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Health & Wellness Spotlight: Healthy Substitutes Don’t Mean Weight Loss

Photo by Hillary Ehlen

There are no secret foods for weight loss.

I’ve been suckered into clicking on a sneaky article titled “The Top 10 Super Foods” or “5 Foods That Will Boost Your Metabolism.” In a moment of weakness, usually over a glass of wine, I open some fantastical article that lured me in with a beautiful picture of ginger root and blood oranges only to find that the magical foods promised to make me immortal are really just more of what I already know is healthy. Kale, avocados, blueberries, salmon, green tea, red wine, etc… All whole real foods, mostly plant foods, nothing packaged or baked.

When it comes to healthy food, specifically what to eat for weight loss, there is no secret grocery store tucked away where healthy people shop that the rest of the world does not know about. There are no secret weight loss foods. Be wary of packaged items that look healthy, often housed in the natural foods aisle, but are not necessarily weight loss foods. Like cookies made with almond flour and coconut oil, flax seed and multi-grain crackers, chickpea chips and black bean puffs—although healthier versions, these will not help you lose weight regardless of what they are made from.

I have seen hundreds of private clients for weight loss over 20 years and have learned a LOT about people’s habits. There is often a string of misconceptions. One of them is the notion that packaged, baked goods when made from healthier ingredients like almond flour and coconut oil somehow contribute to weight loss. The other is that switching to olive oil rather than another equal in calorie but less “heart healthy” oil will also contribute. Because, since it’s healthier for me, it must be good for weight loss. Although there is some benefit in switching from soybean oil to olive oil, white flour to wheat and not eating fried chips, those substitutions are not the reasons individuals lose weight.

Have you ever heard someone say, “I switched to chick pea flour and I only buy baked chips and that’s how I lost weight!”?

There may be a marginally healthier version of mac’ n cheese or traditional sugary cereals, but a little bit healthier does not translate into weight loss. Chips are chips. Cookies are cookies. Bread is bread. Cereal is cereal. When you compare the calorie count, the glycemic value, carbohydrate grams, etc… they are often only slightly different.

I grew up on zucchini bread. While the neighbor kids were eating banana bread with chocolate chips, I was served up shredded zucchini bread made with half the sugar the original recipe called for (which was already half of what other recipes called for already because, well, it’s zucchini bread), whole wheat flour and unsweetened applesauce instead of oil. Although it was healthier than the neighbor’s banana bread I so longed for, back then and still now, that substitution makes zero difference in my weight. Once again, when you look at nutritional factors like calories or glycemic load, they are marginally different.

The take away here is that although healthier is better for you nutritionally, don’t expect it to produce weight loss. Substituting cooked zucchini and whole wheat flour instead of white flour and sugar in your banana bread, will just make it so no one will come back for a snack—it won’t help with weight loss if the calorie count is the same or the glycemic load is equivalent. So if you’re going to eat those foods, you might as well enjoy the kind you like and factor it in to your diet overall. I’ve seen plenty of people eat four or five skinny cow cream treats, which ultimately was more calories than if they would have just had the one dish they really wanted.

I say… choose when you’re going to be bad—build your badness into your plan. If you want to have pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, have them. Don’t mess them up with some weirdo substitute no one wants. Enjoy them as they are meant to be enjoyed. Love them and get your fill. Then be done.

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Written by C.J. English

C.J. English is a Fargo native and the author of the Amazon Kindle Best Selling Weight Loss book, "WTF am I Supposed to Eat?" She can be found locally at Rejuv Medical Aesthetic Clinic, where she offers private coaching for weight loss and wellness. She devotes the rest of her time to writing. English's breakout memoir "AFFAIRYTALE," debuted at No. 1 on Amazon Kindle in Diaries and Journals in 2015.

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