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Food. Health. Diet. Hunger. & Your Body.

May 6, 2010

My last post spurred a conversation about healthy eating and diet. The very first comment suggested I try diet soda in my recipe in lieu of eggs and oil to make it “healthier.”

I use scare quotes around the word “healthier” because I vehemently disagree with the commenter’s apparent definition of healthy. Being healthy does NOT mean cutting out fat and calories. It does not mean substituting whole foods like oil and eggs with aspartame and artificial coloring. Being healthy means giving your body what it needs to function.

I responded, and reiterate, We shouldn’t be afraid of calories.

Calories are not the enemy. We were created to eat REAL FOOD, not artificial sweeteners, not processed cheese, not low-cal zero-trans-fat olean-oil potato chips.  And guess what. Real food has calories. Calories are fuel that energize your body. Maintaining a balanced calorie-to-activity balance is what keeps you from gaining weight or suffering from unhealthy side effects.

The diet industry is bastardizing nutrition. We’re inundated with messages from Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, NutriSystem, SlimFast, etc, that tell us that healthy = thin and thin = product use.  But, these companies hawk substance low in fat and low in calories but with little-to-no nutritional value to convince you that you’re eating healthy.

You’re not. You’re ingesting processed foods and depriving your body of real food.

After the Twitterverse discussed healthy eating vs. diet eating, I decided to pose the question to a wider, more diverse audience, my facebook friends: “What is your definition of diet?”

The answers pleasantly surprised me:
“The food you eat – whatever quantity or quality that may be.”
“Something that other people (mostly women) do when they need to fit into a dress for a specific event. Alternatively, what my neurologist made me change so I won’t get migraines so often.”
“Bad… It has the word ‘die’ in it.”
“it depends on the context. i think the 2 most common definitions would be the daily regimen of food you eat, or a specialized plan for eating that is used to lose weight.”
“A ‘diet’ for me is fruits and veggies and chicken and soup.”

My definition: What you consciously choose to put into your body to be converted into energy.

Dictionary.com definition: Food and drink considered in terms of its qualities, composition, and its effects on health.

In the dictionary definition, there is no mention of losing weight. That’s not what a true diet is.

Joe and I consciously choose a lot of whole foods. We can’t always afford to eat all organic, but we can afford (and save money) to eat whole foods. I’m not going to stand up here on a soapbox and say we don’t eat Kraft mac and cheese regularly or that we’ve cut all high fructose corn syrup out of our diets. But I’m telling you that when given the choice between kale chips baked with olive oil and low-fat Pringles, we’re going to choose the kale every time.

You’d be surprised what your body authentically craves if you’d listen to it. Take the time to cut fast food and cheap processed food out of your diet for just a day or so. When you’re hungry, consider what you’d like to eat. When I did this experiment, I found myself craving raw mushrooms dipped in salad dressing. Nowadays, I prefer all-fruit smoothies to milkshakes, kale chips to potato chips, homemade casserole to Hamburger Helper, unsweetened iced tea to Diet Pepsi, and real cream and sugar in my coffee instead of Equal and CoffeeMate.

Fat and calories are not the enemy. In moderation, they are great for you and your body needs them to function.
Instead of counting calories, assess what you eat. Rethink healthy. Rethink diet. Listen to your authentic hunger.

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. May 6, 2010 4:26 pm

    Swoon. I love this post! I hate diet soda, but I’ve had several people tell me they prefer to drink diet because they don’t want to waste calories on a drink. Diet soda is full of chemicals and crap. Yuck.

    Now, that’s not to say that I don’t eat crap, because I do. I just try not to always eat crap. Like you said, it’s amazing what your body actually craves if you listen to it. More often than not, it’s yummy, healthy food….not McDonald’s.

    Diet has become a word that means eating less food, and that’s just simply not what a diet is. We all have a diet…it’s made up of the foods that we eat. I think we might all think about food in a healthier way if we thought of diet in those terms, and not just in losing weight terms.

  2. May 6, 2010 4:35 pm

    Amen, sister. I was raised on healthy, natural foods and I am so thankful to my mum for making me eat my fruits and veggies (although, she never really had to force me to eat them, I always loved them). I definitely eat my fair share of junk food and crap, but my fridge is full of fresh, REAL food and I feel so much better when I cook with those things instead of ordering pizza or grabbing something quick at a fast food restaurant.

    And the part about cravings is so true. Our body knows what it wants, we just need to learn to listen to it.

    Great post!

  3. May 6, 2010 4:50 pm

    i don’t disagree with your point; it’s how i’m trying to balance myself. eating the right amount of food to keep me going instead of undereating because i’m too lazy to cook or overeating when i’m suddenly “starving”. i would like to point out that weight watchers does not force processed, nonfat foods on anyone. it recommends reduced fats for some foods balanced with whole fats. they do endorse prepackaged, balanced meals but they never tout them as the be all, end all. unlike nutrisystem and jenny craig, they’re trying to teach people how to eat better and move more

    i drank the weight watchers’ kool aid so it stings a bit to be lumped in with the nutricraig crazies. some of us are learning something more than “calories/fats are the enemy”

  4. May 6, 2010 4:52 pm

    Did you know the word diet comes from Latin and Greek roots, and the original word, diaeta, means “the manner in which one lives”. We get the word “diet” from the way the monks used it in the Middle Ages, where it somehow morphed into “the manner in which one eats”. Just fun word nerd facts!

