Feeling a bit confused about “Good" vs. "Bad” foods for fat loss? In this article, you learn why good and bad foods don’t exist and how to actually decide which foods are best for your fat loss goals
Has someone ever tried to convince you that certain foods are "good" and "bad" for your health and fat loss goals?
Are your Instagram and Pinterest feeds bombarded with graphics of "The 5 Best Belly Fat Fighting Foods!" or "10 Foods That Give You Love Handles?”
Well, I'm here to tell you what's really going on. That the whole good/clean/fat-burning food vs. bad/dirty/fat-promoting food debate?
Total Crap. 100% Doggy doo-doo 💩
It's entirely possible to eat "clean" foods and gain weight just as it's possible to lose weight eating "dirty" foods.
In this article, you'll learn:
- The Trouble With Labeling Foods as "Good" and "Bad"
- The ONE Situation Where a Food May Be Bad For You
- The Three Food Characteristics That Actually Matter
- How To Use These Three Characteristics To Lose Fat & Stay Lean Forever
The Trouble With Labeling Foods as "Good" and "Bad"
There are a couple of issues that come with thinking that different foods as good and bad for your health and fat loss. As you'll see, not only is it unscientific, but it can easily lead to an unhealthy mental relationship with food and possibly cause you to gain weight...
There's no master list of good & bad foods
Perhaps the biggest problem in the good vs. bad food debate is how different nutrition camps have radically different opinions on what constitutes a good and bad food are good
If you're Low-Carb, then bread, rice, pasta, and fruits are considered "bad" fat-promoting foods while things like eggs, steak, and coconut oil are considered "good" fat-burning foods.
On the other hand, if you're Vegan, then animal meat, dairy products, and added fats are deemed evil whereas bread, rice, beans, pasta, and fruit are considered the healthiest foods on Earth!
We're just two diet camps in and the whole "Good Food; Bad Food" discussion is already getting confusing!
I don't know about you, but It seems ridiculous to me that the same exact food is either praised or demonized depending on where you're getting your diet advice from...
Vegetarians praise beans as being a healthy & high-fiber food while Paleo folks warn about the dangers of beans blocking the absorption of vital nutrients.
Low-Fat enthusiasts say that butter is nothing more than a packaged stick of heart disease while Ketogenic warriors laugh as they stir another stick of Kerrygold into their morning coffee...
All this disagreement can leave you wondering.... who the heck is right?
Who you're supposed to believe? (keep reading, because I think you'll like the answer I have for you 🙂)
The "Simple Fix"
Another problem comes in thinking that the mere act of adding or removing a particular food from your diet will singlehandedly lead to weight loss.
Unfortunately, weight loss isn't that simple, and there is no clear or even somewhat convincing evidence that one food will cause more fat gain than another when calories are the same...
What we DO know is this: losing weight comes down to calories in vs. calories out.
You could eat a diet of twinkies and packaged goods and lose weight as long as you took in few enough calories.
Likewise, you could stuff your face with healthy whole foods and get fat if you end up consuming too many calories. Especially if you're throwing down calorie-heavy whole foods like avocados and nuts, which have roughly 200 calories per serving!
It creates an unhealthy relationship with food
When we identify a certain food as being "good" or better than other foods, it can often create a psychological phenomenon known as a health halo effect.
The health halo effect refers to the act of overestimating the healthfulness of food based on a single claim, such as being low in calories or low in fat. As a result, we tend to let our hair down and forget about portions when we eat them.
Over time, this can lead to overconsumption of calories, and a brand new set of fat-filled love handles resting on our hips.
Things can get ugly on the other end, too...
When we categorize a food as being "bad" for us, we often try to restrict or eliminate it from our diet entirely.
The problem? The foods we categorize as being bad are usually the same foods that we crave the most, and we struggle to control ourselves when they're around.
You see, you can only restrict and resist your temptation for so long.
There will inevitably come a point when your willpower gets depleted, and you can't hold out any longer.
So you give in one night and have the cookie.
The good news? One cookie won't do much, if any harm. The bad news? Because of the all or nothing mindset we have towards that "bad" food, we end up devouring the entire box and thousands of additional calories.
We go to bed guilty and wake up heavier the next day which feeds the belief of cookies being a "bad" food.
The reality? A small slip up that results in a few hundred extra calories to your diet won't cause much of any harm. It's when those few hundred calories turn into thousands of calories that the fat starts piling on.
The ONE exception when foods might be bad for you
The only time specific foods should be avoided is if you have a preexisting condition that causes an adverse reaction.
For example, if you have Celiac Disease, then you should be avoiding foods containing gluten. If you have a dairy allergy, then it's probably best to avoid milk, cheese, and other dairy products.
