Recently a friend was troubled by her weight (a common story I know) and decided that enough was enough and this time things would change!
So the 'healthy' foods started to appear and the avoidance of all 'unhealthy' foods began.
After a few weeks they had already caved in and eaten the 'unhealthy' foods again!
But let's go further here, was changing to eating what she considered healthy foods actually helping her achieve her goals of weight loss?
No. The 'healthy', homemade foods were still calorie dense, her activity was still too low, her sleep was poor and her stress levels were still high!
No weight was lost... and the cycle began again.
The 'unhealthy' foods had been avoided! How could it go so wrong?
Weight loss or any health/fitness goal for that matter cannot be achieved by simply singling out individual foods as good or bad!
We MUST look at our diets and lives at the holistic level. We MUST look at all the aspects of the problem and approach it in a holistic manner.
By far the most common type of question I get is about the health value of particular foods.
Now granted, some foods are definitely more health promoting than others.
The big problem comes when it makes you eat a food based on whether or not it is classified as healthy without looking into the rest of what you are eating.
I am asked all the time whether a certain food is healthy and whether another food is unhealthy.
Is bread healthy? Is sushi healthy? Is steak healthy?
My answer is always another question!
How much? How often? What serving size? What are you eating it with? What are your goals?
We have to look at your overall DIET.
Your diet is everything that you eat in a day, a week and a year. Your entire daily intake makes up your diet for the day.
Is chocolate a healthy food? Well are you eating 1 square or 10 squares? Are you eating 10 squares 3 times a day or once a week?
Can you see how quickly this question takes away the chocolate as the problem and puts it right onto your entire diet!
By the end of this article I want you to:
The biggest issue of what is healthy is going to come down to your personal fitness and health goals and desires.
Do you want to lose weight or gain weight?
Do you want to improve your fitness levels to compete in a marathon?
Do you want to improve your strength?
All these questions will determine what is considered healthy for you. If you want to lose weight then eating wholesome, low calorie foods is likely the only healthy option. If you are trying to gain weight then it may be more difficult to avoid eating a lot of foods considered unhealthy by the person on a diet!
I have had clients who are 5 foot 3 and weigh 60kg trying to lose weight and others who are 6 foot 5 trying to gain weight! The difference between what is healthy for these two people with their different goals is huge!
Consider what your real fitness goals are. What do you want as the end result of being fit?
This will influence what you need to include in your daily/weekly diet to get to that result. Without knowing this end goal it can be difficult to find which foods are healthy for you.
Your Activity Level
How active are you day to day?
Are you exercising for 2 hours a day?
Do you have a strenuous job?
I have some clients who work as tradesman and others who work in office jobs. The tradesman I train are often using their bodies 6-10 hours each day. The office workers in contrast may only be using their body for a few hours a day!
The tradesman working outside in the summer may need an electrolyte replacement drink each day and they often struggle to get ENOUGH food in each day!
In contrast the office worker in air conditioning is struggling to keep his intake low enough to lose the weight that he wants.
When I am out doing long hikes I will take along calorie dense foods to keep the weight of my pack down. Foods like dried fruit, nuts or chocolate make an appearance throughout the trip!
Day to day if I am not hiking that much these foods are TERRIBLE as they contain huge amounts of calories for their size and I will easily gain weight if I am munching on them all day.
Single Nutrient Focus
'High in fibre', 'low in sugar' 'high in vitamin C'.
You will see foods touted as 'healthy' because they have a lot of a certain nutrient, OR they are low in something considered bad for you.
We will be told to drink orange juice because it is healthy and high in vitamin C, neglecting the fact that it is as calorie dense as soft drink and vitamin C is found in many other lower calorie foods!
We will be told to eat the low fat yogurt even when it is filled with sugar and has as many calories as a full fat version.
This also works in reverse.
People will think a steak is bad because of the fat in it. But again, how much fat is in the steak you are having? How much fat have you had throughout the rest of the day?
Should I have eggs? They are high in cholesterol!
Well how many eggs are you having? Do you even have cholesterol problems?
Forget about single nutrients that foods have or don't have. You need a RANGE of foods in order to get your nutritional requirements.
Always look at a food in its overall context. Not just with your diet but the food itself! Does the food have a range of nutrients? Is it healthy just because a label says it has something in it that is good?
'Healthy' foods working against your goals
There are many examples of foods that are considered healthy that are often counterproductive to your goals. The most common goal is weight loss so we will use it as an example.
Foods that are 'healthy' still have to be eaten in MODERATION for the most part. A food such as macadamia nuts has 750 calories for 100 grams of them! If you are trying to lose weight then 100 grams of this could be potential half of your energy needs for the day! (100 grams of nuts is not a huge amount really).
Other foods that are commonly seen as healthy but often make weight loss difficult are:
This is not to say they don't have nutrients in them, they do. But they also come along with a lot of calories and don't fill you up as much as would be useful.
The other aspect of healthy foods is the portion size. A meal made up of only wholefoods can still be extremely high in calories. There is nothing stopping you piling up a plate full of foods that are health promoting but there is simply too much of it.
Overall, keep in mind that an overabundance of any type of food will tend to lead to weight gain in the long run!
Wholefoods are much harder to overeat as they tend to satisfy us more but certain foods like those mentioned above should be eaten in strict moderation for most people.
A healthy diet is not something that is fixed and identical for every person. There are massive variations between people in their goals, their lifestyle, their age, height, weight, abilities and the list goes on! Something healthy for one person may be taking you further from your goals and vice versa.
Always consider foods in the broader scheme of your whole diet and lifestyle. If you are NOT achieving the outcomes you want then you will have to have a look at your diet, exercise and lifestyle together and see what can be changed to rectify it.
For most people, having a few 'treats' here and there probably won't impact you much at all. For some people it may be that they have to eat 100% unprocessed foods to get where they want to be.
Lastly, don't take too much from what somebody elses healthy diet looks like unless they are very similar to you! You can get food ideas and tips and tricks, but your individual portions and choices will differ.
What do you consider a healthy diet for yourself?
Do you focus on individual foods?
Have you got the results you wanted from diets?
Try the 5-day get out of the diet trap challenge by clicking here to register.