Most diets have a laundry list of foods you can or cannot have and, as a recovering serial dieter, I had to admit my food fears and address whether avoidance of certain foods is justified. Many of these avoidance habits were picked up from the fad diets found in supermarket magazines claiming to have the magical formula for “Losing 2 dress sizes before Memorial Day!” With years and years of dieting, we add new items to growing lists of what not to eat and never take the old ones off that list. After avoiding anything with taste to drop a few dress sizes with little to no success, I now realize everything I missed out on by banning certain foods from entering my mouth.
Fruit: Weight Watchers devotees often avoid fruit since it has points. For years the only fruit I consumed were the wedges of lime and maraschino cherries in my happy hour cocktails. With the large number of people on the Atkins diet and Weight Watchers I am surprised we do not have a rampant scurvy outbreak in the United States. After the nearly decade long fruit hiatus it was actually difficult to bring myself to eat even the smallest apple for fear the high sugar content would make me fat. When I confessed this issue to my health coach she pointed out how hard pressed I would be to find one person on this planet suffering from obesity because of their fruit consumption habits.
Granola: It never dawned on me that granola must be good for you otherwise the healthy granola heads of Colorado and Oregon would have a different nickname. Granola is higher in calories, fat and sugar than other breakfast options like Special K or a breakfast bar so it never made a rotation in my diet. Upon the encouragement of a nutritionist I introduced granola into my morning routine and saw amazing results. Unlike cereals puffed with air, granola is not only tasty but managed to keep my tummy from growling well past 10:30 in the morning.
Yogurt: Through the years I have consumed plenty of the tasteless, fat-free garbage with an almost gel like consistency but avoided “real-deal” yogurt. Eating nasty diet yogurt was not done for eating enjoyment, but simply out of dairy and enzyme needs. Real, creamy yogurt is a rich and beautiful thing full of flavor, incredibly filling and satisfying. My personal favorite is Stonefield Farms Vanilla, although their plain yogurt with crunchy granola is perfect for breakfast or dessert. The combination of granola and yogurt is so filling the clock tells me it is time for lunch, not my stomach.
Eggs: The jury keeps changing their ruling on eggs, some studies they are good and others they should be avoided more than a pit bull in heat. Since there is a bit of truth to any study eggs demonstrate how important it is to enjoy a bit of everything in moderation to get the health benefits of the item while limiting the risks.
Regular Bread: Through the years bread became nothing more then a cold cut delivery mechanism. Only on special occasions did I enjoy good bread with any hint of flavor. Most of the time “lite” cardboard like slices were the only baked good passing through my lips; low in calories, carbs and flavor. When I did have good bread I often over-indulged which led me to believe I couldn’t be trusted in a bakery. Food should be savored and enjoyed, not just stomached and there is really nothing enjoyable about lite bread. The smell of bread from our oven or local bakery now fills our home and it is possible to enjoy a single slice of good bread without going over the top when it is no longer forbidden fruit.
Oils: Any person “watching their fats” avoided fatty foods like salmon, nuts, and bottled oils for years. The concept of good fats and bad fats was either undiscovered or unadvertised and the message in magazines and many health journals was loud and clear; all fats are bad fats. We now know that “good-cholesterol,” clinically known as HDL, controls bad cholesterol to maintain healthy levels. Salmon is an essential food in delivering fatty acids crucial in raising good cholesterol which is necessary to fight bad cholesterol. Salmon also provides a huge range of health benefits beyond the heart healthy including brain, skin and joint functioning. The one thing to look out for is farmed salmon; wild caught salmon is healthier. Medical reports claim that people who eat nuts are less likely to develop diabetes than those who don’t. Studies worldwide indicate that cultures with diets rich in healthy oils like Olive or Safflower enjoy greater longevity (and are probably happier since they get to eat Olive Oil!). Avocadoes are another food that diet aficionados would never dream of eating, I heard so many times at Weight Watchers how people would not touch guacamole because of how fatty it was. Eat up everyone, avocados might be high in fat but it is the good monounsaturated fat. Avocadoes also deliver more potassium than a banana, are an excellent source of vitamin B and have more fiber than any other fruit, beats taking Metamucil. Without fat skin dries up and hair falls out; carrying a little extra fat is certainly prettier than those options.
Cheese: Wine and Cheese, Cheesy Pizza, Grilled Cheese, Cheese Omelets, Crackers and Cheese, Cheese Steaks, Queso Dip; the list of yummy things made of or with cheese goes on and on and on. If you have ever attempted to include fat free cheese in your diet you discovered it is made of some strange rubbery material that tastes like crap and doesn’t actually melt. I tried and tried to convince myself that this was a necessary substitute for the battle of the bulge but each package of fat free singles felt tasted more dreadful than divine. The true test came when Luna, my dog who would sell her soul and toys for Tillamook Cheddar, spit out the Kraft Free cheddar after performing a trick. If a dog spitting something out is not evidence enough that something tastes bad then I don’t know what is.
Ice Cream: Does anything say summer more than a soft serve ice cream cone? Ice Cream is a major player in food substitution marketing. You want nothing more then a Blizzard but instead get some low-fat or no fat substitute from your local grocer’s freezer, momentarily tricking your brain into thinking it actually got some ice cream. Hours later it becomes impossible to resist the thing you wanted in the first place and rather then just having one real ice cream treat in your stomach you actually have a full box of the fake ice cream AND the real stuff. Cookies also fall into this bad substitution scenario. One cookie from Mrs. Field’s oozing with warm chocolate chips is a lot better than a full box of snackwells.
Regular Beer: Drinking light beer is basically resigning yourself to give up on flavor and taste in return for a slight buzz. It is possible to get used to light beer, and many people claim they cannot taste the difference but this is delusional at best; good beer is far superior to its watered down cousin. After Amstel Light, my skinny beer of choice, started giving me unexplainable headaches I started drinking regular beer again and was reminded of the beauty of a good beer on a warm summer day. A few okay tasting light beers like Sam Adams are found in my fridge, but these are reserved for consuming later in the night when taste buds disappear anyway.
Chocolate: Yeah, right. Like I ever tried to give up chocolate.
Potato Chips: This could be the one item I should avoid but life would be dim and no longer worth living. The crisp, saltiness of a good potato chip is one of the most simple and beautiful food pleasures around. My problem with potato chips sounds much like a Lays commercial; I cannot eat just one. Often I snap awake from a binge coma to find my hands layered in greasy crumbs at the bottom of an empty bag. Sure I could just avoid the temptation all together, but we all need our vices, don’t we?
Moderation is the key to enjoying anything and everything your heart desires. Obviously if you have a food allergy or other health issue there are times when foods should be abolished from the menu, but otherwise eat up and stop feeling guilty about eating fun and fabulous foods. Variety is the spice of life; if your mouth is bored then chances are you’ll be cheating on any healthier lifestyle you choose.