Thursday, October 18, 2012

Guest Post: The Hungry Runner

The grocery store is a very dangerous place. If you think about it, it's where we make or break our efforts at the gym. I often tell people to focus on the outskirts of the store rather than venturing into the aisles because it's within those aisles that we come across most of the "diet foods." You know, those  "low-fat" and "low-calorie" alternatives to things that are bad for you. Like the baked chips and the 100-calorie breakfast bars and the, know. You've no doubt purchased these things at least once in your life. And sure, they taste good, but are they good? Katie from The Hungry Runner takes a closer look.

"Diet foods": If you're trying to lose weight and look fit, you shouldn't be eating them. In fact, nobody should be eating them. (See also: Why Diets Don't Work). 

Labels that advertise their products as low-fat, sugar-free, and low-calorie should not be trusted. They'll never help you reach your goals, because while they might assist you in consuming less fat, or less sugar, or less calories, they're most likely only adding more highly processed chemicals and preservatives to your diet. And trust me, none of those things are doing anything to help your health. In fact they could be harming it and sneakily sabotaging your health and fitness goals.

When it comes to weight loss, monitoring daily caloric intake can be a useful tool to help move progress along smoothly. But what's even more important than paying attention to the number of calories you're eating, is taking into consideration the quality of the different foods you consume throughout the day.

It would be much harder to lose 10 pounds eating 1,500 calories of Arctic Zero low-calorie ice cream everyday than it would be to do so by eating a balanced diet of whole foods that will provide your body with all of the vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients it needs to function healthily and keep your metabolism running properly. I'm not saying it wouldn't be possible, but it would be much harder. Sure, eating only ice cream might sound appealing on paper, but think about how you'd feel. Probably not so great. Your motivation to keep up an exercise routine would probably dwindle, and your body would react to the lack of vitamins and minerals by making you feel sluggish and bogged down. Not an ideal state of mind for someone with serious health and fitness goals.

I specifically chose to mention Arctic Zero ice cream, because it was  recently featured on a segment of The Today Show titled, "Can you believe diet frozen dessert labels?

As part of the report, a team of scientists calculated how many calories were in several different diet dessert products, many of which have tons of health and weight loss claims on their labels. Arctic Zero's ice creams turned out to have 48-68% more calories than the nutrition labels claimed!

Not surprisingly, most of the other ice cream products also had more calories than their nutrition facts said. The worst part? Most of these companies can't even be penalized for this because the FDA says that it's OK for food labels to be as much as 20% off of the actual amount of calories in their products. This proves that tracking the quality of your food, rather than the quantity, can be much more beneficial because it's almost impossible to really know just how many calories you're eating everyday.

So all of this is pretty crazy, right? Diet foods are liars and you may have been eating 68% more calories of ice cream  than you actually thought. Absurd! But what's even more surprising to me is that The Today Show put together that entire investigative report, but never once took a look into what kinds of ingredients make up these bogus diet foods.

For example Skinny Cow's Chocolate and Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwiches (a popular product in the world of "diet desserts") boast about having only 140 calories and 1.5 grams of fat on the front of their label, yet the ingredient list on the back of the box is more than 30 items long and includes things like high fructose corn syrup, propylene glycol monostearate, microcrystalline cellulose, sodium carboxymethylcellulose, and a bunch of other things that sound like they were made in a lab and definitely not meant for the human body to consume.

Long story short, if you want to lose weight, be healthier, feel more fit -whatever it is your goals are- none of these foods can help you get there because they are made of crap. If you want to reach your fitness goals the right way, the only answer is clean, whole foods eating. Yes, you can have the occasional treat every now and then, but if you're eating diet desserts after dinner every single night of the week, you may need to re-evaluate your plan.

If you're like me and you just gotta have dessert at the end of the day, try fresh fruit or bake your own low-cal,  low-sugar baked goods instead.

Reading the ingredients of the products that you buy is so important . Maybe that bag of almonds has 14g of fat per serving, but that's 14g of healthy, complex fats that your body can use as energy. Which is much better than 5g of saturated fat in those seemingly healthy Special K Strawberry Meal Bars. Plus the only ingredient in the bag of almonds is ... Almonds! It would take me 20 minutes to try and figure out how to pronounce and then list all of the ingredients in the Special K bar.

Remember this: Eat whole foods as often as possible. Aim to buy products with short ingredient lists that only contain things you can pronounce and have heard of before. Follow these rules as closely as possible without completely depriving yourself (you can totally have a crazy-good, over-sized ice cream sandwich every once in a while), and you'll reach your health and fitness goals before you can even say diet foods are for dummies.


Question: What "diet" foods do you indulge in on occasion?

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