Friday Morning, 8am.
Before you head off to work, it’s time to weigh yourself and track your progress for the week.
You step on the scale feeling confident. This week was a clinic in dedication and mental fortitude, as you staved off temptation and stuck to eating healthy – 100% healthy. Not a single workout was missed. Every Oreo cookie remained on the grocery store shelf. Smiling, you start guessing – did I lose half a pound? One pound? Maybe even two?
The excitation builds. You step on the scale and…
Nothing. Not even a single ounce down.
That can’t be right. You look at yourself in the mirror and, with dismay, notice you look exactly the same as you did last week. Despite your 120-hour tour de force of salads, grilled chicken, avoiding starch as if it contained Zika, and busting ass at the gym, nothing changed.
We’ve all been there. But what happened?
One of the biggest mistakes we make – whether we are trying to lose weight, add muscle mass, or lose fat – is being too strict with our food.
What? How can I be too strict? How can eating healthy be bad for me?
It turns out that eating “healthy” food 100% of the time can negatively impact results and hamper progress. Let’s explore how:
Why Do We Eat Too Healthy?
OK, this one is pretty easy – because we want results! Not only do we want results, but we want them sooner rather than later. If eating “healthy” is good for us, then – logically – we conclude we should only eat “healthy” foods – all the time.
Now that the easy part is out of the way, let’s explore some negative consequences of eating too healthy.
Mental Effects of Eating Too Healthy
Let’s be honest with each other – food is NOT just fuel. For centuries, food has gathered families around tables, brought world leaders together, and served as a bridge across borders, both geographic and cultural. Eating food is a requirement to staying alive, but it’s also fun.
Nobody likes restraints, and adhering to a diet requires mental focus and willpower – which is a finite resource. Each time you choose a burrito bowl versus the whole enchilada, or pass up the bagels Suzy brought into the office, you make a decision that depletes your willpower.
It’s estimated that humans make up to 200 – two hundred! – food-related decisions each day. Making each and every decision a “healthy” one is tough, and can leave us feeling exhausted.
I once deprived myself to the point that I was eating Tums for “dessert”. My craving for a taste different than grilled chicken was so great, I ate an entire bottle of Alka-Seltzer Fruit Chews over the course of a week. This is insanity, and also very unhealthy. Don’t repeat my mistakes. Don’t take “eating healthy” too far.
Shown – not actually candy.
3. Social Effects of Eating Too Healthy
As more and more people begin paying attention to their nutrition, restaurants are adapting, and finding healthier options on menus is getting easier and easier.
However, there’s a big difference between seeing salad on a menu, and actually ordering it.
When we go out to eat with other people, the food is often not the focus – it’s an excuse to get together and catch up, to start off a fun night on the town. We have a strong urge not to be “that guy” or “that girl” that orders off the 400-calorie or less menu while everyone else is splitting pizza and beer. Our desire to fit in is biologically ingrained from the days of our great-great-great-great-great-great ancestors, when being an outcast meant certain death.
Rather than go out and order the salad, or – GASP – saying “screw it” and letting loose, we simply ignore the invitation.
Your nutrition should enable you to live a fun and full life doing the things you love to do. It should NOT be an obstacle. It should NOT make you miserable or anti-social.
If you’re constantly skipping on dinner invites or drinks with friends, you’re likely doing more harm than good.
4. Physiological Effects of Eating Too Healthy
Alright, so eating too healthy can have bad effects on our mental status and social lives. But surely it must be good for our body…right?
Restricting calories too drastically, for too long, can send our body into survival mode. Essentially, your body thinks it is starving – another holdover from the old days – and slows down your metabolism in an effort to conserve fuel. This puts a halt on fat loss, and can actually increase body fat – despite a caloric deficit.
Having the occasional “cheat” meal puts those worries to rest – your body will realize food is not scarce, and fat can be burned off instead of stored.
It’s awesome to pay attention to your diet and eat good foods – but a limit does exist. Too much of a good thing can be harmful, and there is such a thing as eating too healthy.
A good rule of thumb that has worked wonders for myself and my clients is following the 80/20 principle. I try and keep 80% of my meals “healthy” (I hate that terminology, but work with me here), leaving 20% for me to eat as I please. Assuming you eat 3 meals per day, 7 days per week, that gives you 4 “cheat” meals to enjoy out with your friends. This is the essence of eating well.
This will fluctuate depending on your circumstances. The important thing is to maintain balance in your life. Remember, eating well encompasses all aspects of food – not just the nutrient profile of your meal.
Eat smart. Have fun. Do cool shit with your friends. Let your health create a better life – not hold you back.