People get really nervous around me when they eat. In fact, ever since I got my Masters in nutrition and became a diet coach, I’m pretty positive that I’ve been invited to fewer parties. Maybe people think I’ll show up holding a ruler to slap down whenever someone eats an offending food. And people will say to me things such as, “I bet you wouldn’t eat this pizza”, or “I know, it’s horrible how many cookies I’m eating.” And the first thing I always say is, “Actually, I eat those foods too.” Then they look at me quizzically as if I’m setting a trap. Ok, well, hear me out.
There are a few reasons why you might need to completely omit a food from your diet.
Here are the most common examples –
- You have an allergy or sensitivity to a food.
- You’ve been instructed to omit a food due to a specific health ailment.
- You’re on a temporary detox. (Did you pay attention to the fact that I said temporary?)
Otherwise, food isn’t good or bad.
When we are 6 years old, there is good and bad. Eat all your vegetables – good. Sneak dessert when your mom’s not looking – bad. That shouldn’t exist as an adult, and that is where many of our problems begin. There are foods that we should be eating more often, and foods that should be consumed less frequently. That is completely different from calling a food good or bad.
You know what is one of my favorite foods? Pizza. And I love Pad Thai. Oh, and don’t forget those ice blended coffee drinks. And while I usually consume these foods sparingly, there are occasions, like when going to a special event or a weekend away, when I consume more of these than usual. I’ll usually gain a pound or two or maybe feel a bit puffy afterward. Or I’ll feel a little sluggish from all the sugar and the refined carbohydrates. But hey, it happens to everyone and sometimes it’s totally worth it!
The problem comes not with eating these foods, but feeling like you need to eat them in excess or at absolutely every meal.
There are two prevalent reasons why people unravel when tempted by one of their comfort foods.
I talk often about the importance of balancing blood sugar.
When blood sugar is imbalanced, everything that is eaten is very quickly turned to fat due to loss of sensitivity to the hormone insulin. Whether this makes sense to you or not doesn’t matter. The important point is that this chain of events will lead to all your calories being very quickly stored as fat, followed by a drop in blood sugar. This drop in blood sugar makes you feel like you’re starving, even if you’re gaining weight.
And you don’t need to be grossly overweight to have some semblance of this chain reaction. Most people who over-consume sugar and refined carbohydrates experience this on some level. What this does is make you crave foods that can be quickly converted to sugar to help raise blood sugar. This is part of the reason you can crave nutrient depleted comfort foods, which turn into sugar faster than fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
However, there is another reason that you can crave these foods and it has nothing to do with the physical.
This happens when you consider a food to be forbidden fruit. I remember being told as a little kid that I couldn’t have this Ronald McDonald doll that I wanted. (Funny how marketers find creative ways to get junk food into little kids’ minds.) I was OBSESSED with this doll, and not getting it made me want it so much more. On the flip side, a few years later I became infatuated with a Charley Mccarthy mannequin (I’m not as old as that makes me seem. It was totally retro.) My parents foolishly bought it for me, I jumped around for about a minute, and never played with it again. (Something to do with that creepy clown in the movie Poltergeist.) The moral of the story –
We crave what we can’t have.
For many people who have problems with binge eating, consuming a forbidden food can spiral that person into an out of control binge. Now I’m not going to be presumptuous enough to insinuate that binge eating can be solved by the absence of good or bad food labels. But I do believe that this habit of labeling is overwhelmingly hurtful and can contribute to feeling out of control with food.
So what’s the moral of the story? If you constantly crave sugary foods and refined carbohydrates, you probably have a blood sugar imbalance which should be addressed. There is a physical need in the body for these foods when blood sugar dips and your cravings don’t mean that your willpower is low or that you’re a bad person.
Additionally, most people could use a little work in being kinder to themselves when consuming foods that are treats.
Even in an ideal diet, it is totally fine for most healthy people to have 15% of their daily intake be for foods that are a little less nourishing. There are times in your life when your diet might need to be temporarily more restrictive, especially when just starting to balance blood sugar. But I never recommend having the mindset that certain foods should be off-limits long-term. This usually results in diet failure or a food obsession.
So now you know the truth about me. As does the client of mine who spotted me in the grocery aisle carrying nothing but a bag of potato chips. I eat less than perfectly healthy foods and I enjoy them. And I support my body the majority of the time by eating very nourishing foods. Because everything in life is about balance. Why shouldn’t this be as well?
So, what is the one food you wouldn’t want to live without?
I keep a bar of sea salt dark chocolate in my pantry and probably average a square or two every other day. It’s just enough to satisfy my sweet tooth and I’ve gotten really good at savoring those squares. Never mind that on occasion, I will eat the whole chocolate bar along with an whole bottle of wine… but nobody’s perfect. I grew up with a mom who couldn’t say when in the case of junk food. There was never just a handful of anything. She had to eat the whole shebang. I think seeing that made me more prone to wanting to not go overboard. All good things in moderation may sound a bit cheesy, but it is so true.
I think it is fascinating Jeri that we either learn from our parents’ mistakes or we replicate them. I’m glad that, in this situation, you were able to go in the opposite direction. I was like that with smoking after watching my mother struggle to quit. I wanted nothing to do with it.
The chocolate bar with sea salt sounds yummy. And a square or two is definitely the way to go.
Michele Harvey says
I totally agree with you. There are no forbidden foods. Everything in moderation. Be kind to yourself. You and I would make great lunch buddies. I too love pizza and everything else you mentioned!
