Recently I wrote a post sharing my views on the way supplements and unrealistically restrictive diets have taken over the health and fitness world by storm. If you haven’t read it please do so at some point! I really think that caution is something extremely beneficial, crucial actually, to those who are attempting weight loss and healthy life changes. There is so much bad information out there, and it can be hard to sift through all the misinformation to find what’s real, what’s valuable, what’s factual. That being said, there is also danger in being too skeptical of the information available, or even your doctor’s advice, danger that often leads to detrimental health choices on the flip side.
I’m speaking specifically of the tendency to overindulge, either accidentally or purposely, because we don’t want to restrict ourselves too much and we don’t know enough about nutrition to make healthy food choices. Balance is key. Moderation is the best friend of anyone attempting to become healthier and develop sustainable healthy habits, but moderation is extremely misunderstood.
When a person begins a new exercise regimen, one that raises their need for calories and nutrients, feelings of food entitlement can creep up and the concept of moderation begins to take on a different meaning. We rationalize our increased intake by comparing our calories consumed to the amount we are running, lifting, swimming or whatever. We think that we can outrun our forks, and we forget the basic rules of nutrition.
As a country, we have been ridiculously mislead by those who are in positions to write nutrition recommendations. We are taught from grade school on that the FDA’s and Department of Agriculture’s recommended nutrition guidelines; first the food pyramid and now the new MyPlate diagram are not only accurate, but a good gauge for someone who wants to maintain a healthy lifestyle. We feel justified in our food choices because we are avoiding cake and french fries and sugar and we are eating within the guidelines. I am so guilty of this. Every day.
But what happens when we dissect these recommendations and inspect the food groups in order to fully understand the nutrient breakdown of the food we are consuming? Chances are, you will find like I did, that these very recommendations, combined with feelings of food entitlement, are the reason you can run mile after mile and not lose the weight that’s torturing you every time you look in the mirror. When you look at the plate diagram utilized by the Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate website, you will find that grains occupy almost as much space as vegetables, and they take up much more room than protein. Dairy has been pushed to the side, and fats and oils have been removed entirely. At first glance this doesn’t seem to be a problem, but under further scrutiny, we find the flaws in this eating plan.
If a person consumes the same amount of grains as vegetable, and they aren’t careful about which grains they choose, they will fall into a very dangerous trap. Grains are broken down into simple carbs, and simple carbs are treated as sugar by the body. The boost we get from eating these foods, especially the food like products manufactured in America, is temporary and causes us to crash soon after as our body depletes the sugar.
This is all well and good, but what does it have to do with me? Or you? Well, speaking from my own personal experience, having been mislead by commonly accepted nutrition guidelines, taking these things at face value is very dangerous. I rationalized my food choices based off of these guidelines, I hid behind the fallacy of moderation, and I reasoned that as long as I wasn’t eating cake, cookies, or McDonalds, I would be okay to lose weight. I totally should have known better, but I didn’t want to restrict myself. I didn’t want to be that person who goes out to eat with family and friends and has no acceptable choices on the menu because her diet is so restrictive.
I often felt so hungry after my workouts or first thing in the morning that I would eat 3 or 4 things at a time, things that could be considered a meal in and of themselves, and I thought nothing of it until I stepped on the scale and saw numbers that just wouldn’t budge. I never even considered that my organic, gluten free, healthy food could be causing me to maintain this weight. So what if I had two pieces of peanut butter toast for breakfast, followed by a banana, then a cheese stick, and some chips and salsa as snacks, then dinner, then a post workout snack? It was all organic. All supposedly healthy. All within the MyPlate guidelines.
I totally fell for my own lies. We all do, we all rationalize. We all fall victim to the trap of misinterpreting the meaning of moderation. We all feel entitled to indulge every once in a while, especially if we are exercising moderately or more. As much danger as lies in being too restrictive, in relying on supplements or diet pills, or crash dieting, there is also danger on the flip side.
Danger that’s even harder to see, and harder to avoid. One ice cream bar a week certainly won’t cause you to gain weight, you’ll probably still lose weight if all of your food choices are healthy. But if you have one a night and you’re eating more calories because you’re exercising more, you’re going to plateau and probably gain back some of the pounds you worked so hard to lose in the first place. By all means, please don’t be crazy restrictive, be cautious when listening to the advice of so called health experts, but don’t over analyze and rationalize yourself into the position that I did, that so many of us do. Don’t fall for your own lies. Your brain is smarter than your stomach. Healthy habits are easy to maintain with the right combination of good information, common sense, and dedication. I hope this helps anyone, who like me, has been struggling in these areas. There’s so much good information available, we just have to work a little harder to find it.