Trying to lose weight is too often a punishment, forcing us to give up our favorite foods and instead eat healthy foods that aren’t so palatable. But what if you could diet without giving up chocolate and eating kale for every meal?
Good news out of Baylor University says that successful dieters focus on adding healthy foods they like to their diet instead of just focusing on eliminating the unhealthy foods they crave.
Researchers found that dieters with low self-control tended to restrict themselves from consuming their favorite foods, thereby “setting themselves up for failure.” Instead, a better strategy came from dieters with high self-control: indulge in the occasional treat and focus on healthy foods that are enjoyable.
So what this means is that if you actually like kale salad and are only so-so about bread, then you should eat more kale salad! If you can’t stand kale, like spinach, and love French fries? Have French fries once a month, eat more spinach instead of kale, and cut out something else you don’t really love, like red meat. It might seem counterintuitive to treat yourself, but the research shows it works.
Not sure what you can add and what you feel comfortable cutting out? Here’s some info about good-for-you and bad-for-you foods to help with your decision-making:
Top Healthiest Foods
What makes these foods so healthy? They are nutrient dense. Plus their high fiber content and unsaturated fats keep you feeling full and satisfied between meals.
Avocados are delicious, creamy, and loaded with healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. They’re a great substitute for fatty mayo and taste like they should be bad for you! You can eat them alone as a snack, make a dip or even a healthy sauce, and add them to sandwiches and salads.
A medium stalk of this cruciferous and high-fiber vegetable provides more than 100% of the RDA of vitamin K and nearly 200% for vitamin C for not-too-many calories. Crunchy when raw and nutty and savory roasted with olive oil and salt, there’s a preparation to please everyone.
Berries like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are high in fiber and antioxidants like vitamin C. They also don’t have quite as much sugar per serving as many other fruits, so they make a great breakfast on top of yogurt, a sweet addition to a salad, or a guilt-free dessert.
Nuts and Nut Butters
Nuts are rich in protein, good fat, and fiber. Just a little goes a long way to help you feel full and satisfied. You can grab a handful as a snack, slather some nut butter on whole grain toast, or use as a dip fruits and veggies for a protein boost.
These legumes are packed with protein and fiber, and even if you don’t like them straight up, their versatility allows them to be made into hummus dip or even an oven-baked crunchy snack. Just half a cup packs 5 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber and only 100 calories.
Top Unhealthy Foods
What makes these foods so bad for you? They’re loaded in calories, fat (the wrong kind) and sugar. Made with refined grains, your blood sugar skyrockets when you eat these foods, then falls rapidly, playing havoc with energy levels.
Basically just rings of fried refined flour, sugar, and trans fats, one donut can run anywhere from 200 to 500 calories on average and 15-20 grams of saturated fat. Delicious but dangerous!
High in fat with little nutritional value, these empty carbs are about as bad as they come. A single serving – about the size in a kid’s meal – can contain more than 500 mg of sodium, 11 grams of fat, and 200 calories.
Like your lattes? That 20 oz. drink from a coffee chain can have up to 600 calories and nearly a day’s worth of saturated fat. Love soda? The average can contain 10 teaspoons of sugar!
Sausage, bacon, and deli meat might be tasty, but processed meats tend to be high in fat and sodium. And studies have shown that eating too much of these can contribute to weight gain, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and even cancer.
A la mode everything sounds delicious, but it comes at a cost. Ice cream has a lot of the not-so-good stuff like fat, saturated fat, sugar, and of course, calories. Then with add-ins like chocolate, caramel, candies, and whipped cream, you can really up the cost of this cool treat.
So if you’re trying to shed some pounds, enjoy a lot of the delicious healthy foods you like, have the occasional treat, and let go of the foods you can do without. Happy eating is happy dieting, after all.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.