While teaching a Nutrition for Life course, I was extolling the virtues of almonds as a source of artery-friendly fats and essential nutrients. One woman cried out, “Aren’t they fattening ” This was the first word that was taught to me when as a young teen I began to battle with my weight — fattening. It was the number one enemy for those of us who spent most of our years dieting. The woman in the class was correct. Almonds are fattening. If you eat the whole bag of them! There are many foods, like almonds, that we think are bad for us because our mother’s taught us that they were fattening.
I would like to put this word in its proper perspective. If your goal is to optimize your health, maintain a healthy weight, feel better, look better, have more energy and perhaps have a shot at resisting disease, coming to terms with this word will be to your benefit. How about foods that contain a tremendous amount of good-for-you components When taken in moderation, the health benefits outweigh any concern about these foods making you fat. For example:
- Nuts and nut butters
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
A much better consideration than to ask if something is fattening is to ask if it is nutritious. Some foods, like avocado, are calorie-rich and nutrient-dense. These foods are good for you, but you still don’t get to pig out on them.
There are certain foods that contain more calories and fat than other foods. For example if you eat ice cream by the pint on a daily basis, you might not like the size of your waist after a week of this behavior. However, the only time ice cream is “fattening” is when you eat too much of it, at the wrong times, and under the wrong circumstances. Would you like to know how to eat ice cream and not get fat?
The problem with the word “fattening” is that it requires a context to have any meaning. Food does not make us fat. What makes us fat is what we choose to eat, when we choose to eat it, how much we choose to eat it, and how often we choose to eat it. For example, instead of saying that cupcakes are fattening, how about if we reclaim our control over what we eat? This means putting ourselves in charge, rather than giving authority to food over us. The whole idea that food makes us anything, to me, gives way too much power to those items. In fact, you can eat a cupcake and maintain a slender, energetic body. You just have to know when, where, and how to eat it.
There is a category of food called the “deadly whites”. This means food that is loaded with calories and void of nutrition. It is inferior fuel for sustained energy and inadequate for providing nourishment to our cells. Food like pancakes, bread, cookies, cake, candy, rice, tortillas, pasta that are prepared with processed flour and loaded with sugar do not a sound approach to optimal health make. Therefore, if you want to feel and look your best, by extension, you would not select these foods to sustain you. You wouldn’t put soda pop in your car for fuel. Why would you put it in your body?
Here are four specific strategies you can employ for enjoying these unhealthy foods on occasion.
- You first must know yourself well. If you cannot stop after one cookie or one cupcake, and find yourself going out of control, you must get a handle on your carbohydrate habit before you attempt to negotiate successfully with foods like this. Going cold turkey might be a necessity. (The full extent of creating an entire new approach to food is beyond the scope of this article. I can help you design a plan that you can work with.)
- Simple carbohydrates, like the processed flour and sugar found in desserts, pasta, and breads cause a rapid rise in blood sugar. If you have a very small portion of a sweet treat when there is other food in your stomach — in particular, foods that are good for you (veggies, fish, beans, cottage cheese, eggs) — there will be less of a spike to your blood sugar than if you ate that sweet treat on its own. If you have a small piece of dark chocolate when the fiber from your green salad at dinner is already in your stomach, this too will slow down the rise in blood sugar.
- If you take in enough food so that you are stuffed, and if you do this on a regular basis, you will put on weight. This is why mindful eating is so important. There is a world of difference between sharing a cupcake after a well-balance meal, versus eating the entire batch. This is a good example of rethinking whether or not cupcakes are fattening. Who is in charge of your body? You or the cupcake
- Sweet treats should be the exception to what you select to nourish yourself. Our cells get nourishment from the food we select. If our diet is rich in phytonutrients, antioxidants, artery-friendly fats, complex carbohydrates, quality supplements — also known as “nutritious dense” — then our cells are heartier. The heartier your cells, the less at risk you are when you introduce an occasional sweet treat. On the contrary, if you try to live off of foods that are better relegated to be the exception rather than the rule, you might find yourself off course from creating a healthy, lean, and energetic body.
You don’t have to be perfect to get great results. Focus on doing your best and make peace with your results. Move toward your goals rather than focusing on your mistake. There is nothing that you cannot eat on occasion. However, when you get clear on the benefits to you of making pro-health choices, so much of the effort and struggle can drop away. This can be much easier than you ever imagined. Make food an ally in your commitment for optimal health and maintaining your ideal weight.
With love and encouragement,
Board Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach
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