Healthy Hack #3 - Crowding Out
A few years ago, I tried going on a diet. I had been working on a few projects and was really busy. I spent six months sitting at my desk working all day long. Exercise, sleep, and healthy eating were all immediately sacrificed. I gained a few more than a few pounds. My clothes didn’t fit, I had no energy, and basically felt like crap. I decided that I needed to go on a diet. I considered Whole30, but that didn’t really work with my vegetarian lifestyle. A meal delivery program wasn’t a good option because I didn’t want to eat pre-packaged, processed food. I tried downloading an app to count calories and track macros, but gave that up quickly because it took longer to record my food than it did to prepare or eat it. So, I just decided I was going to cut out everything unhealthy and fattening – no pizza, no French fries, no muffins, no scones, no ice cream, no cheese, no tortilla chips. I was going to willpower my way through deprivation until the scale was back to where I wanted it to be.
If you’ve ever been on a diet, you know that the first rule is to avoid certain foods, usually a lot of foods. And the second rule is to eat less, usually a lot less. At the end of every day, if you aren’t hungry, or hangry, you are for sure feeling deprived because most diets work by cutting out all the “bad” stuff, cutting your food intake, getting into a calorie deficit, and losing weight.
Maybe the first day or so felt ok, but as time went on, the recommended substitutes probably didn’t make up for the cravings that lingered for the foods you used to enjoy. Somehow that piece of mint gum didn’t work as a substitute for the Ben & Jerry’s Mint Chocolate Cookie ice cream. And let’s be honest, putting a slice of tomato on pita bread with a few parmesan shavings is not the same as pizza!
And then, even if you can suffer through the deprivation long enough to take off some pounds, when these diets come to an end, the most common outcome is a gradual return to old eating habits and a return of the weight.
I can tell you that my diet didn’t last long enough for the pounds to come off. After two days, all I could think about was that scone I couldn’t have for breakfast, the tortilla chips that weren’t allowed at lunch, the pizza that was off-limits for dinner, and the ice cream that was strictly forbidden for dessert. And of course, trying to stick to this diet at a restaurant was impossible.
I needed a new strategy. Fast! The approach I landed on is called “crowding out.” Basically, crowding out means adding more healthy food to your diet rather than cutting back on foods you enjoy. I went to the grocery store and bought a ton of fresh fruit and vegetables,
beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, oats, brown rice, and quinoa. I thought about all the food that I could eat instead of the stuff I couldn’t. I found and made recipes for meals loaded with fresh, delicious ingredients. I filled myself up with healthy, nutritious foods. As a result, there was little room left in my stomach, thoughts, and kitchen for unhealthy food!
Gradually my sweet tooth and cravings for salty and fatty foods subsided. I experimented with recipes for my favorite things that were full of healthy ingredients – muffins made with whole wheat flour, fruit, and nuts, pizza made with whole grain dough and loaded with vegetables, baked sweet potato fries, and I even enjoyed a small scoop of ice cream guilt-
free every now and then. I reached a balanced diet that was sustainable and delicious and made me feel great.
While common diets are set up for disaster, as they are unsustainable for long periods of time, or in my case even a short time, the crowding out method can be practiced and maintained for a lifetime. And what’s not to love about a diet plan that tells you to eat more, to fill up your plate, and to eat until you are satisfied and full!?
Here’s how “Crowding Out” can be applied in practical ways:
Focus on what you CAN have. Create a shopping list of the nutrient-rich foods that help your body thrive. Fill your refrigerator with fresh fruit and vegetables and stock your pantry with whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Experiment with different flavors, colors, textures, spices, and healthy recipes.
Modify your favorite meals. If you normally have eggs and toast for breakfast, try scrambling the eggs with some veggies and adding a side of berries. If you are having a sandwich for lunch with a side of chips, add a side salad and some cut-up fruit and have half the amount of chips, maybe even a half sandwich and a big salad! If lasagna is on the menu for dinner, add some roasted vegetables and a large salad to your plate, there will only be a small space left for the lasagna.
Spoil your appetite! Can you hear it too? “If you eat that snack now you are going to spoil your appetite!” Maybe that’s not so bad!? Having a filling, nutritious snack a little while before your meals will take the edge off your hunger and you’ll be less likely to overeat or overindulge in the ‘bad’ stuff come mealtime. I’m thinking about an apple before lunch or some vegetables and hummus before dinner.
Try a new vegetable or fruit every time you go shopping. Toss out an unhealthy item from your pantry every week.
Take your time. Of course, seeing the impact of your new eating plan on the scale right away feels great. But it’s okay if it doesn’t happen overnight or even in the first week or two. Diets that have strict timelines are intended to create quick results, but not lasting and not always healthy. It took some time for the pounds to come on, it’s going to take time for them to come off. If you’re truly focused on health and happiness that lasts a lifetime, don’t worry about putting unnecessary restrictions on yourself. Implement changes at a pace that works for you and find your own way to stay on track.