As fitness enthusiasts we all know that healthy eating is very important. The saying that abs are made in the kitchen and that you can’t out train a poor diet cannot be overstated (of course you can’t out eat poor training either).
To come out and state that eating right might be holding someone back might seem like crazy talk, something that’s akin to saying the sky is falling, but that’s exactly the case I’m going to make in this article. Eating right might very well be holding you, or someone you know, back from reaching their fitness goals.
To start off, I want to draw the line between what I call healthy eating and “eating right”. The two might appear to the be the same but they are actually very different in origin.
Healthy eating is exactly that. Eating in such a way that brings you all of the possible benefits of being healthy while decreasing the negatives. Everything from weight management, to high energy and even enjoyment of food comes from healthy eating. There are little to no negatives physically, mentally or emotionally.
Eating right on the other hand is a different mentality. It’s often done in the name of health and all of the benefits but the path isn’t always determined by the state of health of the individual. Instead, eating right is about eating in a way that is correct according to a specific dogma, program or other method. Eating right is about following rules which hopefully result in a healthy individual, but sometimes this strategy backfires.
The Purpose of Healthy Eating
A healthy diet has a simple role to play in a healthy lifestyle. The foods you eat are consumed to satisfy hunger, appetites, cravings and desires. The food supports your health in every way. In short, you have a need or desire and your diet fulfills that need.
The challenge with a healthy diet is that we humans are in a constant state of change. Our daily activities and habits change over time and therefore so do our nutritional needs. Healthy eating is a skill that allows the individual to anticipate and recognize these changes and then change their diet accordingly. Flexibility and adaptation to the environment, appetites and needs is a cornerstone of healthy eating.
How “Eating Right” Can Hinder Your Progress
There are a number of ways sticking to a set of dietary rules can be holding you back. Here are just a few:
#1: Eating Right Can Create Stress
The primary purpose of a healthy diet is to remove and relieve stress. Any sort of dietary habits that create stress are counterproductive. A healthy eating strategy gives an individual flexibility to change their diet as their environment and appetites demand. Super strict eating styles sometimes forbid such flexibility when life throws such curve balls. When this happens the individual either refuses to “give in” to the situation and their appetites are unsatisfied, or they do give in and then become stressed from the supposed consequences. Either way, it’s a situation that creates stress and anxiety. Sometimes the act of “giving in” creates an urge to make up for breaking the rules which can result in heavy exercise (Which creates more physical stress) or through even stricter dieting which can create more mental and emotional stress. This stress then ramps up appetites even more and the cycle continues.
#2: Dietary Deconditioning
Dietary habits are just like exercise. All of the foods you eat and how you eat them conditions your body to operate according to your environment. Just as the S.A.I.D principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) works for exercise it also works for your diet.
Eating right often means not eating many food options for weeks at a time. When the person eventually does consume some of that food (or much more than they typically allow themselves) they sometimes have a negative reaction. This is often misunderstood as the “bad food” making the person physically feel bad but it’s more often a case of being out of shape from a digestive standpoint. Sometimes eating right “programs” convince you that a certain food is unhealthy. They may have a “cleansing phase” where you don’t eat a certain food for a month and then tell you to eat that food and see how you feel. It’s almost certain that you’re going to feel pretty bad and the program uses this to convince you that the eating style was bad and that you “always felt like that but you just didn’t know it”.
You can say the same thing for any form of exercise. I could say running is bad for you and recommend you go 6 weeks without any cardio or running at all. After the “cleanse”, go out and run a 5K. I’m willing to bet you’re going to be tired, sore, stiff and not feel like running for a few days. But the issue isn’t that running is bad, it’s that you were deconditioned.
Just like with exercise, we’re all deconditioned to some degree in some way. We can’t be conditioned for everything. However, the stricter the diet the less flexibility the body has to thrive and prosper with a wide variety of food choices. This can result in painting yourself into a corner where the body can only tolerate a narrow selection of foods and dietary choices thus setting yourself up for a large array of potential pitfalls.
#3: Refusal To Listen To Your Body
The last big reason why “eating right” may hold some people back is that it can set up more of an obedience mindset rather than an ability to make the best call for what works for them as an individual.
When the rules are followed to a “T” the individual is often encouraged to ignore or even fight their own feelings. It doesn’t matter if eating something makes them feel good and gives them energy. If it’s off limits then they still shouldn’t eat it. This can set up a habit of eating to fulfill a rule and no longer place the positive outcomes of certain foods first and foremost. Eating according to the rules is the top priority. It doesn’t matter if you struggle in your training, have low energy and are always fighting cravings. Following the rules is the most important. On the other hand, breaking the rules is not good and it doesn’t matter if you feel great, break personal records and feel carefree about your diet.
There are many dietary methods out there that serve as a great healthy eating template. However, when the rules become more important than the actual results, it’s often hard to make progress when that outcome is secondary and the rules come first.