What’s the piece of advice you hear most often from well-meaning friends and family when you talk about trying to lose weight? We bet it’s something like “everything is okay in moderation” or “just eat a balanced diet.” But when it comes to your weight and your health, most people’s idea of a “balanced” or “moderate” diet is far too permissive — and following it could destroy your weight-loss efforts.
It turns out that more diverse diets lead to more weight gain. A study published in 2015 found that people who ate more diverse diets had higher intakes of both healthy and unhealthy foods, making their overall diets less healthy. Even if they ate more fruits and vegetables, the benefits of these were often outweighed by the fact that they also ate higher quantities of trans fat, sodium, and refined carbohydrates. Over the course of 5 years, the participants with the most diverse diets experienced a 120% greater increase in waist circumference than people who ate a more monotonous diet.
Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, lead author of the study and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, says that “Americans with the healthiest diets actually eat a relatively small range of healthy foods,” and that results of the study “suggest that in modern diets, eating ‘everything in moderation’ is actually worse than eating a smaller number of healthy foods.”
The following are some factors that could attribute to the weight gain experienced with more diverse diets, and some tips for combatting them.
- Moderation leads to more relaxed eating habits. If you’re used to allowing yourself just a little bit of a favorite treat at every meal or just one soda a day, it’s easy for that habit to expand until you’re eating or drinking much more than you realize. And if you allow yourself a cheat day because you think you’ll make up for it later, chances are you’ll forget about the promise you made to yourself to eat nothing but a salad for lunch when the time comes. It’s best to cut out the junk food completely, or reserve a few favorite treats just for special occasions.
- Moderation will trigger cravings. If junk foods and sweets aren’t a part of your daily diet, you’ll get to the point where you don’t even think about them (we promise)! But if you’re still eating them on a regular basis, you’ll continue to crave them and fall back on them out of habit. If you’re getting the proper nutrients from your food, you’ll eventually stop craving sweet treats and other off-limit foods.
- Moderation ignores the fact that some foods are damaging. Some people may think it’s okay to eat certain foods as long as you are eating less of them, on the grounds that you’re consuming fewer calories. But some foods are bad for you regardless of calorie count. Junk foods that contain trans fat, MSG, high-fructose corn syrup, or other additives are unhealthy no matter how little of them you eat. Instead of focusing on calorie content, always look at the overall nutritional value of a food. A handful of blueberries has the same number of calories as a couple of cookies, but will always be the healthier choice.
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Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on March 24, 2017