As a personal trainer and wellness coach, I get asked a lot about nutrition.
Some of the more popular questions I’m asked include:
“What type of protein bars are the best?”
“What’s better to have for breakfast, protein or carbs?”
“Do you think dairy is really that bad for you?”
“Is it bad to eat after 8pm?”
“What are your thoughts on juice cleanses?’
Here’s the thing: I never have a straight answer for questions like these. That might feel frustrating at first, but my clients quickly realize from working with me that these topics aren’t always so cut and dry or black and white.
For example, if someone asks me what protein bars are the best, I’ll usually respond with something like:
“It depends. The best for what? Are you asking what MY favorite protein bar is? Are you looking for a bar with the least amount of calories? Lowest sugar content? Highest in protein? One that uses all real ingredients that you can pronounce?”
Answering like this makes my clients think about what’s really important to them as individuals when it comes to nutrition, rather than just randomly labeling something as good or bad or better or worse with absolutely no meaning behind it.
Recently, I had a client ask me if there were any kinds of foods that I don’t eat. When I thought about it, my mind went straight to the foods that I simply just don’t like. I started rattling off all the things on my “ew, gross” list (olives, licorice, fennel, etc.) when my client interrupted me and said:
“No, I mean are there any foods that you won’t ever eat because they just aren’t good for you?”
I thought carefully about my answer before responding.
“There’s nothing I avoid all together because it falls into an unhealthy food label. I eat treats like pizza and chocolate and cheese and crackers when I want them, and I try to eat them mindfully and in moderation. However, there are certain foods that don’t have as much nutritional value as others that I choose not to eat because I either a) don’t enjoy them that much, or b) they make me feel yucky. For example, white pasta is just something that’s not as worth it to me. I don’t like it enough.”
In my wellness coaching practice, I don’t just hand clients the answers. I don’t tell them what they can or can’t eat. I don’t preach calorie counting or tell them what’s allowed or not allowed. I don’t say that something is bad. And I will never, ever give somebody a list of foods considered off-limits. No way.
Instead, I’m trained to ask the right questions that will guide clients to come up with the answers for themselves. And as it pertains to nutrition specifically, I coach my clients to think about their own personal food insensitivities and/or intolerances, their taste preferences, and why they are asking me a particular question in the first place.
But! If a client reaaaaallllly wanted me to hand them a list of foods to stay away from for optimal nutrition, here’s what I would say. 😉
The 3 Types of Food to Avoid for Healthy Eating
1. Foods You Don’t Like
I will never understand the thought process behind anyone on a diet that requires eating foods that taste like cardboard. If a meal plan asks you to eat straight up lettuce with a drizzle of lemon on it, PLEASE run in the other direction. I don’t know about you, but nothing about that sounds even a little bit exciting to me. Where’s the flavor? Protein? Crunch? Color? Fun? Oy.
For me, actually liking how I eat is a non-negotiable and precisely how I am able to sustain my healthy eating habits for the long-term.
Now when I say I like how I eat, I’m not talking about eating pizza for every meal! I’m all for indulging mindfully, but I’m talking about making sure I feel excited to eat the nutritious stuff too. You won’t find plain chicken breasts or steamed veggies over here because those things bring ZERO satisfaction factor to the table for me, and I could never sustain that way of eating forever.
That said, figure out what nutritious foods are more enjoyable to you than others. Hate broccoli, but love spinach? Don’t force the damn broccoli! Listen to your taste buds. There are plenty of options out there, so don’t force something just because “they” say it’s good for you. Eat the healthy stuff you like. Leave what you don’t. Easy as that.
2. Foods That Aren’t Worth it To You
This is one that often comes up for social situations with a lot of munchies, finger foods, and desserts around. Before indulging, think about whether what you are taking is actually something you enjoy (a take it) or if it’s something you are reaching for because it’s there (a leave it).
To help you assess this, use a tool that I call the Satisfaction Scale. Where does the food fall on a scale of 1-10?
1 is MEH, not worth it at all, no satisfaction factor, you could definitely leave it behind. The things on the lower end of the spectrum are the things that normally frustrate you when you do overeat them because they generally are never that worth it to you, they taste pretty disappointing, and/or they promote feelings of guilt or shame afterward.
Meh for me = potatoes and potato based items, store-bought desserts, starchy sides, fried stuff, ice cream, sugary cocktails, white pasta, etc. I technically LIKE all these things, but… meh.
10 represents your conscious indulgences. The stuff that you actually look forward to eating, is much more satisfying, and therefore more of a yessss!
Yessss for me = wine, craft beer, cheese, chips and guac, pizza, certain homemade desserts, fatty meats, traditional Greek dishes.
Thinking about this ahead of time usually helps me remember what’s not that thrilling in the moment because “oh yeah, that’s on my meh list.”
3. Foods That Don’t Make You Feel Good
Food should make you feel good before, during, and after you eat them, both physically and mentally. We covered the mentally category with the two types of foods above, but as for physically, the things you eat really shouldn’t make your stomach hurt all the time, give you headaches, make you break out, cause inflammation, etc.
If your food causes undesirable outcomes, what’s the point? I think this is why I really don’t love ice cream that much, except for a small cone here or there during the summer. It leaves me feeling really bloated and uncomfortable! I simply prefer eating foods that promote the health and performance of my body, not ones that leave me feeling lethargic and gross.
Of course there will always be exceptions for the three categories above. It’s unrealistic to think that we’ll NEVER eat something that not worth it to us. However, if you get in the habit of really thinking about whether a food is something you even like, whether it’s worth it to you, and how it makes you feel, you’ll be better equipped to answer your own questions about whether or not it’s “okay” to eat something.
I believe that how we fuel our bodies truly affects how we feel, how we perform at work, and what we’re able to accomplish in the gym. We just have to weed through all the information overload out there and figure out what our own bodies need the most.
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