Saturday, July 18, 2015

The very low sugar, low fat healthy diet—an oxymoron.

Kristen knew to avoid fats—except for those in nuts (which she included in very limited amounts) and certainly those in dairy and oils. Fats are bad. Period. She loves fat free yogurts, but those she omits because of the sugar. Same with milk, which she truly used to enjoy. Now she uses fortified water aka lite almond milk. Seasonal fruits, even the organic stuff—completely stricken from her diet, you know, because of the sugar.  Whole grains—well those have those god-awful carbs so those are out too. Yup, that leaves… lean poultry and fish and non starchy vegetables.

No wonder meal planning is a challenge.

No wonder she struggles to not binge following a day of deprivation.

No wonder her energy level is low, and her thoughts are preoccupied with food and eating.

Why can’t I decide what to eat?

If you're like Kristen, you get so over-focused on what you shouldn't eat that you're challenged to figure out what to eat.  Your endless food rules about nutrition, weight and health leave few foods to eat—and enjoy. 
I've lost count of how many patients came into my office these last weeks, stating: "I have no idea what to eat anymore. I just can't decide." These are patients of all sizes and conditions—patients with anorexia, and those with binge eating disorder and bulimia; and those struggling with their climbing weight and obesity in spite of their attempts to eat healthy. And they’re all ruled by unnecessary food rules.

Wrong, wrong, wrong about fats!

Like Kristen you too may be fat phobic, in spite of the updated newest guidelines for Americans 2015, which have removed the notion that total fat should be avoided. Got that? There is no evidence to support a recommendation that total fat should be restricted—neither for weight management nor for health and disease prevention. 
Really? How can this be?
At the 2015 Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) there was a wealth of research showing that diets rich in fats from plants sources—with nutrients like mono unsaturated fats (think avocado, peanuts and olive oil)—and in omega 3s (think salmon, sword and tuna in addition to walnuts and flax) help reduce abdominal fat distribution which is the greater health concern than obesity.

And, wrong about carbs and weight gain!

Also at the ADA, extensive research was presented concluding that macronutrients—the protein, fat and carbohydrate balance of your diet—ultimately have no impact on your weight. That's right. Numerous large studies including a well-done Harvard study confirm this.
I know, I know, it’s hard to believe when you’ve already been sucked into the misinformation of carb and sugar toxic diets and fat phobia.

You’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. In spite of eating a diet full of healthy foods including protein sources, fruits and vegetables, grains and fats—your calorie intake can become reduced to the point of providing inadequate calories for your day to day need. You get fuzzy headed, feel fatigued and decision-making about food becomes challenging. Rules and restrictions consume you, so you're at a loss to figure out what you can eat. I mean if you know you can’t eat gluten or that carbs are toxic or fats will make you fat and sugar is poison than what's left? How can you choose what to eat when there's so little that allowed?

Remember when you used to simply eat?

Move from micromanaging your foods.

How can you loosen the reins? Start to shift your thinking from micromanaging your diet. Rather than hyper focusing on each individual food item, on every nutrient or component of your intake, consider the bigger picture.

Consider OJ.

I walk through the supermarket noting the orange juice selection. Remember orange juice, the juice of oranges naturally high in vitamin C (and lesser known for its high potassium and folic acid content)? Only now it’s available calcium fortified. And get it with pulp—it’ll make you think you’re getting more fiber, when in truth there’s no difference. Add omega 3s while you’re at it—just get it with fish oils (quite a disgusting thought, personally). My point? Why are we thinking that one food has to be everything to our diet? Can't oranges or orange juice just provide us with the nutrients it's known for?

Must our pasta be whole wheat and protein fortified or be banned from our diet? What if you started with white pasta—yup, no fiber, all carbs, delicious pasta? You don't need to have the whole 16 oz. of it. By itself it's hardly a balanced meal. But surely you can find a solution to that, right?
Yes, you can add vegetables—for vitamins, for volume and texture, for fiber and satiety. Feel the need for protein at that meal? Add a glass of milk, some cheese, some shrimp or chicken or smoked salmon.  See where I’m going? 

Maybe think even bigger picture. Perhaps some meals are higher carbohydrate, but your protein is met from other meals or snacks?  Maybe you had a Greek yogurt high in protein or some nuts, for instance.

It's time to aim for balanced meals and a balanced day of eating, rather than hyper focusing on some 'perfect', ideal foods and eating style. Imagine even including a baked good simply because you enjoy it, as a snack when you’re hungry—contributing to your energy needs for the day, in addition to the wholesome foods you strive to limit yourself to.

Now that’s healthy eating.

Thoughts? Questions? Does this resonate for you? Are you out there reading? Please share with anyone who might needs some reality checking! Thanks!


  1. I'm working on adding things back in to my diet as part of my recovery from a restrictive eating disorder, so this definitely resonates with me. Some foods I have a harder time with than others, and I often find that I actually don't even really know what foods I like any more because I spent so many years convincing myself I didn't like certain things just so I wouldn't eat them. It really is absurd.

    1. It may help to consider what you 'used to' enjoy way back when--then try to work those items back in.

  2. It sounds so simple and sane. I've come a long way in my recovery; yet even now I have a really hard time with carbs and fats specifically. You've told me over and over - if you eat your meal plan, you will not become overweight. Don't know why I can't get that thru my stupid head. -L

    1. The head's not stupid--just disordered. And it's not a permanent condition. Really.

  3. I'm going through this, too, these days, my main staple is quark.
    However, I don't feel bad about the whole situation. I finally got some counselling and my psychiatrist rocks so while I eat quark, lean meat, more quark and some fruits and veggies, the doc slowly made me shift to eating several times a day without major restricting. I know that matters are very far from perfect but I feel good about managing to eat my lunch and dinner almost every day...