Oftentimes when you set out to lose weight, it involves deeming some foods ‘good’ and others ‘bad’ and restricting those in the latter category. This often backfires, however, because when you deprive yourself of the things you love (and eliminate entire food groups) it usually leads to a hard-to-break cycle of yo-yo dieting.
Instead, focusing on eating more of the healthy foods you love could actually help you lose weight. By choosing foods with lower energy density (aka fewer calories for their bulk) like fruits, veggies and lean proteins, you can eat more volume but consume fewer calories to stay within your overall calorie goal.
“If your healthy eating plan emphasizes eating more nutrient-dense foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats, you’ll be better able to stick to it, since you won’t feel hungry all the time, and you won’t feel restricted during mealtime,” says Chicago-based registered dietitian Amanda Kostro Miller. “High-fiber, high-water foods like fruits and veggies can help you feel full for fewer calories, so you won’t be as tempted to reach for a huge piece of cake.”
Positive, actionable plans that add healthier foods to your diet help you avoid thoughts about subtracting or restricting foods from your diet. If you keep telling yourself, “Don’t eat chocolate,” instead of “If I’m hungry and in the mood for dessert, then I’ll eat fresh fruit instead,” you’ll be fixated on forbidden chocolate every time you think about your dietary goals.
“Restriction is the best way to get someone thinking about that food constantly and can lead to binging behavior,” says Shena Jaramillo, RD. “This is often followed by negative thinking: ‘I blew it. I ate 3 pieces of pizza. Why bother trying to eat healthy anymore?’ This type of thinking lends to a cascade effect that is challenging to return from.” Instead, Jaramillo encourages those wanting to lose weight to focus on what healthy foods they can add to their plate versus what they should take away.
If you stock your grocery cart wisely, with old favorites and new ingredients you’re curious to try, then you’ll indulge in delicious, healthy foods that you’re excited to eat. This may give you momentum, encouraging you to continue on a healthy-eating journey.
“Food is designed to be pleasurable, so once we begin to notice how enjoyable healthy food choices are, we can substitute them in for more and more unhealthy food choices, creating new positive habits that don’t leave harmful effects on our bodies, like junk food does,” says Bracha Goetz, author of “Searching for God in the Garbage.” Over time, this “reinforces neural pathways in the brain that make the delightful habit of eating a handful of nuts instead of a bag of chips more deeply satisfying, especially since the pleasure is not accompanied by any negative repercussions.”