Choosing healthy food when you struggle with overeating, binge eating, or emotional eating is hard.
You want to eat healthy foods, but also foods that make managing your cravings and urges easier. As I’ve said before, the best diet for you is the most natural, unprocessed food you can eat while remaining happy, sane, and not breaking the bank.
Sadly, these are often the opposite foods from what your cravings want.
This leads to an exhausting tug-of-war between your two wants:
“I want to eat healthy food + look + feel awesome”
“I want to feel better + satisfy this craving. RIGHT NOW”
We often attempt to find a middle ground so both sides can win.
Like, you’re craving a milkshake, but non-emotional-eater-you knows water is a better option – so you compromise and go with a vitamin drink.
Sure, it feels like a good swap – marketing and that wonderful thing called “common knowledge” tells you you’ve done well.
But, some of these compromise-type “healthy” choices are actually leading you down the road to more cravings, weight gain, and sometimes aren’t even good for you at all.
Similarly, some of the healthy ‘rules’ you’ve heard or tried to follow as an emotional eater are just adding to your problems.
Today I’m going to walk you through the most common mistakes or misconceptions I’ve found women who overeat or emotionally eat have around choosing “healthy-ish” food, and what you can do instead.
If you’re making these mistakes, or have made them in the past – don’t feel bad! Goodness knows, I’ve done just about all of them in my journey to where I am today.
So, let’s take a look at some super common mistakes around choosing healthy food when you struggle with unwanted eating.
1) Vitamin drinks, iced tea, and fruit juice
We all know soda is best avoided, but vitamin drinks, iced tea, and fruit juices sound like a good compromise, right?
Like, why just have water when you can have water PLUS vitamins and other goodies? You’ve heard tea has antioxidants, and fruit juice? Well, fruit is totally good for you, so it makes sense that fruit juice is good for you too.
The problems these drinks have caused is horrifying.
Mostly it’s about the huge amounts of sugar hidden in them (hello, monster cravings!), but it’s also the fake colors and flavors that leave nearly all these drinks firmly in the ‘not healthy’ category.
I usually don’t like to label things like that, but these drinks are sold, and consumed, as ‘health foods’, and they simply are not.
What can you drink instead?
Good old water is fantastic. I know it’s not as exciting, but water helps keep you clean and functioning like you should. If you’re after a bit of excitement in the flavor department, try adding some lemon, lime, or orange juice squeezed in, or experiment with tea.
2) More of a good thing must be better
I touched on this a little in a previous post about raw veganism. It’s like:
- If including raw vegetables in your diet is healthy, then only eating raw vegetables must be even healthier!
- If reducing processed carbs in your diet is healthy, the reducing all carbs must be the healthiest!
- If removing some fats from your diet is healthy, then removing all fats must be awesome!
And I think you can tell from my tone that this is not true.
Yes, some people do these things and it totally works for them, but for many of you, removing entire naturally occurring food groups is way over-restrictive and can even be damaging. It leads to killer-cravings, rebellion, and frustration – and therefore a surge in binging or overeating.
What can you do?
Be a researcher and a thinker. If a way of eating sounds good and sensible to you and you want to give it a go, have a read about other peoples’ experiences (the good and the bad). Try the diet out and be honest about your experience. If it feels awesome and you’re super happy, keep going! If you really aren’t it’s ok to stop. This is not ‘failure’. It’s making better choices for yourself and body.
3) Thinking all meat is bad for you
Anything in excess is bad, and anything from an abysmally unhealthy environment isn’t going to be that great either.
But meat, again in moderation, and the highest quality you can reasonably get your hands on is great for you. It’s packed with protein, and the healthier the animal it came from, the more vitamins and minerals there are in there. So, if you think you have to be a vegetarian to be healthy, think again.
What can you do?
Just find what feels good to eat for you. If that’s meat, cool. If it’s not, that’s great too.
4) Compromising with the low-fat version
If we’re talking fried foods then that’s a great thing to avoid. Heavily processed fats like corn oil and soybean oil have been identified as causing some nasty illnesses – and these heavily processed oils are commonly the cheap ones found in processed foods. So you’d think choosing low-fat versions would be better for your health and your weight.
You’d be wrong.
Avoiding these fats (and getting plenty of naturally occurring fats) is a good idea, but choosing food products with ‘reduce fat’ or ‘low fat’ claims often just means they’ve removed some of the fat and replaced it with sugar and other flavor/texture enhancers.
This means many low-fat foods will make your food cravings worse rather than providing the enjoyment and relief you’re looking for.
What can you do?
Just choose real food. Read the labels, look for real ingredients, and try to find the highest quality you can. Also, if you’re going to eat a food your craving, choose the best version of that food, sit down and enjoy it with 100% of your full attention.
5) Thinking it’s all about calories
There’s a lot more to health, weight loss, and emotional eating than calories.
If you just stop and think about it, you’ll see why.
Imagine 2 people – both eating around 2,000 calories a day. One person eats mostly whole foods like meat, vegetables, fruits, and eggs. The other eats mostly fast food and microwave TV dinners.
If you imagine yourself in this situation, and how you’d feel and perform eating that diet – can you see a difference? And weight loss research backs this up – what you eat matters just as much as how much you’re eating.
What can you do?
I’m beginning to sound like a stuck record (if anyone even remembers what that is), but just choose real food. You can relax a little more with the calorie counting, and know you’re doing yourself some good.
6) Thinking frozen or canned vegetables aren’t ok
I am totally guilty of this one too.
Fresh vegetables aren’t available or are way too expensive this week, so whole-grain pasta seems like a good compromise.
While fresh IS best, just 3 days in the fridge is enough for your fresh produce to lose some of its goodness. Some studies –here and here – (and I’m aware these are studies done with/by the industry, so be careful) show that frozen and canned vegetables can actually have a better nutrient profile than fresh stuff stored in the fridge.
What can you do?
If you find it tricky to get to the shops often, or frozen and canned vegetables are cheaper or more convenient, then it can be an excellent option. Just be a cautious consumer and check the labels – you don’t want anything added in there like sugars or oils.
7) Choosing healthy ‘products’ instead of food
This post from Authority Nutrition sums it up perfectly: “Because most people don’t know much about nutrition, they repeatedly fall for labels like “includes whole grains,” “low-fat” or “contains Omega-3s.” Adding small amounts of healthy ingredients to an unhealthy, highly processed food does not make it healthy.”
What can you do?
Basically, if your food has to make health claims, it’s suspect. Truly healthy foods mostly don’t have the fancy packaging or advertising money behind them. The closer to ‘real’ you can eat, the better. Better for your emotional eating, better for your cravings, and better for your body + weight.
These 7 mistakes are super common and are often one of the first things I work with new clients on because the changes can be so easy, but have such huge results.
If you’re really struggling to make food choices that are impacted by your cravings – I’ve got a free mini-guide for you. It’s a quick 4-step plan for how to abort your controlling food cravings so you can actually choose what (or if) you want to eat. Just click the button below to grab your copy.