As a health coach, I have had dozens of people provide me with their definitions of “healthy living” and “healthy eating”. Although they’ve made an appointment with me, these people are pretty sure they have most things health figured out and are proud to share the rules they have imposed on their kitchens. The problem is, the difference between good and bad eating habits isn’t aways black and white.
It’s easy to get caught up and confused by the overload of information about nutrition out there, especially because some of it is contradictory. Enchanted by the latest celebrity endorsement or buzzword of the day, well-intentioned dieters easily make misguided decisions, setting rules and restrictions based on good intentions but not actual science. Here are the health traps I see people fall into most often, habits that actually aren’t all that healthy in the long run.
1. The Fat Fearers
Yes, large amounts of saturated fats found in steaks and candy bars can increase your risk for cardiac events, but don’t forget the good fats! “Low-fat” products simply replace the fat with more chemicals and sugar and should be avoided in favor of full-fat options. It’s also smart to add in more healthy fats like those found in avocado, olive oil, and flax seeds to feel full and satisfied with each meal.
2. The Cheating Vegetarian/Vegan
No question that a plant-based diet is a safe bet for overall health. More and more people are experimenting with vegetarianism and veganism and that is wonderful! But did you know products like Oreos are vegan? A lot of new vegans do—and they’re filling up on them! The idea behind vegetarian and vegan diets is to have most all of your food sources come from natural fruits, veggies, beans, legumes, seeds, and good fats (with the occasional cookies of course!). Eating packaged junk like mac & cheese and veggie pizza means you avoid meat, but these diets don’t satisfy the plant-based foods requirement. To do this diet right, make one of our meat free recipes, like these delicious vegetarian stuffed peppers.
3. The Enforcer
Whether it’s going gluten-free, cleansing, or cutting out meat, some people jump at every chance to try something new. This is encouraged! There is no one way of eating suitable for everyone. But if you are trying something new and your body gives you negative feedback—listen! If you actively crave meat after weeks of being vegetarian, if you don’t feel less bloated or have higher energy after cutting out gluten, if that cleanse left you feeling totally depleted…this is all valuable information that you must honor. Find the middle ground where you feel at your best rather than forcing yourself to stick with one extreme but not quite right plan.
4. The Calorie Counter
This outdated method can still be helpful for those in their earliest stages of health awareness. Calories do matter, after all. But in the long run this habit can cause more damage than good. For a calorie counter, 200 calories of ice cream and 200 calories of a giant salad look exactly the same. It’s not always about how much you eat, but the quality of what you eat. So take calories into consideration when choosing what to eat, but also pay attention to things like fiber, fat, and protein content.
5. The Orthorexic
The newest red-flag of disordered eating is the orthorexic, or the person who will only eat something if it is 100% healthy, organic, non-GMO, etc., ALL the time. Like the other scenarios, this is a well-intentioned idea but eating this way makes it easy to lose sight of balance and stumble into an unhealthy obsession. Kale chips and organic farm-raised meat is great, but the occasional serving of chips and salsa won’t completely undermine the hard work you’ve put into your diet. Eat as healthy as you can when you can, then relax, indulge, and enjoy.
Ultimately, do your research and try out anything that appeals to you. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re not. Keep it simple and listen to your body to tell you what it takes to keep you feeling great.
June 2nd, 2014