“Should I have a protein shake after I workout, or before? ”
“What about rice? Is rice allowed?”
“Is hummus okay to eat?”
“I know fish is good for you, but I hate seafood. Should I eat it anyway?”
“Is it okay to eat cheese? What about bread and pasta?”
Do any of those questions sound familiar? Maybe you’ve asked one (or all) of them before.
So, what’s the best answer?
Maybe. Sometimes. It depends.
It might not be the answer you’re looking for, but it’s the truth nonetheless. Authenticity being my religion, this is the most authentic way I can answer these types of questions.
While at first it might not seem very illuminating, this response is unbelievably helpful. You see, I’m not in the business of telling you exactly what you can and can’t eat. I’m not in the business of writing meal plans, counting calories, and putting foods on the “bad” list.
I am in the business of educating you when it comes to food, empowering you to make you own choices, and teaching you sustainable eating habits for life.
Everyone is different, from food preferences to food sensitivities; there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to nutrition. There simply is no such thing as the “best diet of all time” —except, that is, the one that works for you.
So, rather than give you a generic list of foods to avoid (Ha! Tricked you!), I want to help you figure out what that means for you. Alas, this is going to require some thinking (sorry), experimenting, and introspecting on your part.
Like I said, I’m not going to tell you exactly what to eat and when to eat it. But I do hope that after reading this list of the five foods you should (almost) never eat, you’ll have a better idea of how to navigate your nutritional waters, and how to truly enrich your life through food.
1. Food that you don’t enjoy.
Food is sustenance, yes, but it’s also love. It’s pleasure, and enjoyment, and culinary rapture. Bottom line, whenever possible, it should taste damn good.
I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me that they hate fish (or chicken breast, or broccoli) but they just keep eating it anyway because they think it’s good for them.
This. Is. Madness.
Listen. If it doesn’t taste amazing, it ultimately isn’t good for you. Sure, it might have nutritional benefits, but so do a million other foods that you might actually enjoy. “Health food” isn’t just steamed asparagus and bland, dry chicken breast. You absolutely can play to your taste buds while still keeping your health, physique, and performance top of mind.
I’m not a big proponent of “food rules” but if there’s one you should follow, it’s this: Eat food that rocks your world.
2. Food that makes your tummy feel yucky.
Or your head. Or your joints. Or your skin. You get the idea.
For example, any time I eat cheese or ice cream I end up paying for it for days afterward. I get bloated, lethargic, and generally uncomfortable.
Through time, awareness, and patience I’ve learned to detect foods that, although I want to eat them, leave me feeling like garbage. I choose to avoid those foods 99% of the time because I don’t want to feel yucky–it’s as simple as that.
Whatever it is you’re hankering for, there’s almost always an alternative food that will satisfy your desire without giving you the tummy yuckies. Because at the end of the day, is it really worth it if it makes you feel horrible?
I do have one exception to this. That super special food that might leave you feeling yucky but just so happens to be your absolute favorite thing in the world—go for it. For me that magical food is New York-style pizza.
I love pizza just about as much as I love my husband and child, so I will have a slice (or two) about 5-10 times a year (usually only when I’m in NYC), and I’ve made my peace with the predictable outcome. I don’t feel guilty about it, and I’m prepared to deal with the consequences. When it comes to NYC pizza, I’ve decided that the benefits outweigh the costs.
When considering this type of occasional “special food” consumption, just make sure to keep it to a minimum (if at all) and go into it knowing that you won’t feel so hot later on.
3. Food that makes you feel guilty.
You know exactly what I’m talking about.
You spend all weekend eating brownies, ice cream, chips, fried chicken, pancakes, candy, tacos… and you wake up Monday morning with a massive food hangover and a guilty feeling that you just can’t seem to shake.
Then, of course, you punish yourself heavily for the next three days by eating an impossibly strict diet, exercising more, and promising never to do it again–only to repeat the cycle the following weekend.
Guilt over food effing sucks. That’s all there is to it.
It serves no purpose other than to shame you into eating more healthfully for a short period of time. It’s not a sustainable approach, and it will only lead to deeper self-esteem and body image issues.
If you have a weekend like the one I just described (and many of us have), learn from it and let it go. Resolve not to eat foods that make you feel so guilty, because after all, food should be amazing before and after. If you wind up feeling like crap about what you ate, was it really worth it?
4. Food that you just can’t stop eating.
I can’t tell you how many people I know who have relinquished their right to stock trail mix in their homes (myself included). I mean, seriously, can anybody just eat one serving of trail mix?
When we think about foods that we just can’t stop eating, it’s usually “addictive” foods such as chips, cookies, donuts, fries, and M&Ms. These are all foods that can actually alter your brain’s responses and condition you to crave more and more.
And it doesn’t just apply to junk food; we can have this same response to healthier foods as well.
Find yourself spooning almond butter out of the jar at an alarming rate? That isn’t the food for you right now. One handful of trail mix or dried cranberries turns into the entire bag? Get rid of that stuff right now.
5. Food that isn’t really food.
I get really, really aggressively pumped up about food politics. Watching food documentaries and reading stories about the food industry often brings me to tears—although to be fair it’s not very difficult to make me cry.
Still. The food industry makes me crazy.
High-fructose corn syrup isn’t food. Modified corn starch isn’t food. Artificial flavors and colors aren’t food. Proplyene glycol? Again, not food.
Yet big food industries put these ingredients and so many more into what they label as “food”—from bread, to yogurt, to canned soup. These ingredients are not there for your benefit.
They serve to save the company money, support another company, create an addiction on the part of the consumer, are cheaper and easier than using real ingredients, or unnaturally prolong the shelf life of the food product.
Check your labels, be vigilant, and absolutely refuse to consume food that isn’t really food. I promise you there is always an alternative—it might take a bit more time and commitment, but it exists and you’re worth it.
Of course, we can’t always avoid this issue, and for that matter we can’t realistically cut out these five food categories completely. Rather than stress out over it, here’s the key phrase I want you to absorb:
As often as possible.
As often as possible I want you to eat real food. As often as possible, I want you to think about how food makes you feel—both physically and emotionally—before you eat it. I want you to strive to eat food that comes from the earth, is sustainably raised, and isn’t part of a political initiative.
I want you to enjoy everything you eat, to allow it to nourish you and fuel you. I want you to appreciate food, to be aware of where it came from, and to discuss these things with your kids.
Eat food you love and that loves you right back. That’s what I want for you.