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When you look at any diet out there, with all of their different recommendations, they all have one concept in common. They restrict your food choices. Why do these diets do that?
The creator or creators of most diets exclude certain foods on the premise that they are unhealthy and consumption of them can lead to poor health. For example, most diets don’t encourage the consumption of potato chips, a highly processed fatty starchy food largely devoid of micronutrients. Pringles, a popular potato chip brand just released in 2018 a commercial with their famous tag line “Once you pop, you can’t stop!”
Eliminating potato chips from ones diet is, I would say, overall a healthy move.
The issue is, many of these popular diets such as Paleo, Whole30, Primal, Keto, Veganism, Vegetarianism, and more, advocate the elimination of foods which other diets feature as being healthy!
For example, vegans eschew all animal products such as meat, fish, dairy, and more. These animal based foods contain ample micronutrients and favorable macronutrient (proteins, fats, carbs) ratios.
What the Vegan Diet Gets Wrong
By going all plant, the vegan diet misses out on a lot of healthy nutritional foods. Grass-fed meats are protein forward, contain ample amounts of B vitamins and minerals like Zinc (micronutrients difficult to acquire with a vegan diet). Fish such as salmon and tuna contain abundant omega-3 fatty acids and protein, both necessary for the construction and maintenance of strong healthy tissues (plus much more). For those not lactose-intolerant, full fat dairy is very satiating and has been shown to be inversely correlated with cardiovascular disease. Heck, check out grass-fed beef liver! It’s one of the most micronutrient dense foods known!
Likewise, diets such as Whole30 and Paleo strictly cut out entire food groups such as beans, lentils, dairy, and all grains, including gluten free grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth.
What the Paleo Diet Gets Wrong
While they are carbohydrate dense, beans and lentils are packed with protein, 25-30% protein in fact! And this protein is presented alongside a good source of fiber too. Sounds healthy and satiating to me! Micronutrient wise, one cup of cooked quinoa contains 30% of the RDA for magnesium (the second most common micronutrient deficiency), and can be a useful food to eat for those critically deficient in magnesium. Meanwhile buckwheat (a great breakfast option) is also more micronutrient dense than lettuce on a per gram basis (lettuce vs buckwheat). Certain vegetables, meats, and fruits simply don’t provide the micronutrients and carbohydrates needed to fuel various healthy activities such as sprinting, jumping heavy weightlifting, etc.
With all this conflicting information, it can be very difficult for those just starting their journey towards a better diet, lifestyle, and ultimately better health to know who to believe, what to eat, and how to take the right step forward. All of the diets presented earlier promote eating healthy unprocessed foods, but they also practice the exclusion of certain foods. For many, the path towards better health and proper diet does not start with exclusion, but rather inclusion.
Inclusion > Exclusion
What do I mean when I say to practice an “inclusive diet”?
Well to start, let me define inclusion and exclusion below:
Inclusion - The action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.
Exclusion - the process or state of excluding or being excluded.
When you start a new diet, a new habit, or lifestyle practice, it’s easy to conceptualize all of the foods, bad habits, environments, and things that you’ll cut out of your current situation in order to improve your health and wellness.
On the surface, this is good! Certain things can be damaging to your health, in any dose, and eliminating them can be a needed step forward.
The issue is, exclusionary principles do not take into account human behavior and psychology. Humans are not machines or robots.
The Psychology of Binge Eating
In the context of a diet, exclusion might involve strategies such as elimination of sugar, no alcohol consumption, a heavy reduction in the consumption of refined grains elimination, and more. Practicing exclusion ignores the reality that we live in a certain society, one that is abundant in sugar, alcohol, grains, and more. If you exclude these things from your diet, but don’t have a healthy strategy in place to replace them, as your body still needs calories at the end of the day, you’ll be much more likely at some point to “jump off the wagon” and completely binge on the same foods you completely eliminated just hours before.
Instead, if you practice inclusion, then you don’t declare any food off limits, instead adding in and making a priority healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, meats, etc.
Let me give you an example:
Let’s say you’re trying to reduce your processed grains consumption. You have a meal consisting of:
A baked potato with butter
Roasted chicken breast
Bread with olive oil.
Instead of eliminating the bread, simply add a healthy additional food to the meal. In this case, steam some broccoli and make sure to eat whatever broccoli you serve yourself before the bread. By doing this, you don’t declare the bread banned outright, just in order to eat it, you must first eat the broccoli. In-fact, if you really love bread, now the bread serves as a reward for finishing the broccoli! You’re new meal looks like this:
A baked potato with butter
Roasted chicken breast
Bread with olive oil. (can only eat after broccoli!)
Steamed and seasoned broccoli (must eat if bread is eaten)
By practicing inclusion instead of exclusion, you just turned an unhealthy food into one which encourages healthy food consumption, if you structure it right. If that scenario sounded familiar, it’s because it’s the conversation you might have with a young kid you’re caring for and feeding. Yup, same scenario.
You have to be the guiding parental influence to yourself, while at the same time you’re the junk food loving “kid”. It’s difficult to stay strict as the “parent”, but not impossible.
In time, after consistent consumption of eating vegetables and the building of discipline, you start to go out of your way to eat vegetables, and in-fact you never touch, or even bake, the bread anymore. Over time that “kid” grew up and you now make responsible eating decisions!
Inclusion vs Exclusion (what about results though?)
Here’s the caveat. An inclusive eating philosophy won’t lead to the fastest results. Initially, a strict exclusionary diet and lifestyle has quick results, much faster than an inclusive diet and lifestyle would have off the bat. The exclusive diet though fails to account for modern society and human philosophy, and therefore will always fail in the long run. And to be clear, that exclusive lifestyle might not just fail in terms of body-weight, but instead fail in regards to other important health markers such as cardiovascular health, body inflammation, kidney/liver damage, insulin sensitivity, etc. Some of the “fittest” people are in fact in the worst health.
If you’re struggling to break a weight-loss plateau, establish long-term healthy practices, get more sleep, or more, give this strategy a try. Instead of eliminating the worst offenders, incentive the healthy ones, and make sure to include those first into your day to day. Before you know it, you’ll be past that prior plateau and on your way towards better long term health!
Stefan Burns is the creator and main author of Wild Free Organic. A swimmer in high school, soon afterwards he discovered a passion for the health, wellness, and fitness fields. Stefan is a jack of all trades, expertly knowing how to use all the different wellness “tools” available to radically and permanently transform one’s health, from fasting and sauna usage to calisthenics and powerlifting.