Thursday, 22 May 2014

Thursday thoughts: ditch the diet foods

Hi everyone!

Today I wanted to focus on beliefs that low calorie foods are best...and more importantly why that's not always the case!

For ages I was obsessed with low calorie foods. If it said low calorie, or low fat, then I thought it must be safe. In supermarkets I would stand for ages picking up various versions of the same product comparing which was lowest in calories, even if it was just 1 or 2 kcal. Food shopping was a sloooow experience!

For me, it was a numbers game. At my worst that number was 600kcal in a day, and there was no going over that without my day turning into a disaster. My uni notebooks were full of scribblings of sums where I'd plan what I was going to eat at what time, and how many calories it all added up to.

I wanted the highest volume of food I could get for my calories, rather than quality, and therefore I focussed on whatever foods provided me with the lowest calories. Plus, eating a food labelled as a "diet food" made me feel better in myself, like I was eating the option that represented a "good", "healthy" and "virtuous" person. So silly.

If I ever allowed myself bread, it would be white bread as it would have fewer calories than wholemeal. I ate Special K for breakfast. I went through a stage where my lunch would be a single packet of Maltesers so that I could get my chocolate fix but at low calories (as they were seen as the "lighter" chocolate bar). I became obsessed with Snack-a-Jacks and rice cakes because they were dubbed a diet food. A Mini Milk ice lolly would be dinner, again because it would be a low calorie way of pleasing my sweet tooth. If I ever had anything like houmous or cottage cheese it would have to be the low fat version, otherwise I'd walk away.

In my head it was the calories and lack of fat that dictated what my safe foods were. Never once did I think (or probably want to think) about the fact that what I was eating wasn't nourishing, and in fact harming my body.

By eating white bread I might have been saving myself 10 or 20 calories, but I was depriving my body of added fibre, and pumping it full of sugar. The fibre would have kept me fuller for longer, along with all the benefits of good digestion.

Often, when foods take the fat out to make them "low fat" they lose their taste. To replace this, they fill them with sugar. The image below shows that Special K Red Berries (a so-called "diet food") has basically the same amount of sugar in the same sized serving of Coco Pops! And there's no protein, no fibre - nothing to make it nutritionally appealing. Plus it has a whole heap of nasty ingredients. Compare that to the oats on the right (with just the one, healthy ingredient) and for a portion size over 50% bigger you've only added another 50 calories, but have cut the sugar down to 0, and increased your fibre and protein. Yet because oats weren't labelled a diet food and contained more calories per serving I felt guilty eating them.

Source A     Source B     Source C

This packet of 18 (really!? 18 is nothing!) Maltesers is not only full of rubbish but was 187 calories. I could have replaced it with this bowl of fruit, paired it with some protein, and felt more sustained, concentrated better in the afternoon, and gained more nutrients. And which looks more colourful and appealing to the senses?

Source A     Source B
OK, so Maltesers are not seen as a diet food, but were marketed as the choice for people who wanted a light chocolate bar. Therefore they what I chose to get my fix.

Often in order for a diet food to become low calorie they must strip the original food source of much of its original source as possible, and the bits that get chucked away often contain the nutrition. Think about eggs: often people get rid of the yolk to avoid the most calorie-dense part, yet that is the most nutrient dense part too!

All of that rubbish and minimal nutrients are going into our bodies in an aim to slim down and keep our calories below our "accepted" levels. However, what I never thought of was this:

If I'm not eating enough, then I'm not getting the necessary opportunities to give my body what it needs.

By depriving our bodies of food, we're depriving our bodies of the ESSENTIAL things that we need to survive.And as a a result our bodies cannot function like they should.

And you know what, fruit and veg are HEALTHY low calorie foods. In fact all "clean", minimally processed foods are generally pretty low in calories. But calories are not what is important here. What is important here is that we give our bodies what they need. And to get all of those nutrients and all of that energy that we need to function properly and GLOW we need to eat our recommended daily allowance of calories - there's no other option and we shouldn't want another option.

And if we don't get what we need, we damage not only our bodies, but our minds. Various vitamins and minerals affect our mood (hello chocolate - thank you for boosting our happy hormone serotonin!). As I found, B12 deficiency results in increased levels of low mood and anxiety, both things which will fuel negative self-thoughts and issues around eating. If you have disordered eating, or low body image, you HAVE to eat to help get better. Yes, there is a whole host of other things you need to recover, like additional help from a qualified therapist, but if you're not fuelling your mind and body properly, you will already be making your journey of recovery more difficult. And I know that's not what I want!

However food nourishes our minds in other ways: it brings people together round a dinner table, a chocolate bar or an ice cream can make our days, and the satisfaction of making a meal ourselves is so good! So remember we don't just have to eat 100% clean 100% of the time - that's leaving part of our brains unnourished!

So guys, ditch the diet foods, and remember that the main point of food and eating is to nourish our bodies and minds. So throw out the cardboard-tasting snacks and eat foods that you'll actually enjoy :)

Hope you all have lovely days!

E x

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