    And also, I would like to point out that Nestle and Kraft own Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers respectively. There’s a reason why these “diets” flop. They are crafted get you hooked onto packaged processed “diet” food…oh I could go on and on.

    Anyway. I know that I’m not personally the poster child of health, but the majority of what we bring into the house are whole foods. Sure, there’s pasta and bread and mac and cheese. But there’s a lot of veggies, rice and chicken, too.

  5. May 6, 2010 5:05 pm

    You have no idea how much I needed to read this post at this exact moment in time.

    I was so brainwashed for SOOOO long about what a real “diet” was and what “healthy” really looked like. I recently started trying to lose weight and decided to ditch anyt food that wasn’t real or whole, regardless of what my former self (and the “industry”) used to tell me.

    At times, I still struggle with adding a little avocado to my sandwich or relishing anything full fat. I feel like I’m being counterproductive to my goal…that is why I needed to read this post! No more apprehension…only real, wholesome and delicious food!

    Thank you! If only more people could think this way…

  6. May 6, 2010 5:20 pm

    bravo renee, bravo.

    seriously i don’t think i really need to add anything more either than this post is awesome and everyone needs to read it and remember it.

  7. May 6, 2010 6:21 pm

    I love this post and I agree with most of the points. However, Weight Watchers is NOT about eating prepackaged foods and eating less calories. It’s about eating everything in moderation. While they do sell their own foods, it’s mostly “healthier” snacks and kitchen utensils and cookbooks. But WW is a program designed to learn how to eat healthy, the same foods you can get at the store, but puts you on a set amount of points.

    I guess it’s just different for me. I have a weight problem, I don’t have a healthy relationship with food. I have to watch what I eat and count my calories. I’ve lived for too long where calories weren’t the enemy where they became a comfort to me and I ate way too much for a girl my size. While it would be nice for me to simply be able to eat healthy without being so strict with myself, I know I would fall back on old habits (eating greasy food, too much snacking, too much soda). So, for me, it’s a necessity to count calories (or points, since I am on Weight Watchers.).

    I understand the point of this post. And I do think society has been focused on calories so, so much. I mean, how many 100-calorie packs of snacks can you find at the store now?! And I think we need to focus more on whole, good foods and less on prepackaged, food with less calories. (And that’s what WW is about so please, please, please don’t lump it in the same category as Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem!!)

  8. May 6, 2010 6:54 pm

    I’m a big believer in listening to what your body tells you to eat. If it’s ‘bad’ then just have a little. If I crave M&Ms I’ll usually only eat a few (def less than 10) & be good to go. If you listen to what your body says & not what you Want (you Want junk because you Like it) you’ll be better off.

  9. May 6, 2010 8:28 pm

    Yes yes yes! I concur with everything you say here & applaud you for having the gusto to speak on a subject so political (& it really is!). When I did a blog post about my decision to wanting to be vegan, I got several comments that were 100% against it, & uncomfortably so… which goes to show you, DON’T MESS WITH PEOPLE’S FOOD. They do not like it.

    My diet? Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. It’s always worked well for me. :]

  10. May 6, 2010 11:22 pm

    It’s nice to hear about more people our age who try to eat healthy. Kudos to you and the-former-beau-named-Joe. : )

    I have a friend who’s a recovering bulimic who has a very unhealthy relationship with food. as in if someone tells her something only has 1 weight watchers point, she will eat a hundred of them. and I WISH I WAS KIDDING.

    On the flip side, my momma has lost over a hundred and forty (HUNDRED. AND. FORTY.) following the BASIC guidelines of the weight watchers points plan. Stephany hit the nail right on the head — while WW does sell their own stuff (some of it is NOT abhorrent) they also teach people how to eat healthy. the biggest thing about WW that they tell you getting healthy is going to be a lifestyle change.

    (incidentally, my mom is pretty active on the WW message boards and there are many many many many many many many women who will eat 100 of whatever 1-weight-watchers-point-ed item they can find. this is not limited to people with a quote-unquote eating disorder.

    My old roommate would do the Special K diet and that is the biggest crock of crap I have ever heard in my life. 2 bowls of cereal before dinner and that’s IT?! That’s ludicrous. But she would do it all. the. time. Insane.

    Also, (and i’m not saying you, specifically, Renee, I’m using “you” as a generality) you can’t ever assume a plus-sized girl (like me) doesn’t know what she’s talking about when it comes to food. Most of us have had a messed up relationship with food for so long that we know more about it than a nutritionist. my mom is a prime example of that for sure. she’s still a little overweight, but i ask her all my food questions.

