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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.