Eating real foods is a habit worth making

Special to The Baltimore Sun
What habit is at the heart of successful dieting?

Nutritionists from the University of Maryland Medical System regularly contribute guest posts. The latest post is from Courtney Ferreira.

What if I told you there was a diet that was sustainable and right for everyone?

According to Merriam-Webster, the primary definition of diet is: "food and drink regularly provided or consumed" or "habitual nourishment."

However, when most people think of the term diet, the secondary definition is likely what comes to mind: "a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one's weight."

Society has become increasingly health conscious, evidenced by the constant slew of new weight loss diet trends: low fat, low carbohydrate, vegan, gluten-free, juicing, etc. Although these ways of eating may lead to success for some, they do not work for all. You may feel motivated to eat healthfully but the never-ending bombardment with the "latest and greatest" leads to confusion and frustration. What food is healthy? What diet, habitual or restrictive, can finally help you reach a healthy weight, be full of energy, and also be maintained long term?

The first step is to disregard the concept that a diet is a restricted way of eating. That approach to food and to your health is a set up for failure because you will always be tempted to break your diet for a food you love. You will find counting calories and food logging tedious. Instead, you should embrace the idea that a diet, your diet, is the habitual, healthful way that you eat every day. Someone with a diet that they stick to most days is one that leaves them feeling satisfied, lets them try new foods, and does not include rules or counting. What is the diet that can work for everyone?

The answer: real food.

Yale's Dr. David Katz and Stephanie Meller recently examined the current research for various diets including low carbohydrate, low fat, vegan, and Mediterranean, among others. Not surprisingly they found that none of the diets overwhelmingly improved health or induced weight loss. Rather, the unique benefits of each diet could be attributed to a prevalent theme: a diet consisting of minimally processed foods.

Their conclusions are logical. Diets that ask you to follow strict rules — counting, tracking, weighing, deleting — often fail because you give up and go back to your old ways. However, real food offers a way out of this restrictive and unsatisfying diet-binge cycle.

A processed food is one that comes in a box or package. In order to remain shelf stable these products are filled with sugar, sodium and chemicals. When you choose real food you naturally reduce your intake of added sugar because real, whole foods only have sugars that occur naturally, such as those in fruit. Decreasing your intake of sodium-laden foods leaves room to lightly salt your meals, as you like. Buying and eating real foods will free you from calorie counting and tracking. Real food will leave you satisfied and satiated at the end of a meal or snack.

Creating a real food lifestyle won't happen overnight. It is best to start with a small change and slowly add, constantly building up to a better, more healthful approach to eating. I suggest starting with breakfast. Forgo your cereal and skim milk. Instead, enjoy an egg (hard-boiled for easy travel), a slice of full fat cheese, and a piece of fruit. Your real food breakfast will give you energy and prevent a morning sugar crash. Additionally, a dozen eggs, in-season fruit, and a full fat block of cheese will be cheaper and last longer than a five dollar box of cereal. When a packaged food purchase is inevitable, look at the ingredient list and choose the product with ingredients that you would find in your own kitchen.

With small changes your habitual diet can be real food-based and support your health and weight in a way that no fad diet can.

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