There is this trend that I have noticed developing in diet culture over the years and it’s now reached a point where it's completely out of control. That trend is to eliminate as many foods as possible when beginning a diet.
Picture the scene, Jess wants to lose weight, it's Sunday evening and she begins to list out all the foods she cannot eat from Monday morning. That list includes bread, pasta, rice, and cereals. Actually, all carbs are gone, she can’t eat red meats, processed meats or any dairy products, nightshade vegetables and high sugar fruits. She is left with some green vegetables, chicken, fish, eggs and berries to play with for the next 12 weeks prior to her wedding that she is dieting for. Good luck Jess!
This ‘exclusive’ mindset leads to an incredibly rigid and restrictive diet, which is not only incredibly boring and impractical, but it's also impossible to meet all basic nutrient needs with this diet. On a more serious note, research has also shown that this exclusive mindset can be damaging to individuals' relationship with food too and is associated with symptoms of eating disorders.
Rather than starting with a long list of foods you cannot eat, you would be much better off making a long list of the foods that are going to benefit you, your health and your progress toward your current goal, not forgetting the foods you enjoy most too. The latter is incredibly important because you need to consider the reality of the situation. How realistic is it for you to go a whole 12 weeks without eating your favorite pizza?
It’s not going to happen is it, so rather than making this pizza a forbidden item on the exclude list, that would likely trigger a binge if consumed, it's much better to have it on the include list, understand the calorie content of the pizza and work it into your energy restricted diet from time to time. Now that may mean that you can only have a few slices, alongside a large salad, rather than a whole pizza, but those few slices are going to provide much needed relief from the monotony and struggle of dieting, allowing you to maintain focus and consistency, which is ultimately the most important element of any diet.
The ‘inclusive’ mindset when dieting allows for flexibility, it allows for freedom and genuine enjoyment. Yes, I said enjoyment in a blog about dieting!
The ‘inclusive’ approach to dieting begins with all the foods that are going to move you closer to your goal. That list should include
- lean protein sources such as chicken, turkey, lean cuts of beef and pork loin, fish and shellfish, eggs, whey protein
- low fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cottage cheese
- vegetables, all of them
- fruit, all of them too
- whole-grains such as oats, breads, pasta, rice, quinoa, and beans and pulses
In 2005 a group of researchers from Washington, Seattle set out to develop a ‘nutrient density’ score. Basically they wanted to develop a list of foods that were nutrient-rich, but also had a low energy density, in an effort to combat the issues of obesity in the US that had resulted from overconsumption of foods that were energy-rich but nutrient-poor. The researchers published this ‘nutrient density’ list of foods in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and it included all the items we just noted in the ‘inclusive’ list. Lean proteins, low fat dairy products, whole-grains, beans and pulses, fruit and vegetables are all rich in various nutrients that will optimize your health and wellbeing, prevent deficiency and help you maintain a fully functioning metabolism, while also being low in calories. The perfect combination!
Start with the list above rather than starting a diet with a long list of things you cannot eat, based on no science whatsoever. Surely it makes more sense to begin with a diet that science has shown is going to benefit you, your health, your metabolism, your skin, your gut and more, while also allowing you to lose weight.
Just imagine Jess’s struggle on day 5 if she were to have adopted her ‘exclusive’ approach when faced with the weekly delivery of fresh cookies on. Her brain would be telling her ‘I can’t eat that’ repetitively for minutes if not hours, it becomes a test of willpower, a psychological battle. It really need not be that way. With an ‘inclusive’ approach Jess would likely not be that hungry because she is eating high protein, high fiber, nutrient dense foods in main meals, and she also knows that a single cookie at 250 kcal is not going to completely derail her progress, so she includes a single cookie and a large glass of sparkling water, and goes on with her day, perhaps even adjusting serving sizes slightly later that day to account for the cookie.
Let us delve into that a little deeper. There was some research conducted in 2012, where a group of overweight women were put on a calorie restricted diet that either included or excluded bread. Now this is pertinent as bread is typically high on the exclude list when most people begin a diet. The researchers found that there was NO difference in weight loss between groups, but that the group that included bread in their diet were better able to adhere to the diet plan for an extended period of time. This is crucial information as it highlights the fact that bread is not uniquely fattening and so does not need to be avoided, but also that including bread likely makes dieting a little easier and dare I say more enjoyable.
I want you to realize that the days of ‘exclusive’ dieting are over. It's an awful, antiquated approach that simply sets you up for future failure. So from today adopt an ‘inclusive’ approach that recognizes the value of nutrient-dense, low energy density foods, but also recognizes that no food is necessarily bad either. Including foods with low nutrient density and high energy density into your diet from time to time won’t hurt, as long as they are accounted for.
This inclusive approach is exactly what we encourage and champion at Reverse Health, take the quiz now and access our world of food freedom.
The content in this app is provided as lifestyle recommendations for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For any medical concerns, always consult with a healthcare professional. The sources that informed our meal plans and recommendations are available at: reverse.health/research.