Recent research contradicts the practice of deprivation to achieve weight loss and health goals
There are six basic types of unprocessed whole foods:
- nuts, seeds and plant oils
- unprocessed meat and fish
- whole grains
Question: Which of these food types should you exclude from your diet if your goal is to maximize your health and fitness?
Answer: None! The surest way to achieve your health and fitness goals is to eat everything.
This doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your health and fitness goals if you are unable to eat a certain food type due to an allergy or intolerance, or if you choose to avoid a food type for moral or religious reasons. But in the absence of such factors, eating everything is the most reliable way to get where you want to go with your body.
Eating Everything Is Good for the Body
Each food type contributes to health and fitness in a different way. Everyone knows that fruits and vegetables are healthy, but did you know that, according to a 2012 study out of UCLA, people who eat the most whole grains have the lowest risk of developing Type 2 diabetes? Or that researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have reported that yogurt prevents long-term weight gain more effectively than any other specific food? Or that multiple studies have found that regular fish eaters have healthier brains?
Each type of unprocessed whole food makes a unique contribution to health and fitness on its own but, when eaten in combination, the six types are even more powerful. Proof of this comes from a 2014 study involving 424,000 older men and women. The study reported that those who ate all of the unprocessed whole food types most frequently were more than 20 percent less likely to die of heart disease, cancer, and other causes over a 15-year period compared to others.
A diverse and inclusive diet is especially important for runners and other athletes. In my experience as a sports nutritionist, athletes who try to eliminate grains from their diets often develop symptoms of overtraining syndrome due to inadequate carbohydrate intake. And every client who has ever come to me with iron deficiency anemia was a vegetarian. So if you do avoid grains or animal foods or any other food type for any reason, you need to be diligent about obtaining the nutrients those foods supply from alternative sources.
Eating Everything Is Good for the Mind
In addition to these purely physical reasons to eat everything, there are also psychological reasons. Popular diets that forbid their followers to consume one or more types of unprocessed whole foods foster an unhealthy fear- and guilt-based relationship with food that makes eating less fun, creates unnecessary stress around eating, and often leads to disordered eating.
Because of the psychological consequences that are associated with forbidding foods, I encourage athletes and others to include not only the six types of unprocessed whole foods in their diets, but also the four basic processed food types—refined grains, sweets, processed meats and fried foods—though in smaller amounts.
Trying to completely avoid such foods usually backfires. A 2015 study by researchers at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand found that people who associated chocolate cake with “guilt” actually had less healthy eating habits and were more likely to binge on junk food in times of stress than people who associated chocolate cake with “celebration.”
3 Tips to Make Eating Everything Work for You
Now, “eating everything” doesn’t mean “eating everything in sight” or “eating equal amounts of everything.” In order to practice omnivorous eating effectively, you need to adhere to these additional guidelines:
- Eat fruits and vegetables more often than you eat any other food types
- Eat refined grains, sweets, processed meats and fried foods less often than you eat any other food types
- Eat mindfully by having meals and snacks only when you are physically hungry, choosing sensible portion sizes, and putting the fork down when you are comfortably satisfied, not stuffed
Despite what you may hear from some popular diet gurus, eating everything is the natural way for humans to eat. Properly balancing the full spectrum of food types in your diet will deliver the results you seek for your body without sacrificing your mind.