Yes, we probably would make good lunch buddies, Michele! Those really are my favorites! And I’m glad you share the mindset as well of no forbidden foods.
I agree with eating everything in moderation. The moment we tell ourselves that we cannot have something, we struggle not to eat it.
Eating little and often works for me. I eat unsalted nuts, raisins, crackers and fruit for snacks. I reduce my carbohydrate intake. I water down my juice drinks and only eat a standard pack of crisps at the weekend.
I eat two squares of dark chocolate daily. I cannot go back to milk chocolate now. There is just no comparison for me!
You are the second person to mention chocolate, Phoenica! They say that chocolate releases hormones in our body that make us happy. Needless to say, it seems to be a popular choice!
Marquita Herald says
Great message Erica. I gave up 99% of junk food when I started working at home. The exceptions? Pizza and peanut butter cookies. I don’t have them often, but when I do I enjoy them thoroughly and without guilt. 🙂
Ah, you are with me on the pizza! It is good that you were able to limit your junk food. I would say that if you really eliminated 99% of comfort foods, you could be a little more flexible though. Having a piece of bread from time to time or whatever excites you won’t take away from a diet that has 85% nourishing foods.
Personally should be really strict with what I eat due to a slight thyroid problem. But I make exceptions because there is no way I’m going to cut sugar, grains, dairy products and meat completely out of my diet. Just had a few spoons of ice cream and it will not kill me.
It is so difficult when you have to eliminate foods due to a health problem. It is good that you’ve found that you are able to have small amounts of these foods that you need to omit. That must make it a bit easier. I commend you for sticking with it for your health.
Donna Janke says
Learning to understand why we crave certain foods can be hard (or something we don’t want to face), but it can help us achieve better balance in our diets. I agree that moderation is the key.
Once you balance your blood sugar, diet changes become a lot easier. Most of us have some level of blood sugar imbalance and that is at the root of many of our problems with willpower.
Jacqueline Gum says
This is right up my alley! I’ve kind of been preaching this my whole life…moderation. I’m thin and always have been…I get a lot crap for it, too! But I always tell everyone that I love Taco Bell and I don’t feel a need to deprive myself of it, not because I’m thin but because it really does satisfy me every once in a while. When I had a yeast problem a while back, I saw a practitioner who helped ma great deal. One of the things she taught me was to pay attention to my craving for sugar…it worked. Now, by being attentive, I know that when I get a heavy sugar craving to lay off on carbs and up the protein some. Funny how craving subside when you try a balanced approach, right?
Yes, your doctor instructed you right by telling you to eat protein when craving sugar. I’m glad that worked for you. Cravings will subside when you balance the body. Yet some people are naturally more imbalanced in this area than others, so they will be confronted with more of a struggle. Our weak areas physically are usually genetic. But dedication will bring great reward, no matter what obstacles you face.
Everything in moderation is a term we all know and hear a lot. As you point out it is of great benefit to follow this sage advice because it is not so much what you eat but how. For me, I can’t have sweet food in the house as I will binge but if there is a tiny bit in the house then I can’t binge and I go on to have a banana. Balance is all about balance 🙂
I’m with you Tim. I really try to keep junk food out of the house, and save it for treats when I’m out. That way I can choose and plan my indulgences instead of eating something just because it is there or I’m bored. I think it is easier to do that when you don’t have children, though.
Ken Dowell says
I think there’s one other reason why people go for comfort foods. They are just so easy and accessible. Where I live there’s practically a pizza place on every block. And they’re good. When we run out of ideas for dinner at my house, I ride around the corner and get a pizza. Good post. I appreciate learning this stuff.
Yes, and that brings up other socio-economic issues. You will find more fast food restaurants and other junk food in economically disadvantaged areas. It is much cheaper to eat unhealthy that it is to eat healthy. People often wonder how someone can cry poverty, but be fat. The cheap foods are the ones that will make you fat.
Patricia Weber says
Erica my husband was on a doctor ordered 30-day detox in January. He said in order to prevent feelings of depravity he would suggest a square or two of the darkest of chocolates for dinner dessert. It wasn’t so much a comfort food as much as – I’m rewarding myself. Now 6 months later, we still keep that tradition. Pizza – I’d be a lying Italian if I told you we never eat it! hahahaha
That totally makes sense, Patricia. I think it is easier to eat healthy when you have a reward system in place. When I cut refined sugar out of my diet, I gave myself one sugary treat a week. When I would want to give in and eat sugar, I would think of my scheduled “sugar date” and that will help me get through.
Krystyna Lagowski says
These are words of wisdom, for sure. I often get cravings for different types of food, not necessarily sweets. At these times, I figure my body’s telling me something – like if I’m craving smoked salmon, or peanut butter. So I usually give in! As you so wisely point out, when you deny yourself something, it’s not always the best solution.
Actually, peanut butter can be a very healthy snack! You just need to stay away from the many brands that have added sugar. It has some protein and fat which can really help you feel full until your next meal.
Never trust anyone who doesn’t like Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies or Doritos and salsa.
I haven’t had either of those in years, but I do recall them being pretty good. So I guess I’m still trustworthy!
Beth Niebuhr says
What lovely, refreshing advice from a nutitionist! I remember my dental hygienist mentioning that a little sugar wasn’t bad. I immediately asked her to say that to my daughter who tended to be so rigid about food. It’s a nice thing to hear from an expert.
I think the problem often becomes that people feel like it has to be all or nothing. And then, once they can’t deprive themselves any longer, they binge on forbidden foods. There has to be a solution that someone can realistically stick to for their lifetime.