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12 Days of Fitness 2018: Day 11 – What Does It Mean to be Healthy?

December 21, 2018 0 Comments

(This is part 11 of a 12 part series to provide you with some helpful health and fitness tips over the holiday season)

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘healthy’? Some may visualize a lean person perhaps with ripped abs or shapely muscles. Others conjure up images of perceived healthy foods, like broccoli, chicken, Greek yogurt, nuts, and kale. Now, let me ask another question. What comes to mind when you hear the term ‘unhealthy’? Do you visualize someone unkept and overweight? I think most of you would come up with a list of food that contains some or all of the following: fast food, carbs, trans fats, processed foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners, soda, etc. Regardless of what you pictured when you thought about each word, you are right… and wrong.

Understanding Context

I’m really not a fan of the terms healthy/unhealthy. More often than not they are used without proper context. Most times they are used as click-bait by editors in headlines to get you to read what they have to say. Instead I find it very important to understand not only what they mean, but also what they mean in the context in which they are used. The problem with words like ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy,’ is that they are thrown around with little thought given to context or understanding. They are used to scare or force you into making decisions without fully thinking it through.

Healthy Does Not Equal Fat Loss

One of the most common diet approaches when it comes to fat loss is just ‘eating healthy’. And while this approach is undertaken with the best of intentions, it often sets the dieter up for failure, for a number of reasons. The biggest one being that most people can’t agree on what eating healthy really is! The problem with labeling foods as healthy vs. unhealthy is that it forces people to see them as either good or bad. And that can create a dangerous relationship with food. When you limit what you can eat while dieting, you greatly increase the chances that the diet will fail. The more severely we restrict our food choices the greater stress we place on ourselves, and the harder the fat loss process will be. Yes we should limit our consumption of certain foods but notice I said limit, not eliminate. There is room in everyone’s diet for a reasonable amount of ‘unhealthy’ foods, even when fat loss is the goal. The important thing is not classifying foods as ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy,’ ‘good’ or ‘bad’; but rather being able to identify which foods you should limit, which ones you should eat more often, and which foods will move you closer to your goals.

The Huge Scam

Another problem is the big ‘health food’ push by food companies. They know that people are becoming more conscious about what they are putting in their bodies, and are producing new products as a response. But trust me, they do not have your best interests at heart. Large food companies know that a vast majority of the population fall into the trap of ‘Eat healthy, lose weight’. And they take advantage of this. For almost every food item available, there is at least one (if not more) ‘healthy’ alternative. And most, not all, aren’t that much different than the ‘unhealthy’ version. They usually will contain about the same amount of calories, less fat or carbs, more sodium, more sugar or artificial sweeteners, and of course, cost more. These companies bank on the fact that a majority of people don’t read food labels or serving sizes, and that they will see the fancy packaging with the words ‘Healthy,’ ‘Low-fat,’ ‘Low-carb,’ ‘All-Natural,’ or some other meaningless marketing nonsense and purchase it because its quote ‘better’ for them. More often than not, there’s nothing inherently wrong with these foods. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from purchasing them if that’s what they want. But what I don’t want are people purchasing them because they think it will help with fat loss. Because then you are just wasting your money.

Context (and Calories) Are King

When classifying foods, context is king. What better context to classify things other than calories?  ‘Healthy’ food, just like ‘unhealthy’ food, has calories. Regardless of what type of food you are eating, if you eat more calories than you burn, you will not lose fat. 3,000 calories from chicken, brown rice, nuts and yogurt is the same to the body from an energy-in standpoint as 3,000 calories from pizza, beer, and ice cream. It’s still 3,000 calories. No one would probably consider those first food options unhealthy but if your goal is fat loss and you are eating so much of these foods that you are gaining weight, would that really be ‘healthy’? A calorie is a calorie is a calorie, at least from an energy-in/energy-out point of view. You cannot lose fat if you are not in a caloric deficit, no matter how ‘healthy’ you are eating. If you are only burning 2,000 calories a day, but are consuming 3,000 from one of the options above, you will not lose fat; no matter which foods you are eating.

Quantity AND Quality

The quality of your food does play a role in reaching your fat loss goals and eating the right quantity of food will allow you to lose fat. But in order to have a well rounded diet; one that is rich in vitamins and minerals, that will help your body function properly, help you recover from workouts, and leaves you satiated and satisfied, it will have to mostly be made up of ‘healthy’, high quality foods. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for ‘unhealthy’ foods either. If you are flexible with your diet, work these things into your day, or a free meal, you can enjoy the occasional treat or indulgence if that’s what you want. And if you don’t enjoy these foods, or they don’t agree with you, then stick with the higher quality foods. There’s nothing wrong with either approach as long as at the end of the day, you are moving closer towards your goals. It’s about finding the right combination of moderation and balance. In the wrong amount any food, regardless of how you classify it, can be detrimental to your fat loss efforts. So know that if you are looking to lose fat, or struggling with your current efforts, just ‘eating healthy’ probably isn’t enough.

See you tomorrow for Day 12 and the conclusion of the 12 Days of Fitness

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

 

Just in case, here’s what you might have missed:

Day #1 – Weight Loss Once and For All
Day #2 – 10 Pieces of Equipment Everyone Needs to Work Out at Home
Day #3 – Are You Afraid of Eating Fruit?
Day #4 – Healthy Foods?
Day #5 – 21 Ways to Combat Emotional Eating
Day #6 – 8 Reasons Why Your Workout is Failing You
Day #7 – The Problem With Added Sugars
Day #8Dieting Made Simple
Day #9 – The Best Exercise You’re Probably Not Doing
Day #10 – Insulin and Insulin Resistance

About the Author:

Jeff Harrison is a fitness coach based in Pottstown, PA. He received a BS in Exercise and Sport Science from Penn State University and is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), NSCA Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) and ACE Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist (ACE-AHFS). Jeff's articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals as well as consumer oriented websites and magazines.

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