Why are there so many people failing to lose and maintain weight loss? Simple: Because they focus on excluding foods that aren’t high in micronutrients aka “bad” foods instead of including foods high in micronutrients.

When people decide to lose weight they do what any sane person would do:

Google → the most popular diets + the best before and after pictures = start eliminating “bad/dirty/unhealthy” foods left and right from their diets.

Think of any popular diet and it will be based on the exclusion of particular “bad” foods or “fattening” macronutrients:

Keto reduces carbohydrate intake to no more than 50g/day for no reason at all. Paleo excludes dairy products, legumes, & grains based on prehistoric speculation. Carnivore excludes vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds, legumes, & nuts 'cos carnivore folks are nuts. Alkaline excludes wheat, pasta, meat, fish, dairy, tea, coffee, sugar, alcohol, etc. because… reasons?

The problem is that this “exclusive” mindset leads to a rigid diet of only “good/clean/healthy” foods which can then lead to developing an unhealthy relationship with food. In research, rigid dieting is highly associated with eating disorder symptoms. The 2002 study found that:

“Individuals who engage in rigid dieting strategies reported symptoms of an eating disorder, mood disturbances, and excessive concern with body size/shape.”

So a steady diet of a stupid kale and chicken breast is probably an epic clusterfuck. On the other hand, the researchers also found that flexible dietary restraint based on the “inclusive” mindset is associated with people who lose weight and stay sane while doing so:

“Flexible dieting strategies were not highly associated with BMI, eating disorder symptoms, mood disturbances, or concerns with body size.”

As opposed to trying to exclude the “bad/dirty/unhealthy” foods you would be better off approaching nutrition with the goal of being inclusive because you are not doing yourself any favors by eliminating wheat, gluten, bread, carbs… from your diet. It’s just unnecessary because as Sareen S. Gropper wrote in Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism book,

“As food fads come and go, history has shown that no single food can make a person healthy or cure disease.”

So instead of telling yourself “I can’t have it,” tell yourself, “Screw that Instagram dude with fucked-up keto ideas. I can have whatever I want as long as I include a shitload of nutritious foods in my diet first.” As Andrea Valdez, Andy Morgan, and Eric Helms observed in their book,

It’s not that we need to remove them (“bad” foods) entirely; it’s that we need to make sure that we have included the “healthy foods” first to ensure our bodies are nourished and taken care of. After that, feel free to have the “bad foods” (which really aren’t bad at all) in moderation as this will improve your flexibility and therefore your consistency. By allowing yourself to diet while consuming a wider range of foods that might include “treats” in moderation, you will feel more normal, have more flexibility, less restriction, and ultimately more long-term adherence and success.

The “inclusive” mindset is more than just about the nutritious foods you are adding. It’s also about ditching an avoidance mindset which often leads to an all-or-nothing mindset where you eat that one “bad” food and all of sudden you feel like you have ruined your progress. If you stop eating carbohydrates cuz keto is awesome [sarcasm font] but it negatively impacts your mental health and social life, is that really a “healthy” diet?

So instead of excluding these from your diet:

carbs, gluten, fructose, sugar, bread, processed foods

Start including these:

lean protein sources, fruits, veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy, water
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Once those are taken care of, give yourself permission to eat a goddamn cookie any time you want. Because fuck it, why not? No food in isolation is “good” or “bad.” It’s your entire diet that can be “good” or “bad.” Conducive for weight loss or not.

Healthy nutrition is undoubtedly an important aspect of physical health but also consider your mental health. If that magic weight loss diet you googled says you have to exclude gluten, starches, wheat, “processed” foods, red meat, fruits, etc., how long do you think you will sustain it until you go off track and binge on more donuts than Pablo Escobar trafficked cocaine?

I have seen it time and time again, where following a very rigid diet based on exclusion results in worse mental health outcomes. This is why I want my clients to be flexible with their diets and choose something to eat or not to eat out of personal preference rather than food fear.

Embrace flexibility. Embrace the “inclusive” mindset. And issue a critical fuck you to the “exclusive” mindset.


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Originally published by me on Medium on April 25, 2022

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