Liz’s Nutrition Notes: What is a “Healthy Diet?”

Each week, Liz will posts about a different topic related to nutrition and health. This week, she’s discussing what it means to eat a healthy diet.

Heather sent me this article about dieting and weight loss that she read in The New York Times, and asked me if I wanted to talk about in a post. When I read the article, my first thought was how this article didn’t really present anything new. The gist of the article is how eating healthy, while not counting calories, led participants to lose weight over the course of a year. I was a little surprised by how this article was trying to present information that we, as a vast majority, already know: weight loss is often a result (even if you don’t count calories) when you exercise regularly and consume a healthy diet – i.e.  no processed foods, diet rich in vegetable/fruits, lean protein, and limited sugar intake diet). They even mentioned that the individuals in the study were still required to meet federal guidelines for exercise. 

Even though we, as a society, generally know what and how we should be eating, we typically don’t eat that way. There are lots of reasons for this. One that pops to my mind is how food brings people together, and is considered a social activity. When you go out to eat with friends, restaurants have to make their foods taste amazing to entice you to come back so they add butter (fat), salt, and sugar. How many times have you heard “I really shouldn’t be eating this” or something along those lines… we know how to eat, it’s just that we choose not to strictly abide by those guidelines. Super Bowls, holidays, birthdays, parties – these all bring people together. They all also share the fact that the foods prepared for these events are not very healthy, but taste good, right?!

The main idea presented in the Times article is: Stop counting calories and stressing yourself over numbers; if you eat healthy, then weight loss will occur. I agree that people shouldn’t focus so heavily on caloric intake. Personally, I do not count my calories anymore. I did go through a phase where I strictly counted my calories, but this did not help me create good habits. It caused me way more stress. Instead, I started focusing on eating whole foods and working out more. 

However, no matter how you put it, when caloric intake is less than energy expenditure, weight loss will occur. By following a healthy diet AND exercise regimen,  such as the one dictated in the article,  the participants caloric intake must have been lower than their energy expenditure, causing weight loss. Even though they were not counting their calories, the foods they were consuming offered many benefits to help them eat fewer calories. Whole grains, vegetables, and fruit contain fiber, which helps you feel fuller and also promote gut motility/regularity. Lean proteins are low in fat and a good protein source. Protein also helps people feel fuller, as it slows gastric emptying. No processed foods, while difficult to follow, is a great habit to establish. Processed foods offer limited nutritional value and often contain a substantial amount of sodium, fat, added sugars, and cholesterol.

The article says “This [referring to not counting calories, but eating whole food diet] is the road map to reducing the obesity epidemic in the United States,” but I disagree. I do believe that people shouldn’t obsess over calories, but I think the ‘road map’ to reducing the obesity epidemic is some type of cognitive-behavorial therapy that changes the way we think and respond to unhealthy food. Some way to help reduce cravings/binges. Some way to stop salivating at the thought of pizza. You get the gist!

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