One of the most common questions I encounter as a nutritionist is, “I only eat healthy food, so why don’t I lose any weight?”
There can be dozens of answers to this question, including thyroid problems, lack of sleep and inadequate physical activity, but in many cases, it boils down to believing we’re eating healthier than we are. If you’re having trouble shedding unwanted pounds in spite of a generally healthy diet, you may want to ask yourself if you fall into any of these traps.
1. Too much of a good thing … isn’t
For many of us, it’s not what we eat that’s the problem, it’s how much. With the exception of non-starchy vegetables (no one ever got fat from eating too much broccoli) even healthy foods can pack on the pounds if your portions are out of whack. One of the best examples of this is nuts. Loaded with B vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and protein, raw nuts and nut butters make a great snack, but they’re also extremely high in calories. While I don’t advocate strict calorie counting, it is important to be aware of the effects of the foods you’re eating. A small handful of nuts is a great snack; mindlessly grazing on a big bowl full is an easy way to sabotage your weight loss efforts.
The same holds true for sweets and baked goods made from wholesome ingredients. When you want a treat, of course these are better options than most, but even if you bake healthy cookies yourself, they stop being healthy if you eat the whole batch before they have a chance to cool.
2. Keep your occasional treats occasional.
A woman I know sticks to a reasonably healthy day-to-day eating plan, but allows herself “cheat days” once a week. When it’s a cheat day, she doesn’t just allow herself a treat or two, she eats indulgently all day long. This might not sounds so bad, but she also allows herself cheat days for all holidays, family birthdays, whenever she gets together with friends, whenever she eats in a restaurant and whenever she’s travelling. It turns out, she really only sticks to her healthy eating plan about half the time. It’s no wonder she’s never been able to reach her weight loss goal, in spite of the fact that she believes she eats a healthy diet.
It’s OK to allow yourself treats now and then. Life is too short to deny yourself the pleasure of enjoying the foods you love. But giving yourself license to enjoy the occasional treat doesn’t have to mean eating everything in sight. Just because you ate a croissant for breakfast, doesn’t mean the entire day is a write-off and you may as well have poutine for lunch. Really want that slice of birthday cake? Go ahead and enjoy it, but you’ll feel better about it if you eat it following a healthy dinner. Want to sample the local cuisine while travelling? Of course you should. But consider sharing the more indulgent dishes, and make sure you sample local salads and vegetable dishes, too. The bottom line is, you deserve occasional treats. Just make sure they’re truly occasional.
3. Beware of gluten-free garbage
More and more people are choosing to avoid wheat and products with gluten, primarily for digestive reasons. While this change can be extremely beneficial, unfortunately it can also lead to poor choices.
Many people are so focused on avoiding gluten that they will eat just about anything as long as it’s gluten-free. The gluten-free industry is booming, with an ever-increasing list of products available. Overall this is good news, but it has also led to the proliferation of gluten-free junk food. Many gluten-free breads are made with white rice or potato flours, yet even people who would never have gone near ordinary white bread don’t seem to mind eating these gluten-free versions. Some people feel that because they’re deprived of so many “normal” foods, as long as it’s gluten-free, they should be able to eat it -- including gluten-free cakes and cookies. Unfortunately these are typically loaded with sugar, refined carbohydrates and rancid fats. Just because you can eat it, doesn’t mean you should. Be sure to read ingredient lists, or better still, make your own gluten-free recipes using healthy ingredients you can control.
But whether it’s a store bought gluten-free product or something you make at home, it’s also important not to lose sight of the fact that gluten-free doesn’t mean carb-free. If your weight is a concern, you want to control your consumption of carbohydrates, even the ones that are safe for your digestion.
4. Organic sugar is still sugar.
Just like many people are lured into the gluten-free garbage trap, many people assume because something is labelled “organic” or comes from a health food store, it’s got to be good for you. The truth is, organic sugar may be sustainably farmed and free of pesticides, but chemically it is still just plain sugar, and it will have exactly the same effect on your body. Organic potato chips are still deep fried. Organic junk food is still junk food.
Many products you’ll find in a health food store are made with natural sweeteners such as cane sugar. But if even a natural sweetener is one of the first ingredients, it’s hard to call it a healthy choice. And watch out for products sweetened with agave. While agave is a natural product, it is extremely high in fructose and won’t help your weight loss efforts.
5. Not all healthy foods are created equally.
We’ve been told for years that the key to health is eating lots of fruits and vegetables. While on the whole that’s true, if you want to keep your weight down, you’ll need to be a little more specific. First, it would be best if we got used to saying “vegetables and fruits” instead of the other way around, since we should be eating lots of vegetables but only a limited amount of fruit. In fact, many well-intentioned dieters trip themselves up by grazing on fruit all day, consuming a lot more calories than they’d like to. Fruit is loaded with vitamins and minerals, but it also has a lot of natural sugar. To keep your weight under control, stick to fruits that are lower in sugar and high in fiber such as berries and apples, and try not to eat more than 2-3 servings per day.
Again, you can eat as many non-starchy vegetables as you’d like, but you want to go easy on carbohydrate-heavy starchy vegetables such as peas, squash and other root vegetables.
6. Don’t drink your calories
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating because it’s so easy to focus on eating healthy foods, and forget about what you’re drinking. The most common culprit is fruit juice. Sure, you get lots of vitamins and minerals in fruit juice, but you also get huge concentrations of sugar, and without the fibre nature intended to go along with it. You’re always better off eating the whole fruit.
Another way calories sneak into your diet is at the coffee shop. Even innocuous sounding flavours like vanilla come from sugary syrups, and of course anything that tastes creamy is going to be loaded with fat and calories. But watch out for low calorie versions of sweet drinks, too, as these are usually made with artificial sweeteners.
Of course, the calories in alcoholic beverages can add up quickly, so you want to keep those in moderation and save them for special occasions.
Your best bets are always filtered or sparkling water, flavoured with lemon if you like, or herbal teas.
Want to lose weight? Be aware!
The way to avoid falling into these traps is simply to think before you eat (or drink.) Read ingredient lists (not just nutrition facts labels), watch your portions, really listen to your body, and focus on whole foods.
But every once in a while, you deserve a treat.
Rena Rubin-Hines is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner specializing in women’s health issues. Rena’s philosophy is if we eat better, we feel better and we look better. With a no-nonsense approach to health and nutrition, Rena offers straight answers, practical advice and effective solutions to a wide range of women’s health issues including weight loss, anti-aging, digestive health, as well as prevention and treatment of a variety of health conditions. Rena is dedicated to helping women live healthier lives, naturally.