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nutrition

Eliminating Foods to Successfully Lose Weight: Does It Work?

It’s probably safe to assume that most people trying to lose weight have attempted some sort of food elimination type diet to achieve it.  Whether that was through the latest fad diet or a self-attempt at eliminating foods we think or know are bad for us, it’s been a popular form of dieters in the U.S.  But, with around 70% of the U.S. adult population overweight (including those obese), it doesn’t appear elimination strategies are working.  

Let’s lay it out there.  Rarely does eliminating foods completely from your diet work in the long run.  And, eliminating some foods and micro-nutrients (carbs, fat, protein) aren’t particularly healthy no matter how badly you want to lose weight.  Rather than trying to find that perfect diet, or blaming yourself for not having the discipline to stay away from certain foods, we need to look at what happens in those great big heads of ours.  Then, just maybe, a weight loss attempt will be more successful.

The Wonders of the Human Brain…You Can Blame Your Food Problems On That If You Need a Scapegoat

Our desire for certain foods is a very complex combination of biological, cognitive and cultural factors that unconsciously affect our relationship with food.  So, instead of being in a constant battle with food, let’s understand what naturally happens around food and work with it, instead of against it. 

Neuroscientists have studied the brain’s activity in relation to food.  Do you know what draws us to sugar, besides of course the taste of it?  Dopamine.  Sugar releases dopamine, and dopamine makes us feel good.  And who doesn’t want to feel good! 

But what draws us to certain foods?  Our food preferences are actually part of our genetic make-up (biological factors).  The dominant or recessive genes associated with certain tastes determine if we can even taste it, let alone like it.  Additionally, if the food smells good to us we are more likely to want it, and if the texture is pleasing to us, (i.e., smooth, crunchy, etc.) we are more likely to consume it.  So, it’s not really all that surprising that eating something you really like gives you a sense of pleasure, and is pleasing to your palate.  That makes it difficult to eliminate it from your diet.

Then there’s how we think and feel about food (cognitive factors).  Ultimately, this is related to the decisions we make about what, and even when, to eat.  Why do you eat eggs and cereal for breakfast, rather than dinner?  Why do you eat 3 meals a day at certain times?  Why are certain foods associated with good or bad memories, or memories of childhood?  What foods conjure up feelings of reducing stress and being happy?  Exploring these questions gives an insight into such things as our eating habits and why we eat and associate certain foods with reward, comfort, or stress reduction.  Eliminating such foods will likely not change how you feel about, or desire, them.  Often depriving yourself of them results in an overindulgence later that leads to weight gain and yo-yo dieting. 

The other factor that most influences what you eat is from your culture.  Did you grow up or are you surrounded in a culture where red meat, white meat, fish, rice, potatoes, beans, or any number of other foods were/are the main components of meals?  There are traditional foods in all societies and cultures, and thus the beauty of a wide range of food options available to us.  Will eliminating these foods really limit such cultural influences drawing you to eat them?

Bottom Line on Eliminating Foods from your diet

Oftentimes the foods that we naturally love, make us feel good, and grew up around, are the ones that we try to unsuccessfully eliminate in order to lose weight.  This smacks right up against our natural and emotional desires, making it difficult to adhere to such a method of dieting.  And while short term success is possible, long term success is not because it didn’t address working with your natural inclinations or changing long term habits and/or beliefs. 

Instead, success lies in making slower changes so that you achieve eating healthy 80% of the time.  Rather than eliminate, limit unhealthy foods bit by bit and find ways to slowly replace them with healthier choices most of the time.  Over time, you may find those pounds drop off and stay off!

As with any dieting, be sure to speak with your doctor and a registered dietician to see what’s right for you.

Understanding the Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet, also known as the Caveman diet, has been around awhile and is still popular among some dieters and athletes.  But, is it a healthy diet and is it one that is good for you?  As with any diet, it’s important to understand what the diet is, the foods it includes, the foods it avoids, the benefits, and risks or concerns of the diet.  It’s even more important to determine if this diet is right for you by speaking with your doctor and a registered dietitian. 

What is the Paleo Diet?

The paleo diet is based on what cavemen and cavewomen are presumed to have eaten thousands of years ago.  Why eat like a caveman you ask?  The premise is that our bodies are genetically programmed to eat as our stone age ancestors did.  True or not, let’s take a look at what foods they had access to back then.

Since our stone age ancestors existed before modern agriculture became a thing, the foods they ate would have been ones they hunted and gathered for.  Wild animals, fish, and uncultivated plants, such as fruits, berries, eggs, and roots, rounded out the diet.  As such, the diet was high in protein and fiber, and low in fat.

