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Focus on Foods to Enjoy, Not Foods to Avoid

Focus on Foods to Enjoy, Not Foods to Avoid
Think about healthy foods you like.

One of the most consistent complaints I hear from people trying to lose weight is how much they miss their "unhealthy" foods. Those unhealthy obsessions may be sabotaging weight loss goals.

Traditional diets divide things into good and bad groups. You're taught to concentrate on the healthy stuff and use willpower to avoid the rest. But the very idea of putting something into a restricted category makes it instantly more desirable. Instead of focusing on what to avoid, what if you concentrated on eating more of the healthy stuff you love?

That's what Meredith David and Kelly Haws of Baylor University in Texas decided to find out. They conducted a study called, "Saying “No” to Cake or “Yes” to Kale: Approach and Avoidance Strategies in Pursuit of Health Goals."

The APPROACH healthy foods group was told to: "...think of foods that you should eat." They were instructed to make a list of foods that were "HELPFUL for dieting."

The AVOID unhealthy foods group was told to: "...think of foods that you should NOT eat." They were told to list all the foods that were, "NOT helpful for dieting."

The researchers found that people who tried to AVOID bad-for-you foods were less successful than people who APPROACHED more healthy foods they liked. Making something off-limits increased the desire for that food and weakened the resolve of the dieters.

When trying to lose weight, the first step is to focus on eating healthy foods, not avoiding unhealthy ones.

That approach deals with the immediate problem of, "what should I eat tonight?" But if there aren't a lot of healthy foods you enjoy, you're going to run into problems quickly. You've got to eat a balanced diet. How do you find more tasty and good-for-you options? The answer is personalized nutrition.

Professor John Mathers, Director of the Human Nutrition Research Centre at Newcastle University devised a study where 1,607 people were divided into four groups. One was a control and given generic advice like, "Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day." The other three groups were given personalized nutritional advice, based on their individual circumstances.

At the end of the six-month program, the researchers found that all three groups that were engaged in personalized nutrition, had "about double the improvement in overall healthiness of their diets measured using the Healthy Eating Index" compared to the group that only got generic advice. 

That means the second step to a successful diet, is to build a personalized nutrition plan, based on your goals and desires.

Here's an easy way to do that. Start with a website that provides tasty versions of healthy recipes, like WeCookFit.com. Then, look up typical meals you eat on that website. If you like to start the day with bacon and eggs, try making the WeCookFit Bacon, Cheese & Egg Bake recipe.

Start swapping out the unhealthy versions of recipes for the healthier ones. If you like the taste, keep making it. If you don't, keep experimenting until you find something you enjoy. Build your personalized diet, based on all the things you LIKE.

You can also meet with a licensed dietitian or nutritionist and have them build a program for you.

The last hurdle is getting more of those healthy foods into your home. That's where you follow the shopping cart advice of Dr. Brian Wansink. He conducted an experiment where he used a piece of duct tape to divide a shopping cart in half. Then he put a sign on the cart that instructed people to put fruits and vegetables in the front, all other items in the back.

Turns out, shoppers with the duct tape divided carts, spent twice as much on fruits and vegetables as people with regular carts. Shoppers weren't lectured to. They were just asked to make a simple decision and sort their food. Seeing that the cart was evenly divided, people assumed each side should be equally full.

The third step to a successful diet, use strategies in the grocery store to buy more of the things that are good for you while avoiding the diet destroyers.

Bring a bungee cord, a rope or even a scarf to mark the divide. When you bring your groceries home, you'll have more of the healthy stuff you enjoy and less of the tempting empty calories.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.