Do you tend to put your food in ‘good’ or ‘bad’ categories? In our last post, we talked about our need to stop looking at foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and setting ourselves up for success when it comes to eating by looking at foods as falling on a continuum of ‘Eat More,’ ‘Eat Some,’ or ‘Eat Less.’ Since we only got to the first two areas of the continuum, we’re taking a look at the last one, ‘Eat Less’ today. We’ll also look at how to put our continuum to practical use.
The ‘Eat More,’ ‘Eat Some,’ ‘Eat Less’ Continuum
As we talked about in Part One of Good Foods?, Bad Foods?, looking at foods on a continuum rather than as foods that are/are not allowed helps us get away from the “all or nothing” mindset that so often trips us up in our wellness journey. It can reduce some of the stress we can feel around our food choices, and give us a tool to make healthier choices most of the time (and not feel bad when we occasionally choose something less healthy).
We covered the ‘Eat More’ and ‘Eat Some’ areas of the continuum last week. This week, let’s take a look at the last part of our continuum, Eat Less.
The foods we may want to include as part of ‘Eat Less’ segment of our continuum are foods that don’t support our wellness goals. They may have more fat or calories, or they may have very little, if any, nutritional value.
That doesn’t mean they’re “bad” or that we can never eat them. It just means that we may want to eat fewer of the foods that fall on this area of our continuum.
Here are some foods we may want to include on this portion of our continuum:
These proteins are the ones that are higher in fat and/or more processed than the whole, minimally processed foods we want to eat most of the time.
The things we might want to eat less of are things like fried meats, fried chicken nuggets or wings, high-fat ground meat, processed deli meats or hot dogs, high-fat sausages, protein bars, things like Slim Jims, and high-mercury fish. If you’re wondering why protein bars is included here, it’s because many protein bars are little more than glorified candy bars. You’re much better off getting your protein from more unrefined sources, if possible.
The carbs we may want to include in our ‘Eat Less’ part of the continuum are those that are highly processed, have little-to-no nutritional value, and often contain lots of added sugar.
We may want to eat fewer of these types of foods: Cereal bars, fruit juices, flavored milk (and those lattes), canned, dried and pureed fruit with added sugar, pretzels, pastries, muffins, cake, cookies, crackers, soda, foods with more than 10 grams of added sugar, chips, French fries, etc.
A lot of these ultra-processed foods also contain a lot of fat, so it’s helpful to mindful of both the carbohydrate and fat content when we’re choosing these types of snacks.
These fats are the ones that may be high in saturated or trans fat, or are highly processed. As we know, saturated fats can raise our LDL (or bad) cholesterol. Trans fats are even worse, as they can both raise our LDL and lower our HDL (good) cholesterol. If you want to know if your food contains trans fats, just look for the words ‘partially hydrogenated.’
The fats we might want to include here would be things like bacon, breakfast sausage, butter, margarine, processed cheese, corn oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, marinades and dressings that contain these oils, fat-rich foods with more than 10 grams of added sugar, and shortening.
Remember, Eat Less Does Not Mean Never Eat
A lot of the foods we include here, especially the ones that are high-carbohydrate, high-fat combinations like pizza, pastries and donuts are highly palatable, which means we could very easily be tempted to overeat them. Since they’re also calorie-dense, we could end up eating a lot more calories than we want to if we’re not careful.
That doesn’t mean, however, that we can never have them. We just have to make conscious decisions about what and how much of these foods we want to eat.
As we talked about last week, labeling foods as ‘bad’ or making them completely off-limits, saying we can never eat them, may work for the short-term, but it can set us up for failure in the long-term. That’s why looking at the foods we eat on a continuum can be helpful.
So once we’ve designed our personal food continuum of ‘Eat More,’ ‘Eat Some,’ and eat less, how do we make sure we actually put it to use?
Let’s talk a little about a system for dealing with those foods that can be problematic for us.
Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light, Go!
One pretty simple way of dealing with this is a ‘traffic light’ system. If you think about a traffic light, what does the red light mean? Yep, you got it – stop. Yellow means proceed with caution, and green, of course, means go.
If we think about our ‘Eat More,’ ‘Eat Some,’ and ‘Eat Less’ as the green, yellow and red lights on a traffic light, we may find it easier to stick to eating those foods we want to eat more of and less of the ones we want to be much more cautious about eating.
Let’s look at our red light foods first.
These would be the foods we identified as needing to go on our ‘Eat Less’ area of our continuum. They may have landed there because they don’t support our goals, or perhaps because we always overeat them. You know — those foods that once you open the bag, you can’t stop eating until the whole thing is gone.
The other things that might be red light foods are those you’re allergic to or can’t digest easily.
Again, these aren’t necessarily things that you can never have, but they are things that you want to stop and think about before you eat them. The easiest way to deal with these types of food is not to have them in the house. That way, we’re not tempted to eat them when we get tired, hungry, or are just looking for a quick snack.
As an example, my Hubby and I choose not to keep ice cream in the house most of the time. It’s not so much that we have problems overeating it; it’s just that as long as it’s there, we’ll have a serving every night. If it wasn’t in the freezer, we usually wouldn’t even think about it.
So…. we just choose to go to our favorite ice cream place and get a single serving on those days we really want some ice cream.
Next, let’s look at our yellow light foods.
Our yellow light foods will likely fall on our ‘Eat Some’ area of our continuum. We may be able to eat them moderately most of the time, but run into problems when we’re feeling tired, hungry, angry, etc. They may also be those foods we can eat in moderation at a restaurant, but when we have lots of them around at home, we have trouble controlling ourselves around them.
To deal with these, we may want to buy them in smaller quantities, put them in a place that’s hard to see or reach, or just limit those foods to the ones we choose to eat when we go out.
Last, but certainly not least, let’s look at our green light foods.
Our green light foods are those foods we want to eat more of. These are the things that support our goals, give us more nutritional ‘bang for our buck’ and make our bodies (and our minds) feel good.
Most of our green light foods are going to be those whole or minimally-processed foods we have on our ‘Eat More’ part of our continuum. These are the ones we want to have plenty of, and we want to make it convenient to grab them and go.
Taking the time to actually construct our continuum and put it to use can help us make it easier to eat well and set us up for success with our goals. It may be a little time-consuming initially, but can save us time (and grief) in the long run.
How do you feel about the thought that there are no bad foods? Do you think using the combination of the continuum and the traffic light system could be helpful for you? Please share!
(1) The Essential Guide to Food for Health, Nutrition, and Fitness Coaches, www.precisionnutrition.com
(2) Weight Loss Specialist Course, National Academy of Sports Medicine, www.nasm.org