The Three Characteristics of Food That Actually Matter
Assuming you've accounted for any allergy or intolerances, there are really just three food characteristics that matter to your health and fitness goals:
- Calorie Density
- Nutrient Density
- Macronutrient Distribution
Calorie Density compares the calorie to weight ratio of a particular food. Foods such as cookies and chocolate tend to have high-calorie densities whereas foods like watermelon and spinach have low-calories densities.
Nutrient Density compares the number of vitamins, minerals, and fiber in a food to its total calories. Fruits, veggies, and basically all whole foods lean towards having a higher nutrient density (more vitamins, minerals, and fiber per calorie) whereas processed junk foods tend to have lower nutrient densities.
Macronutrient distribution looks at the ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and dietary fat that make up the calories in a particular food. Meat and soy products tend to be higher in protein, oils and nuts tend to be higher in dietary fat, and grains and fruit tend to be higher in carbohydrates.
...and that's it!
Those three characteristics are all you need to properly identify and categorize the foods you eat.
And it's important to note that none of these three characteristics label foods as being good or bad. When you're deciding on what foods to eat, your decision should be based on YOUR health and fitness goals:
- Trying to lose weight? Choose foods that have lower calorie densities
- Trying to gain muscle? Choose foods that are higher in protein
- Trying to get adequate vitamins and minerals? Choose foods that have higher nutrient densities like fruits and veggies.
When you stop labeling foods as good, bad, fattening, or whatever adjectives fitness gurus are describing foods with these days, fat loss nutrition becomes incredibly simple.
You realize that all you have to worry about are the calories, nutrients (vitamins, minerals, and fiber), and macro distributions of different foods, and then decide which are best for accomplishing your goals.
Using These Three Characteristics In Your Diet Plan
I'd like to introduce you to one of my online coaching client, Todd:
Todd is a bit different from most of my clients.
You see, he had already lost a substantial amount of weight before working with me. The reason he reached out for help was because he struggled to find a balance with his nutrition.
Todd had spent so much time dieting that he created a health halo mindset that all high-calorie foods were "bad" and all low-calorie foods were "good."
Long story short, this food labeling made it mentally difficult for him to consume higher calorie foods in moderation, and he struggled to find balance with his nutrition.
Instead, he'd cycle between losing weight eating exclusively low-calorie and gaining fat splurging on excessive amounts of high-calorie foods.
After working together for the past few months, we've been able to eliminate his "good" and "bad" food labels and start making food choices based on the three categories I shared above.
As a result, he's been able to moderate his food intake right above maintenance level calories and fulfill his goal of building lean muscle with minimal fat gain.
Your Diet as a Daily Budget
Let's pretend that you get a check each day with a specific amount of money to spend on your electric/gas bills, insurance, food, and fun. The money doesn't roll over to the next day, and you can't put it in the bank. You have to use it or lose it.
Here's how this "daily budget" model can apply to your diet plan...
You have a certain number of calories you need to eat each day to lose weight (the daily budget). Your top priority is to eat plenty of whole foods so that you get adequate vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein for optimal health (bills, insurance, gas, etc.). Once you have those things covered, you can use the rest of your calories on "fun" foods like chocolate, ice cream, wine, or whatever else your heart desires!
Here's an example:
Hypothetical Heather is a 34-year-old school teacher. She is 5'5" and weighs 195 lbs. To lose weight at a moderate pace of 1-2 pounds per week, she figured out she'll need roughly 1650 calories per day. (CLICK HERE to see the calculator she used to find this number)
Hypothetical Heather's other nutrition goals are to make 80% of her calories come from nutritious whole foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, etc.) and get 130g of protein each day.
After she goes about her day successfully fulfilling her micronutrient, fiber, and protein goals, she ends up with around 200 calories left over.
Because she has already fulfilled her other needs, she decides to use those extra calories on a 5 oz glass of wine (~120 cals) and two Dove Dark Chocolate Promises (~80 cals).
Where some would have seen her evening glass of wine and chocolate as a one-way ticket to weight gain city, Heather knows better...
She knows that once her "bills" are paid (i.e., her micronutrient, fiber, and protein goals are hit), she can use any remaining calories she has left over to enjoy herself!
It's time the "Good vs. Bad Food" debate comes to an end.
Firstly, there's no clear consensus on what even constitutes good and bad foods. Secondly, the whole idea isn't backed by science. Finally, all food labeling does is lead to an unhealthy relationship with your diet and body image.
Plus, it’s not a guaranteed way to lose fat and stay lean…
But you know what it?
Paying attention to the calorie density, nutrient density, and macro distribution of foods so that you can choose ones that help you stay in a calorie deficit, get plenty of vitamins and minerals, and enough protein to support muscle growth while dropping fat.