If a food did not exist back then, it would not be an authentic paleo food item.  In modern times, we have many more cultivated healthy food choices available.  Additionally, most meats and plants are domesticated, thus making a true paleo diet difficult to follow.  What this means is, at best, a modified version of the paleo diet that is organic and gluten free would be one that a dieter could follow.  But that doesn’t alone make it good either.

Foods of the Paleo Diet

While there are many versions of the Paleo diet, with some stricter than others, below is a list that most paleo diets are made up of.

·  Grass-feed meats and poultry (versus corn fed) as the nutritional quality would be closer to what our stone age ancestors would have had available.

·  Wild-caught fish and seafood (salmon, haddock, trout, shellfish, shrimp, etc.)

·  Low carb vegetables (such as leafy greens, peppers, celery, asparagus, broccoli, cucumbers)

·  Pasture-raised eggs

·  Fruits (sometimes)

·  Tree nuts (only in moderation)

·  Raw cacao (high in polyphenol antioxidants)

·  Coconut milk

·  Organic green tea

·  Cold pressed avocado, coconut and olive oil

Foods not included in the Paleo Diet

·  Legumes

·  Grains

·  Starches (potatoes, corn, refined cereal, etc.)

·  Dairy

·  Alcohol

·  Sugar

·  Processed foods

·  Processed oils

Potential Benefits of a Paleo Diet

·  Fast weight loss

·  Improved blood markers (cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin)

·  Lower blood pressure

·  Reduced risk of chronic diseases

·  May benefit patients with type 2 diabetes

Potential Risks/Concerns of a Paleo Diet

·  Lack of energy (from carbohydrate restriction)

·  Vitamin and Mineral deficiencies (from legume and grain restriction)

·  Calcium deficiencies (from legume restriction)

·  Increased risk of chronic diseases (from legume and grain restriction)

·  Mental fatigue (from carbohydrate restriction)

·  Muscle loss (from carbohydrate restriction)

What’s The bottom line?

A well-formulated paleo diet may be beneficial for weight loss and improving overall nutritional health.  A major drawback may be the restriction of healthy legumes and grains in the diet, as well as other nutrient rich items like many fruits and vegetables.  Always seek the advice of a doctor and registered dietitian to determine if a paleo diet is good for you. 

In the long term, having a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and unprocessed foods, is easier to maintain and provides needed nutrients for optimal health.

Maybe Grab That Dark Chocolate the Next Time

It’s been widely publicized that dark chocolate may have the health benefit of reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and inflammation.  With so many chocolate lovers out there, this was some great news.  Justifying eating this wonderful treat because it’s actually healthy for you!

But, are there buts to it like anything else?  Thus, deflating you yet again and steering you away from something delicious?  Maybe, maybe not.

What’s Behind the Chocolate Hype

Chocolate is derived from the cocoa bean, which is rich in antioxidant flavonoids.  Foods with antioxidant properties are wonderful to hear about.  Talk about guilt free foods! 

Antioxidant is a very broad term that refers to hundreds of substances.  The ones of most notoriety are Vitamins A, C, and E, beta-carotene, selenium, lutein, lycopene and polyphenols.  These are found in familiar foods such as berries, nuts, and beans.  Antioxidants neutralize free radicals.  Free radicals are both a natural byproduct of normal processes in our body’s cells, and from those environmental toxins we come into contact with such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, and ultraviolet rays.  Our body’s cells naturally produce strong antioxidants, while the foods we eat supply others, such as those mentioned above.

Back to the Cocoa Bean

Remember, the cocoa bean was rich in flavonoids.  Flavonoids are a wonder of nature in that they are found only in plants, and help protect plants from those environmental toxins, fungi and microbes.  They also help the plant repair damage. 

Flavonoids have hit notoriety because of their possible medicinal use in fighting against certain types of cancers, atherosclerosis (build-up of plaque in the artery walls), and high cholesterol.  The main type of flavonoid in the cocoa bean are flavonols.  These flavonols contain antioxidant properties that may serve a role to improve blood flow and lower bad cholesterol (LDL).

Why Dark Chocolate over Milk Chocolate

Not all chocolate is created equally.  Cocoa is very pungent and bitter.  So, in order to make it taste good, most of the chocolates available on the U.S. grocery shelves are heavily processed.  The more heavily processed, the more flavonols are lost, and so it becomes just another unhealthy food to eat.

The silver lining is in the dark chocolate, and the darker the better.  It’s believed that more of the flavonols are retained during processing of dark chocolate than say, milk chocolate.  However, it all comes down to the manufacturing process, which we aren’t always privy to.  However, for now, dark chocolate appears to be the better health conscious choice.

So, when you feel you just have to treat yourself, a moderate amount of dark chocolate (one ounce) a few times a week may be a good choice.  This, along with those other flavonoid rich foods, such as berries, citrus fruits, and legumes, can round out your diet without the guilt.