your diet? Where are you getting your protein from? (protein is crucial for feeling full and losing weight)
You can likely see a few areas that you’d like to clean up, but instead of cutting out all sorts of foods, let’s add just one thing. Choose one healthy food to add to your diet. Fight the urge to avoid – Your goal is to add!
3. Learn to make something you enjoy eating
If you decided to add spinach to your daily diet, that’s great. But, it’s only helpful if you will actually make this plan happen. You need to find a way to eat this one new food that tastes good, and that you can prepare without too much hassle.
If you’re stuck for ideas then take a look at The Top 50 Healthy Food Blogs For Clean & Lean Eating. This resource compiles an amazing list of healthy food blogs that offer a great variety of simple, healthy meals you can test out.
After successfully adding one new food, it’s time to pick another. Repeating this process may seem slow at first, but soon you will have a diet that is full of super-healthy foods and you won’t have to worry about cutting out “bad” foods ever again!
This post was written by guest blogger Dave Smith. He's a professional fitness and weight-loss coach who was chosen as “Canada’s Top Fitness Professional” by CanFitPro in 2013. You can learn more of his weight-loss tips at makeyourbodywork.com.