I’m fully aware that I’m fighting a losing battle with this one because most people would tell “Well, duh… Of course, you will lose weight if you stop eating ultra-processed foods.”
But I refuse to surrender. I believe you can lose weight without giving up ultra-processed foods. So, as always, let’s dive into the murky waters of literature.
When I say “ultra-processed foods,” I mean these foods—ones whose best-before date goes to a bazillion years into the future:
Lucky for me and my battle, Hall et al. (2021) investigated exactly that—will you lose weight if you stop eating ultra-processed foods:
They took 20 healthy subjects and said:
And that they did—subjects stayed in the clinic for 28 days.
They were randomly assigned to either the ultra-processed or unprocessed diet for 2 weeks followed immediately by the alternate diet for the final 2 weeks:
Subjects were given 3 daily meals and instructed to eat until the food was coming out their ears. Or as little as desired, of course.
Wanna guess what happened? Don’t bother. I’ll tell you.
Subjects ate on average 508 kcal/d more during the ultra-processed diet:
That’s over 7,000 extra calories over 2 weeks. This equates to 2 pounds of extra weight resting on your hips.
As a result, participants gained almost 2 pounds (~1 kg) of weight during the ultra-processed diet and LOST almost 2 pounds (~1 kg) during the unprocessed diet:
So my bad. I was wrong—if every day is a steaming shitstorm of chocolate, sausages, Oreos, and chips, be prepared to at best progress nowhere. If you want to lose weight, you will have to give up most of the less nutritious foods (not all though).
It’s not that ultra-processed foods are filled with calorie-stuffed mermaid farts or possess some magical fattening properties.
It’s just these foods often facilitate overeating1 because they’re typically high in calories, fat, and carbohydrates:
So if you wish to lose weight, you should limit the ultra-processed foods you eat.
Now, don’t make this mistake and start eliminating foods left and right. Lasting weight loss success doesn’t come from restricting your diet to a small number of ‘clean’ foods.
It comes from finding the moderate-middle. It comes from finding a way to INCLUDE a small amount of these ‘fun’ foods into your diet to keep deprivation at bay (the 1/2/3 method is a great start).
As I said in the can you eat sugar article, it’s okay to eat chocolate. And it’s okay to enjoy ice cream. It’s okay as long as….
Minimally processed whole foods make up most (80-90%) of your diet and ultra-processed foods make up a much smaller portion of your diet (10-20%).
So yes, ultra-processed foods are freakn tasty and almost impossible to stop eating. And for most people, it’s best to not keep them at home. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you’d have to fight temptations.
But at the same time, just because chocolate isn’t the healthiest food in the universe, it doesn’t mean that you have to strictly avoid it until the day you become worm food.
And if you want to make your diet less stressful and restrictive, and more enjoyable and rewarding, consider hiring me to coach you.
Thank you for listening to my TED Talk. Bye.