- I thought of foods as either “good” or “bad” and tried to cut out gluten, dairy, refined carbs and sugar.
- I gained weight eating a lot of high calorie “healthy” foods. That diet also made me overeat.
- I didn’t lose weight until I realized that overall energy balance is important for weight management.
I have been interested in food since I was a teenager. I’ve always tried to eat “healthy” and followed all kinds of fad diets, from cabbage soup to the 5:2.
In my 20s, the “clean eating” movement peaked and consumed me. Thin, shiny, white women told me to cut gluten, dairy, sugar and refined carbs and anything “unnatural” from my diet in order to be healthy, fit, and lose weight. So that’s what I did, despite not having any food allergies.
I didn’t stick to this strict regimen for more than a few months, but I started seeing foods as “good” and “bad,” a common misconception, nutritionists previously told Insider.
When I broke this mindset almost four years ago, stopped demonizing foods and started eating all kinds of food in a calorie deficit, I lost 35 pounds and have kept it off ever since.
I used to glorify expensive “health foods”.
For years, I wished I could eat the foods that were said to be good for me instead of almond butter-filled spaghetti and medjool dates.
I paid for expensive quinoa instead of cheap rice. I cooked with coconut oil instead of ghee, not sure if the previous oil was higher in saturated fat. I didn’t eat granola for years because I thought it was too sugary, so I made my own version with nuts, seeds, and agave syrup—it was lower in calories and tastier.
My weight fluctuated in my mid-20s, but I thought if I just ate the “good” foods, I’d lose weight and look like the glamorous women on Instagram.
But what I now see as a restrictive diet was impossible to stick to and left me feeling weak. When I went out, I would eat energy-dense foods like French fries, pizza, and hamburgers.
Then the next day it was back to avocado and hummus salads, sugar-free sweet potatoes and raw vegan energy balls – with a side of guilt.
What I didn’t realize, however, was that these “healthy” foods were often incredibly high in calories, meaning that along with my social life, I slowly gained weight.
A healthy approach to calorie counting has improved my relationship with food
At the end of 2018, I woke up surprised by the number I saw on the scale. Had to try and try something else: calorie counting.
Calorie counting can be a challenge for some. The first time I tried it as a teenager, I became obsessed, so hesitant to try it again. But ten years later, I’m wiser and more self-aware.
I have noticed that my relationship with food has improved. I learned that there is nothing fattening about any food, and it helped me feel more comfortable eating foods I had previously avoided, like bread. As time passed, I gained more weight.
I realized that I was always overeating and it was because I still thought of foods as partly ‘good’ and partly ‘bad’.
Tracking calories (and protein) and eating all the right foods in moderation has helped me realize that I can eat whatever I want and still lose weight.
Whole foods, protein and fiber generally make you feel fuller and more nutritious than refined, sugary, processed foods. For example, a 300-calorie serving of chicken, brown rice, and broccoli is more filling than a 300-calorie donut. But when we consume more energy than we need, we gain fat.
I now know that the often-demonized carbs are great workout fuel, dairy is a great source of protein, and more importantly, pasta, pizza, and cheese are too delicious not to enjoy.
My opinion did not change overnight
Staying at home with my parents and sister for six months during the coronavirus pandemic helped change my perspective a lot. For example, I thought carbs were fattening, but my family ate more carb-heavy meals than I did myself, and I still lost weight.
In the early years of my career, I saw a health editor eating a cookie and asked, “What kind of health professional eats a cookie?”
I know he is truly an expert and I had a lot to learn.
I still occasionally eat quinoa, dates, and salads, but not because I think they’re “better” than anything else. Because I want to.