"A Paleo lifestyle can save your life."
"Red meat will give you heart disease."
"A plant-based diet will help you live longer."
"A vegan diet lacks vital nutrients."
"Whole grains are wholesome."
"Eating wheat leads to bloating and inflammation."
If you follow any health related series, you're going to come up against at least some of this vastly conflicting nutritional advice - all of which claims to be backed up by science! That can't all be right, you think.
And you'd be right.
Part of the curriculum in my medical school covered statistics and it was in those classes that I understood some of the reasons for all of the confusing, apparently contradictory information in health and wellness. When you add in factors such as bias (gasp!), low study numbers, lack of randomization, and -let's face it - manipulating numbers, many studies can have conclusions that purely serve the purpose of the organization funding the research.
Remember the fairly recent ad campaign citing research supporting the use of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)? That research was funded by soda and beverage corporations - yes, the same ones who use HFCS in their products and stand to benefit from their consumption!
Biased vs impartial - your call.
Let me step off my soapbox, though, and get into the real purpose of this article.
So, no big surprise: yes, what you eat does matter. But with so much conflicting information and biased science out there, how do you even begin ti know how to "eat healthy?"
Well, let's start with some basics. Much research on all health fronts confirms that heavily processed foods - pastries, sodas, cookies, chips, luncheon meats, alcohol - should be limited if you want to optimize your health.
But let's not kid ourselves. We already know junk food is awful. We know we're not supposed to gorge on it. We know it contains excessive calories, preservatives, artificial flavors and dyes. Yet we eat it anyway.
Why do we do this to ourselves? How does the satisfaction we get downing a large order of crispy hash browns and a vanilla milk shake override our rational decision making? Why is it SO difficult to stay away from certain foods you know are not good for you?
Let me give you a hint: Lays really was on to something with their potato chips campaign.
Something I have garnered in my years of practice: the first thing I suggest when someone has weight to lose is for them to eliminate sweetened drinks. Why? Sugar and HFCS - especially in liquid form such as sodas and sweetened juices and teas - are usually consumed in addition to a regular diet which, in westernized countries, more than likely already has a more than adequate number of calories.
Those added sugar calories not only tend to cause you to pack on the extra pounds, but can cause metabolic changes such as insulin resistance that make it even more difficult to lose weight and maintain health.
Does this mean that all sugar has to be avoided like the plague? Not necessarily. If you can have an occasional sugary treat - think dark chocolate, NOT donuts - without wanting to consume an inordinate amount, then by all means, indulge.
But here's where that, "Bet you can't eat just one" campaign was really speaking truth. There are certain foods that have higher taste appeal - and these can totally sabotage your best plans.
For me, it's white rice. Doesn't matter how it's presented - steamed, fried rice, sushi - I know that one serving usually leads to wanting more, sometimes for days afterwards. So I avoid it for the most part, not because it has any specific harmful effects on me, but because I don't want to feel out of control.
There's even a name for that type of eating when done in the extreme: hedonistic hunger or hyperphagia, when you eat for the sheer pleasure of eating, despite not being hungry.
Yet, even if you have a normal level attachment to food and you’re following the general best practices of avoiding heavily processed foods, there’s still a lot of conflicting information out there related to nutrition—and it can feel impossible to determine the right course of action for your own life.
When you're ready to stop searching for the "best" advice and start knowing what's best for you, join us in Transformation, our year-long health and wellness intensive.
Witt AA, Lowe MR (2014). "Hedonic Hunger and Binge Eating Among Women with Eating Disorders". Int J Eat Disord. 47 (3): 273–80. doi:10.1002/eat.22171.
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