    Anyway, “diets” are temporary. Whether you eat correctly now or are just starting, it is a lifestyle.

  11. May 6, 2010 11:27 pm

    100% Agreement. Your diet is just the foods you eat on a regular basis. Regardless of what you’re putting in you, moderation is key. Chocolate in small doses is good for you, that doesn’t mean eating a bag of mini’s everyday.

    I *try* to eat as healthy as possible. When I cut out fast food from my diet, I realized how much healthier I felt, inside and out.

  12. May 7, 2010 3:08 am

    100% Agreement. Your diet is just the foods you eat on a regular basis. Regardless of what you’re putting in you, moderation is key. Chocolate in small doses is good for you, that doesn’t mean eating a bag of mini’s everyday.

    I *try* to eat as healthy as possible. When I cut out fast food from my diet, I realized how much healthier I felt, inside and out.
    BTW I love your blog!

  13. Jan permalink
    May 7, 2010 8:27 am

    Maybe saying it was “healthier” wasn’t the best choice of words! Obviously cake made in any way, whether it’s your recipe or the one I suggested, is not healthy. It’s junk food…empty calories for the most part. The comment wasn’t meant to be taken literally to suggest that using diet soda in cake can replace your daily supply of vegetables & other healthy foods.

    I’m not afraid of eating calories. I’m a runner – I eat more calories than most men. However, I am a fan of getting my calories from healthy sources, so when I eat cake, I try to minimize the calories. Your point that I’m replacing the oil with artificial ingredients is true. Let’s just all agree to eat more whole, unprocessed foods. 🙂

  14. May 7, 2010 8:32 am

    I used to use Splenda A LOT when I was in college.

    Then, I realized a) What the HELL *is* Splenda? and b) I’m still going to be craving sugar and sweets if I eat a ton of Splenda-laced things.

    Now, I can’t STAND the taste of fake sweeteners. Or fake creamers. They have to CREATE the perception that you’re eating sugar or creamer with chemicals. There is a point where science and food just need to part ways. It freaks me out!

    And guess what? I haven’t had a problem maintaining a healthy weight and body image since quitting fake food. In FACT, it’s gotten easier – on both accounts. I am able to stay healthy and in shape AND I don’t compare myself to others as much now that I’m not focused on food so much. I do keep track of what I eat most days, just to be sure I’m getting all the nutrients I need and all that. It’s not obsessive anymore, and I am SO thankful to be free of that.

    Amen.

  15. May 7, 2010 12:55 pm

    Love this entire post.
    I’ve had a tough time with “diet” in all sense of the words for a variety of reasons: I have crazy food allergies that restrict what I can and can’t eat; I’m Italian and love to eat; and lastly, I have mild anemia so i can’t let my blood sugar drop.

    What I can do and what I do do is make sure I have healthy snacks that are delicious to me on hand. That I create meals that are fresh, healthful, with vitamins and nutrients. I’m very conscious of what’s in my food thanks to the food allergy thing, so it works out well since I’m allergic to some of the processed gunk that it’s some foods these days.

    I believe that everything in moderation is the key to a healthy lifestyle.

    A friend once told me she admired me for buying real mayo, not the low-fat mayo, real cheese instead of gross oil cheese. That’s stuck with me. That’s who I am. I like real food.

  16. May 10, 2010 11:45 am

    Well put…diets never work, what works is adjusting your lifestyle to eat healthy and excercise regularly. Fats are not always bad, although I find too much saturated fat to be bad. I also try to stay away from liquid sugar (i.e. sodas and those fake smoothies), I don’t think people realize how much sugar they ingest with those.

  17. May 13, 2010 7:37 am

    Amen!

    I’ve cut sodas out of my life. I rarely drank them in the past, but now I’m making an effort to think about what I’m putting into my body, and sodas are a great place to start. Whether diet or regular, they are HORRIBLE for the body. My husband and I don’t even keep soda in the house, so it’s easy to avoid any temptation. If I need a caffeine jolt, I just drink some tea or coffee (in moderation).

    I was at my brother-in-law’s track meet the other day, and while my in-laws and I were snacking on pretzels and peanut butter crackers, the people in front of us snacked on carrots, celery, and cucumbers. I was envious of them, and I instantly felt bogged down by all of the unhealthy fat and calories I was putting into my body. I’d much rather have the healthy calories of fruits and veggies as a snack.

  18. May 25, 2010 11:04 am

    Hi there! I just stumbled across your blog from Ashley at Our Little Apartment. I love this post. I’ve really been thinking the same way lately. What exactly is in all our processed foods? For me, small changes are really working. I’ve been using agave nectar (instead of refined sugar) in my tea and oatmeal every morning and am trying to incorporate more whole grains (instead of bleached white rice) and vegetables in our meals. So far, so good! I definitely feel the difference – I have a lot more energy throughout the day. Even my husband likes it which is mucho importante! =D

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